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A Premise for Government

Random thoughts from my afternoon bike ride, inspired by my reading of Jane Jacob’s Systems of Survival. The book explores the relationship between guardianship and enterprise and the hazardous results of one behaving like the other.

A Premise for Government

It occurred to me today that we might stop referring to the job as ‘politician’, and instead have our political leaders embrace the word ‘governance’. It seems as though we spend a lot of time on policy, dancing a few steps this way, and then a few steps back the other direction. I wonder how much value a ‘policy moratorium’ would offer, where government focused on its role as public guardian in the given policy context.

How much time, effort and resource are wasted on shifting policy one inch at a time, and to what extent does it improve life for the aggregate? Systems Design tells us that there are no perfect solutions, and even if we achieved a ‘perfect’ implementation, the ceaseless shifts of the world around us render our solutions imperfect the very next moment.

I’ve learned that I offer far more value in the classroom when I accept policy as is, and concentrate my efforts on my role as classroom guardian. More transformative than perfect policy, or access to resources, or investment in infrastructure, is development of the inherent capacity in students. No policy can prompt a new perspective on being, but we can learn about our circumstance when we focus on the ‘as is’ circumstance and recognise our cycles of behaviour. If the status quo is characterised by institutionalised and apathetic membership, a shift in culture is required.

I have come to see the teacher’s role as two distinct jobs: One is the role of mentor, offering encouragement and examples to students so that they might develop their technical capacity and personal drive. Jacobs would describe these as commercial pursuits. The second job is that of guardian, ensuring existing policy is understood, and that transgressors are held accountable. In the classroom, this looks like ‘auditing’ self-monitoring students to encourage integrity in accounts and reports.

When government spends its time ‘perfecting’ policy, we exhaust limited resources on the margins. There are circumstances when policy change can have great influence, though perhaps for the time being, we might accept the rules of the game. I’m finding that the most impact is experienced by establishing cultures of enablement and trust within the classroom community, collaborating with students, parents and administrators to leverage our existing capacity.

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