Thursday, December 08, 2005

I love stories like this XXIX

As David George said in his excellent The top 10 reasons public schooling is better than home-schooling: "3) How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight off bullies on a daily basis?" Hurricane Katrina evacuees have been attending high school in Houston for a while now, and things are coming to a boil:
A brawl that began in the Westbury High School cafeteria Wednesday and spilled outdoors capped weeks of growing tension between Houston students and Hurricane Katrina evacuees and resulted in the arrest of 27 students.

The fight Wednesday was sparked, students said, when a girl made a gang sign in or near the cafeteria and a boy loudly cursed New Orleans. It quickly spread to other areas of campus and then outdoors.

Graffiti scrawled on the door of a girls restroom seems to mark the built-up tensions. On the door's center, "New Orleans Takin' Over," is crossed out. Nearby, "H-town forever!" is scrawled. The phrase "Go home" is answered with a crude "no." Profanities litter the door.

Including the New Orleans students, Westbury High School has nearly 2500 kids. My town of little ol' Neenah has a high school with over 2400 kids. That's about 10% of the population in one building three city blocks long.

It got me to thinking about the nature of bureaucracy. A couple of very nice caricatures of bureaucracies and bureaucrats are presented in the movies "Brazil" and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

School bureaucracies are different than your typical garden-variety bureaucracy because schools truss up ... er ... cage ... um ... process ... ah ... nurture, that's it! Schools nurture our children. But there's still that fiddlin' bureaucracy that is founded on the principles of well-defined turf, finely-defined division of labor, and forms, forms, forms.

Those darned fist-fights in the cafeteria just don't fit the bureaucratic profile and make the bureaucrats look bad. They try their best:
"I feel certain that the administration is going to look into this," [Houston Independent School District Board President Dianne Johnson] said. "We're certainly going to take whatever steps it takes to make sure that students are safe when they attend school."

I think that Neenah High School should be busted up into, say, 10 or 20 mini-schools in that humongous building: specialty schools, tech-ed schools, liberal arts schools, etc. Of course, they'll still be publicly-funded compulsory-attendance zoos, but they'll at least be smaller zoos.

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