If Mayors Ruled the World

Political theorist Benjamin Barber is not the first person you would associate with education reform. He is a staunch advocate of democracy, democratic institutions, and “democratic patriotism,” and he is best known for a somewhat prescient 1992 book called Jihad vs. McWorld, which gained some clout following the 2001 terrorist attacks. In his 1994 book An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, he argues that the most critical outcome required of our education system is an appreciation of inclusive civic engagement—and that this outcome and excellence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, he warned of the “dumbing down” of American education at that time. In If Mayors Ruled the World, his latest book, Barber goes even further, calling out national governments of all stripes as gridlocked failures of representative governance. Instead, he argues that cities are the true and proper vehicles of citizenship and democracy…not to mention the only political entities capable of “taking out the trash” - by which he means literally getting the job done. Where does that leave education in the United States, traditionally the domain of the states? Barber cites all the various vehicles of education today—districts, charters, vouchers—and concludes, “In education, then…we need to seek partial solutions, relevant remedies, and best practices that are best because they are salient and pertinent to the specific challenges being addressed. That is in fact what cities do.” “Best practices,” he continues, “arise out of experimentation and action….Those are ‘best’ that work.” Sounds like city mayors need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

SOURCE: Benjamin R. Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, November 2013).

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