Friday, March 10, 2006

Driving blind

In the Bush administration, bureaucratic stupidity can be a design feature (you don't really need me to give examples, do you?). Elsewhere, bureaucratic stupidity is usually a bug, an emergent property when a well-intended program gets poorly-considered implementation.

My old favorite was a classic example. A classmate had reported on a questionnaire that his family sometimes spoke Spanish at home. So he got pulled out of class for testing, to see whether he would benefit from instruction in English as a Second Language. So far, nice and proactive. But he got yanked from an advanced placement English class, which means he was pulled from a subject where he was in the 98th percentile so that he could be tested for a program designed to improve his skills, in that very area, all the way up to maybe the 25th percentile. It was a complete waste of time, both his and the tester's. Plus, there was the opportunity cost of not using the resource for a kid who actually needed it. But my friend only missed one class, so all in all, the waste was small, cheap, and amusing. Every bureaucratic foul-up should be like that.

I have a new favorite bureaucratic foolishness. The state of Illinois requires that all high school districts offer driver's education. Given the large number of people who apparently don't know what a red octagon means, this can only be considered a good thing. Chicago Public Schools go further, requiring driver's ed for graduation. Since a car crash is the likeliest cause of my accidental demise, and I would prefer to avoid such an event, making driver's ed mandatory is even better. But CPS might be just a liiiittle too enthusiastic. They require everybody to pass driver's ed, even the blind kids. Yes, the blind kids. Read the story in the Chicago Tribune.

The chairman of the Illinois High School/College Driver's Education Association says it's not a waste of time. But even he, presumably a big booster of driver's ed, concedes that it may lack "a little common sense." I suppose you could argue that it also teaches the kids a healthy disrespect for authority, but high school already does that, and splendidly.

There's actually something surprising about this whole incident — a positive outcome. This silliness is being used as a teaching moment. The kids are writing to their aldermen and other elected officials. The requirement will surely be eased. So the kids will have the experience of petitioning the government for redress of grievances and of making a difference, however small, in their own lives. Nice.


Anonymous Doug Hoffman said...

Interesting comments, Scott. Blind driver's ed! I'm trying to think of a joke which isn't either terribly off color or politically incorrect ;)

11:28 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Open letter to the government:

"Redress my grievances, bitch!"

11:34 PM  

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