Policy Anyone?

Posted: July 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Law and Morality | No Comments »

It’s been a while since I blogged.  No excuse really, but here I am, writing about a topic that has always interested me both in a practical and immediate sense, and in a broader philosophical context.

My children have attended a private, Waldorf school.  The philosophical underpinnings of the school date back to the 20th Century War years during and following which the school’s founder, Rudolph Steiner, reflected unfavorably on slavish subservience to rules without challenging their moral underpinnings.  The Waldorf School movement that he spawned has since that time preferred to operate more on the basis of a shared belief system and a synthesis of competing views rather than top-down rule-making.  It requires self-reflection, judgment and moral fortitude.

Most recently though, I have watched with great interest how a large section of our school body is demanding greater rigidity in structure, and a policy-driven environment in which judgment and discretion may be avoided in the face of nuance, typically justified by a stated desire to achieve uniform results to avoid inequity.  This challenge to flexibility must and will be debated and resolved somehow within the school community, but it mirrors a broader tendency within our society to grasp reflexively for rules and certainty when confronted with what legal philosophers have referred to as “penumbral”, or grey areas.  It also, to my mind, relieves us of the burden of having to exercise judgment and is predicated on the mistaken assumption that a consistent, perfect result is always attainable and will be uniformly accepted.

The problem with a policy-driven environment is that it usually creates more problems than it solves, particularly in a small, personal environment such as a school.  The policy seldom fits unique circumstances resulting in a lack of uniform application, which in turn discredits it.  This means that at best, the policy has to be so broadly framed to be sufficiently adaptable to a wide range of situations that it becomes pretty meaningless. 

The more interesting question though is what is driving this reflexive desire for uniformity, and to substitute a rule for judgment?  And how desirable is rigidity, uniformity and predictability?  See my next post…

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