Thank goodness for Peter Greene, who finds the time to read reams of think tank reports and even the daily and weekly promotional materials produced by the U.S. Department of Education. He even reads the Department’s official blog, which regularly reminds the citizenry of what a good job the Secretary and the Department are doing, what a great contribution they are making to the improvement of American education.


Peter Greene came across a recent statement from Arne Duncan that is supposed to be his personal reflections on what he has learned as he traveled the country. Peter says he actually didn’t learn anything new. What he learned is that he has been right all along!


Peter writes:


Many people are unclear about the meaning of “learn.” Learning implies a change of state, a movement from not-knowing to knowing, from not-understanding to understanding. The world has a large supply of people who are not interested in a change of state, and so their interactions with the world around them are not about understanding or grasping or discovering, but about confirmation. They are not looking for a change of state, but of a more solid, comfortable settling into their status quo.


Politics are not conducive to learning. You don’t get many political points for saying, “Hey, I’ve look at some facts, talked to some people, examined the issue, and I’ve come to a different understanding.” In life, we aspire to be, find, foster life-long learners. In politics, learning just gets you a “flip-flopper” label.


So it’s not particularly surprising that in traveling through fifty states, Arne “learned” that he’s always been right about anything. Not once in fifty states did he encounter something that made him say, “Damn. I need to rethink this.”


And more:


Duncan goes on to cite some specific visits in which he was excited to discover that he has been right all along and that his policies are awesome. This is not learning. By the end of this piece of puffery, it’s clear that Arne has learned nothing in five years, but he has collected confirmations of his pre-existing beliefs….


The basic point of writing is that you have something you want to say and somebody you want to say it to. Arne’s essay appears to fail on both points.


I take it as the intersection of Arne in particular and politics in general– a pointless, empty exercise in talking to the air to signify, at a minimum, that you are still doing something, and that nothing has changed (just in case anybody was wondering). Devoid of personality, purpose or passion, it hints at a bureaucrat who has simply lost his moorings and any particular contact with actual human beings and the world they live in, but who may not realize that he’s even adrift.


Take it from me. It is very hard to admit you have been wrong. It is very hard to look at the evidence and publicly acknowledge error. What is especially problematic is that Arne Duncan has taken it upon himself to “reform” American education by imposing the lessons he learned in Chicago. Most people would agree that Chicago is far from being a model for America. But more important, no Secretary of Education in the past 35 years has taken it upon himself to control not only K-12 education, but higher education as well. Frankly, it’s alarming. I wish that Arne had learned in his travels that there is wisdom about education found in schools and universities across the nation, and that one of our great strengths as a nation is that we expect people and institutions to make decisions that work best for them and to operate without mandates from distant government agencies.