Monday, January 16, 2006

Institutional Critics Needed

In an intriguing post last Friday, Ben Smith at the Observer made what we feel is one of the most cogent evaluations of the failure of the media and some of the most respected good government groups to provide the public with the kind of "institutional criticism" of the Bloomberg administration that, given the mayor's wealth and concomitant insulation from the normal ebb and flow of politics, is desperately needed.

Smith's point is that there is a danger in this reticence that borders on obeisance. The danger lies in the way in which the silence of these quarters prevents the kind of necessary scrutiny that this mayor, with no real policy expertise or overarching political vision, needs. In its absence the only criticism that emerges will come from the shriller corners of the left side of the political spectrum, leaving the impression that it is purely sectarian and lacks legitimacy.

The case in point for Smith is in the area of education. He sites the critical work of Sol Stern in this field and in doing so echoes what we have already said. The mayor's approach to education has been too top-down and closed off from local input. In addition, he has relied too heavily on the kind of progressive educational strategies (remember the Lam) that we have always seen as dubious.

In this regard it has been Andrew Wolf and the NY Sun that has kept the appropriate light shining on the new Department of Education. The lack of others in this effort is particularly disturbing since the closed nature of the bureaucracy and the mayor's millions left the clear, and probably mistaken notion that Bloomberg was on the verge of great breakthroughs in this critical area.

Ironically the Sun's Julia Levy, who did a good deal of the insightful educational reporting, has been co-opted by Klein over to Tweed. In addition, the DOE miasma and the paucity of public scrutiny will insure, at least in the near term, that all of the educational "debate" will be focused on money and so-called fiscal equity.