Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Crisis and/of Leadership

"Don’t follow leaders
 Watch the parkin’ meters"
-- Robert Zimmerman

In '65, a prophetic Dylan must have had vision of Chicago which included Mayor Daley's notorious parking meter deal. But it's the first line that should generate the most reflection on our part.

Joshua Rothman might well be describing today's corporate-style school reformers when he writes in the New Yorker:
People who fetishize leadership sometimes find themselves longing for crisis. They yearn for emergency, dreaming of a doomsday to be narrowly averted...
...Elizabeth Samet writes, in the introduction to “Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers” (Norton). “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for an addiction to the twenty-four-hour news cycle, multiple information streams, and constant stimulation.” 
Many of today’s challenges are too complex to yield to the exercise of leadership alone. Even so, we are inclined to see the problems of the present in terms of crises and leaders.
She quotes John Adams, who suggested, in a letter to a friend, that there was something both undemocratic and unwise in the lionization of leadership. The country won't improve, Adams wrote, until the people begin to "consider themselves as the fountain of power."
Plenty to think about here, especially when the two leading candidates for president are campaigning on the promise that they and only they, have the power to "make deals" (Trump) or "get things done" (Clinton). Here in Chicago, we have institutionalized the lionization of leadership by giving the mayor autocratic power over our public schools.

It also brings to mind power philanthropists, like Gates, Broad, and Walton, who hide their wealth in huge tax-exempt foundations and leverage it to erode and override public space and public decision making.

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