“Our System Is Set up to Fail”

“Our system is set up to fail.” That’s not me talking, it’s then-Governor John Kitzhaber in a 2002 entry to his private journal, released as part of a public records request for his email correspondence. The full paragraph reads:

“Our system is set up to fail. We have a centralized government which does not give much authority and responsibility to individuals in the community. Then you have a community that has come to government to solve their own problems. It has become a self fulfilling prophecy. The community is not going to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for work they expect and are paying government to do.”

He went on to say,

“…we have built up a centralized paternalistic form of government that assumes much of the responsibility for individuals and for the community. This works in some areas—national defense, public infrastructure, public education, law enforcement (what are the common denominators here?). Most of these things don’t require much from individuals or from the community.”

Particularly telling was his flawed assumption that public education doesn’t “require much from individuals or from the community.” He demonstrated this belief even before becoming Governor when in 1991, as President of the State Senate he signed on to the Education Act for the 21st Century with its flawed CIM and CAM tests. Cascade dubbed it Education by Committee in Oregon. As that was failing in 1999, then-Governor Kitzhaber signed onto the Quality Education Model, designed to spend more money to get the Act to work. Cascade dubbed the QEM Money for Nothing.

Finally in 2011, apparently concluding that even more centralization of education was needed, Kitzhaber created the Oregon Education Investment Board to “unify education from birth to college and career.” Cascade dubbed the OEIB Top Down on Steroids, and it mercifully died shortly after Kitzhaber resigned office early this year, to be replaced by the next centralized paternalist piece of the education puzzle, the Chief Education Office, which hasn’t had a chance to show its fatal flaws—yet.

So, Kitzhaber recognized the failure of “centralized paternalistic government,” but somehow thought it might work in public education so he continued to promote and expand it there for decades. What did Einstein say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

About Steve Buckstein

Senior Policy Analyst and founder.
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