There's a great line from the musical "The King and I."
The poor old king of Siam, pinched between thousands of years of tradition and the pressures of the colonizing Western World, sings about the "puzzlement" of it all."It's a danger to be trusting one another," he moans. "One will seldom want to do what other wishes. But (here's the clincher) unless some day somebody trust somebody, there'll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes."
That particular king of Siam, wherever he might be these days, might have felt right at home with a group of Utah educators who met recently and who admitted, right out loud, that local school districts don't trust the State Office. And vice versa.
It's a plague. Only a few days before hearing this sad admission, I talked with a mother who had just taken her 5-year-old to school for a pre-kindergarten get-together. She came away not quite sure she trusted her daughter's future teacher to get the little one started off on the right foot educationally.
Teachers often don't trust that their principals are doing the right thing, just as administrators can't be certain that what goes on behind classroom doors is just what they had in mind.
And heaven knows mistrust isn't the exclusive bailiwick of Utahns.
In Washington, D.C., Congressmen concoct great money give-aways for education --with strings. They pass the money along to states, which add their own strings before passing it along to local districts, where more strings are attached before what's left-- after administrative costs related to the strings are subtracted --filters down to where it is supposed to be.
If you'll pardon the pun, that seems like a "knotty" way to do things.
At the bottom of the pile of all this educational mistrust is the child-- who, ironically, trusts everyone.
Directly at issue in Utah is the question of block grants. This winter, the Legislature passed a bill that would allow a small number of school districts to have some of their school money freed of categorical restraints.
If these districts found through experimentation that they could make better use of the money by having latitude to apply it to their own peculiar needs, the block grant concept would be expanded to all the school districts.
Despite original enthusiasm, only three districts lined up for the unencumbered money-- not enough to meet the legislative requirement for five test districts.
In the process, a few strings had been attached to the money by the State Office.
The districts, sensing mistrust at the state level, in turn don't trust that over the long haul they really would be allowed the freedom to look at their individual situations and put the money where they feel it needs to go.
It will be too bad if block granting never gets off the ground because one agency doesn't trust another to have the wisdom to deal with local matters intelligently.
Even if some mistakes were made along the way, it would be a learning experience, and that's valuable too.
Innovation is likely never to happen if mistrust continues to stand in the way of cooperation among educational levels.
The need for working together is a concept so apparent as to be almost trite. But let's try it. It could create some great forward movement in Utah education.