Technocrats and Humanists

Jack Whelan has a killer piece in Education Week examining the two combatants in public education: technocrats and humanists. 

Let’s define terms. I mean ‘humanist’ in the broad sense as the affirmation of the value and dignity of particular, individual human beings and of their individual potential to become more densely realized as a Selves in community with other Selves. This contrasts with the technocratic tendency to see humans as abstractions in the aggregate, as data points on a spread sheet.  

Our culture no longer produces such great souls—at least none that are widely recognized. It produces plenty of smart people but few, if any, who could be called “big souled”. Can you name one person born in the developed world since World War I who 500 years from now will be ranked at the same level of greatness with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Goethe, Bach, Beethoven, Lincoln, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, to name just the ones that come quickly to mind? The only two I can think of who come close are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, and neither represents a typical 20th-Century, developed-world upbringing. And the one we killed, and the other we threw into prison for twenty-seven years. What then are the conditions that allow for the emergence such human beings? What is it about our culture now that seems to impede their emergence? What is wrong with us?

The technocratic mindset feels at home in governmental, corporate, and foundation bureaucracies. It is procedure oriented and lacks practical wisdom or adaptability to the unforeseen or the uncontrollable. It is mentality obsessed with measurement: if it cannot be measured it does not exit. [Emphasis mine]