Bureaucracies develop slowly. Whenever someone bends the unofficial rules, the official rules become tighter for everyone. This eliminates the capriciousness that can arise in a system where different standards apply to different people, but it creates a complicated system that often seems arbitrary.

In a good bureaucracy, there does not need to be personal overrides. The rules are fair, and applied consistently. Some people may think that “good bureaucracy” is an oxymoron, but it isn’t. The goal of a bureaucracy should be to take the personal element out of decisions by an organization. Does it stifle creativity? Of course it does, but that is not necessarily wrong.

I teach math at a community college. The core of our program is a series of courses, from Pre Algebra to Calculus II, designed to get students ready for studying science or engineering. A shorter program gets students through the math requirement for graduation. Although Pre Algebra is taught in middle school or high school, we still had six sections this fall. Creativity in subject matter is not allowed. The teacher in each course must expect that students were taught certain material in the previous courses. It isn’t fair to anyone to skip anything.

The teacher who adds material is also creating problems, unless he doesn’t count the extra material in the grade. Students can come out of the course knowing more of the extra material and less of the required material, putting them at a disadvantage in the next course.

I teach in a bureaucracy, and that’s a good thing.



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