James Q. Wilson died last week. I did not read his work while he lived, but did read this article about his ‘broken windows’ theory for cities. If there’s a broken window and no one fixes it, it means that no one cares and we can go around smashing more windows. If some one fixes it, then we do care–and the city is perceived to be a safer and better place. Voila! Apparently Mayor Guliani used this theory in NYC — and indeed, the city became a safer place–a destination city for tourists once again. While some may argue with the connection between what happened in NYC and Mr. Wilson–to me, it makes sense.

And now to our schools. Have we allowed too many broken windows? I think we have. We have tolerated all sorts of realities that impede learning–children unprepared for school, broken or dirty facilities, teachers unprepared for teaching, bureaucratic interference and strangulation by regulation, parents unprepared to support the teachers and students–all policies that interfere with the work of the school–teaching and learning. We have tolerated bad behaviors and bad policies for too long…

I like the metaphor–let’s fix those windows. And it seems to me, that once we really start to do it–in any of the above examples–the ripple effect on our schools should be felt. It’ll show that we really do care about children and the future of our country.

It’s a way forward. Thank you, Mr. James Q. Wilson. I wonder what the Q stands for!

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line, DianeRavitch.net, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

One Response to “Education’s ‘broken windows.’”

  1. W. Pettyjohn

    Wonderful analogy! I think we need to start educating the students who are really in our classrooms, not the ones we wish were there. Most of the students in my classroom are NOT college bound and need skills that will enable them to do well in the world they will actually live in.


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