Friday, January 29, 2010


The public school system turned one of my sons against government.  The system has perverse incentives.  He was talking to me about bullying.

In my experience and my son's, teachers turn a blind eye to bullying.  Now and then teachers and administrators work around the edges, but they are reluctant to get serious.  Here are the incentives.

If little Aristotle bullies little Socrates and the school lets this happen, what is little Socrates' parents' recourse?  They can demand the school do something.  Suppose the school does nothing?  Probably nothing happens.  Socrates' parents can sue.  To the parents' attorney, the school presents the paper trail they left that showed they were doing something to try to stop the problem.  The paper trail may be two sided, since the bully, little Aristotle, denied and lied at every stage.

Suppose the school expels little Aristotle?  Little Aristotle's parents have ironclad evidence that the school expelled their son.  Yes, the school has a paper trail, which may be two sided.  But there is clear evidence that the kid was expelled.  And maybe there is some theory by which the school singled out Aristotle.

Little Aristotle's case for being expelled is much stronger than little Socretes' case that the school should have done more.  Bad incentives guarantee that most of the time the bullies win.

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