Trends in Benign Neglect

I read something not long ago  in which the term “benign neglect” was used.  My memory tells me it was used to describe a suggested policy in which improvements in education would occur if the State would just stop investing time and resources in making improvements in education.  In essence, the suggested policy of “laying off” was a back-handed way of saying State involvement in education creates more problems than it solves.

While not agreeing with the concept entirely, I can agree that some programs foisted on school districts do more to distract from the primary task of education than to enhance it.

But it wasn’t education that popped into my mind this morning. It was the term, “benign neglect.”  I’ve been familiar with the term for quite some time, though I couldn’t recall exactly when I first heard it.  I thought I’d explore it a bit more.

It turns out that “benign neglect” was a term used by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (while he was an urban affairs adviser to President Reagan) in a proposal to the President that the issue of race be treated with “benign neglect” in an attempt to remove emotion from the national agenda on the topic.  Whether Moynihan was the originator of the phrase, I do not know.

I wonder which governmental policies and practices could be placed at least temporarily on hold, thus giving society relief from onerous or idiotic policies in the form of benign neglect. While I think the term as used by Moynihan might have been interpreted as more neglectful than benign, I suspect there’s plenty of room for benign neglect in public policy today.  I doubt the trend is going in that direction, though.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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