Whither Expertise?

According to a front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Review, “The Diplomats Can’t Save Us.” (An accompanying story says “The Generals Can’t Either.”)

As the story continues on the jump page, there’s a series of quotations from career diplomats “asking if their services are still valued”; describing “a toxic, troubled environment and organization” and “complete and utter disdain for our expertise” and “a slow unraveling of the institution.”

I understand that looming international dangers become ever more urgent when the State Department is dominated by neophytes and amateurs, and that those dangers can include human rights abuses, terrorist attacks, and even war. And I am appropriately frightened.

But that doesn’t keep me from noticing that those jump-page quotations could just as easily have come—with absolutely no editing required—from teachers in America’s public school districts.

We seem to have blundered into an era in which expertise is demeaned and incompetence is ignored—not only in the State Department, but also in the Education Department, and in many local Boards of Education. Not to mention the West Wing.

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