The editors of the New York Times have taken the time to lecture us today on term limits, specifically how they are "profoundly undemocratic" because they interfere with the voters' right to choose. This right, they explain, is the "bedrock of American democracy". They ask the Council to abolish term limits. While term limits are not naturally the focus of an education blog, the concept of four more years of Joel Klein and autocratic rule over the schools is cause for concern.
Since it wasn't so long ago the same Times editors were saying the opposite on this topic, let's instead turn to someone with a more coherent viewpoint on the essentials of American democracy.
Writing in 1787, Thomas Jefferson expressed his two objections to the proposed Constitution in a letter from Paris:
I wish with all my soul, that the nine first conventions may accept the new constitution, because this will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. But equally wish, that the four latest conventions, which ever they be, may refuse to accede to it, till a declaration of rights be annexed. This would probably command the offer of such a declaration, and thus give to the whole fabric, perhaps as much perfection as any one of that kind ever had. By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil, which no honest government should decline.
There is another strong feature in the new constitution, which I as strongly dislike. That is, the perpetual reeligibility of the President. Of this I expect no amendment at present, because I do not see that any body has objected to it on your side the water. But it will be productive of cruel distress to our country, even in your day and mine.
Jefferson saw Presidential term limits as equally important as the bill of rights. What Jefferson feared and what the Times ignores is the grave danger that arises from the intense concentration of power in one man. In our public schools the effect will be all the more profound as the current governance structure of mayoral control already gives the mayor and his chancellor autocratic control.
Any ability of parents or communities to influence the educational policies affecting their children was stripped away years ago. Now the combination of theses two measures, total mayoral control of the schools and what Jefferson called "perpetual reeligibility" of his office will mean every policy and every decision affecting the education of a generation of the city's public school children will be decided exclusively according to the agenda of one man. Nothing could be less democratic.