IT IS NOT SURPRISING that the nomination of Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler to be the first secretary of education is encountering some opposition. She is not, after all, a part of the educationa establishment that worked so hard to get this new Cabinet-level department created. Thus, she is said by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, among others, to lack the necessary experience in education and management for the job.
To us, the fact that Judge Hufstedler has had relatively little experience in the education field, other than as a consumer, is among her most important credentials. If the new Department of Education is to be anything more than an institutionalized lobby for professional educators, it must begin its life not only with a broad perspective on this country's educational needs but with a limited view of what the role of the federal government in education should be.
Judge Hufstedler's opening statement at the hearings on her nomination suggests that she understands both the possibilities and the dangers of the new department. While she said she believes the federal government should be encouraging educational excellence at all levels, she promised to work to minimize federal "disruption and domination" of the schools. "The strength of our educational system is rooted in the primacy of state and local governments," she told the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
The recognition -- and acceptance -- of the primacy is critical to any success the Department of Education may have. The clamor around the country concerning over-regulation by Washington is nothing compared with what it will be if local school boards begin to feel a larger federal presence in their affairs. Judge Hufstedler's lack of ties to wither the educational establishment or the existing Washington bureaucracy gives her a chance, at least, to start the new department on a course that helps those who have the basic responsibility for educating our critizens -- as distinct from hindering them.