THE SECRETARY of education, William J. Bennett, has accepted -- with unconcealed relief -- the resignation of his special assistant for educational philosophy. She is the writer who argued that federal aid for handicapped children is misguided and only diverts resources from other children. But her departure doesn't quite end this fiasco. She was to have served in an Office of Educational Philosophy and Practice that Mr. Bennett was setting up. While the staff assistant has departed, the office apparently survives. That raises a couple of questions:
Doesn't an Office of Educational Philosophy and Practice sound like the kind of pretentious boondoggling that serious intellectuals correctly deride? Mr. Bennett himself is, after all, a serious intellectual and one who earned a PhD in philosophy. He knows what the word means. Educational philosophy, in contrast, is a subject that does not enjoy a strong academic reputation. Applied to an office in a government bureaucracy, the term suggets cheerleading, speech writing and time serving. Mr. Bennett has been in office less than three months. It would be melancholy to think that his philosophical standards had slipped so far so soon.
And doesn't an Office of Ed. Phil. sound to you like the kind of waste-in-government that David Stockman would have attacked, vigorously and successfully, if it had been set up by the Carter administration? As a line item, it invites closer scrutiny by the Office of Management and Budget. Its justification, as the auditors say, is unclear. Its purpose is evidently to serve as another soapbox for people hired by the Department of Education to denounce the whole idea of a Department of Education. Mr. Bennett would do better to turn that function over to the private sector. How about a Soapbox Privatization program?
As Congress struggles to reduce the budget deficit, it could usefully take another look at the Office of Educational Philosophy. Abolishing it deserves at least as much consideration as, say, another cut in the school lunch money.