Their holders do not understand how government works, but it does not have to be that way. A proper government program would send brilliant minds into government the way computer science programs have them headed into tech.
What might you be able to learn from international models here? Presumably the French "enarques" who went to the Ecole nationale de l'administration (now the INSP, says Wikipedia) got an education much more like what you're proposing. What has worked well about that and what hasn't? Of the differences between your plan and the ENA/INSP curriculum, which were due to systemic differences between France and the US and which due to differences of pedagogical approach? France also has a famous university literally called "Sciences Po"-- what are the curricular differences between that and the ENA and are there any lessons to be learned from that?
Or take the vaunted supercompetent, highly paid officials of Singapore. Where do they go to school and what do they learn there?
This is really interesting to hear especially about the lack of a structured curriculum, absence of specific starting points and goals, and the general lack of technical fluency in existing programs. I was an undergrad finance major and there were several pre-requisites and general business class requirements that made it feel like a step wise function, where you build on what you learned before.
If there was a general mechanics class, what kind of impact do you hope to achieve through the proposed shift? Would that be an enticing business case for these universities to adapt a different curriculum?
Huh, until this essay I did not realize how freeform a political science degree could be. For contrast, my CS degree involved at least eight classes that every major had to take, with expected progression between them.
Do you think part of the reason for this is an expectation that students already have knowledge about the government from before college? Or is it really just that no one seems to think it's important knowledge to have?
Hear hear! I got a political science degree (a BS in political BS) at a big state school with the intention of going into government with aims to do well to my community. By junior year it became evident that this was not what a polisci degree is useful for, however, having already started late after switching majors and "pathfinding" (humanities minor), I decided to stick it out so I can graduate college on time. Currently I work in finance due to a lucky break. What others from my class are doing with their time I'm not quite certain, but the few I do keep in touch with are not in government, nor policy making positions. My schooling was a wasted opportunity that some people go into debt for. Guidance was virtually non-existent. Knowledge I currently have about government and international relations was gleaned afterwards through personal study. It was not until much later that I discovered that the US Foreign Service existed. As a student, I thought diplomats were a political appointment made through social and wealthy connections, not a career path with a ladder.
Time is limited. Education should be intentional and rigorous so students can benefit with practical knowledge and thereby benefit society. What we have, what you described, is the opposite.
I'm unsure how I stumbled upon your essay, but it struck home. Thank you. To some degree I harbor insecurities of always being on the back foot, having to be an autodidact in both finance and politics, never having a formal education an either. Every student that goes through polisci is done a disservice, and at my university, it was one of the popular degrees given its location in the state capitol.
Interesting to learn more about this mess!
A clarifying question: are course prerequisites common in government / political science degrees?
In my computer science degree at Princeton there was a decent amount of flexibility in the later years, but the first and second year were heavily structured around a set of courses that were prerequisites for later courses. Essentially all courses had Intro to Computer Science as a prerequisite (the course enrolment system wouldn’t let you enrol without have passed or placed out of the intro class). Then there were two intermediate classes that basically everyone did in sophomore year on algorithms and computer systems. Then there was more freedom, but still typically a 400-level class in topic X required you to have done the 300-level class in something similar, which in turn required those three intro classes. This meant that we were all building off a similar pool of knowledge and techniques.
Wouldn't the Kennedy School provide a relevant point of comparison, analogously to the relationship between the Harvard Economics department and the Harvard Business School?