Shutting Us Up

You’d better watch what you say

You’d better watch what you do to me

        —Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Good Love Is Hard To Find


Do you ever look around you and ask yourself, “What the hell is happening to us?”  I’ve found myself in that boat lately after a string of stories I’ve been seeing.

Wednesday, a group of students from the Penn State chapter of the Young America’s Foundation were outside the student union building handing out free copies of the United States Constitution.  They were doing so in one of the campus’ handful of specially-designated “free speech zones,” which in itself begs the question why—on Constitution Day, no less—they had to confine themselves to a specially-designated area to exercise their right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the very Constitution they were trying to distribute.  Worse, not only were they at a university—a place where almost by definition the whole idea is to marinate in a free exchange of ideas—but they were at a state university, meaning they were on public property.

The students were then confronted by university officials, who told them they could stand there and distribute their materials, but because they hadn’t reserved a space in advance—undoubtedly requiring a fee (read: free speech tax)—they had to take down their display table (which, of course, was allowing them to attract the attention of interested people without the uncomfortable exercise of personally confronting everyone whether they like it or not).  And if they didn’t comply, the official was going to call the cops.  The reason?  It “violates the policy.”  Nothing about the students being disruptive, destructive, or inciting violence—just mindless, jackbooted enforcement of “the policy.”

You WILL comply, and you will do so because I say so.  

Now, you know the people behind these kinds of policies are the same people who were taking over university administration buildings and rioting with police when they were exercising their freedom of speech in the 1960s.  Apparently anything goes when they’re the ones doing the talking, but mention a conservative idea like the Constitution—the modern Progressive Left never talks in Constitutional terms anymore—and you’d better jump through their policy hoops or shut up.

Think that’s insane?  Read on.

At Arkansas State, a football player and student manager were killed over the summer in separate incidents.  The team sought to honor the pair—both of whom were known to have been Christians—with a small sticker on the back of their helmets depicting a cross bearing the two students’ initials.  Predictably, an atheist got bent out of shape enough to bitch, and the university punted (a decision later reversed, but only after a conservative legal foundation threatened to sue the school, and only on the stipulation that the players voluntarily wear the sticker and pay for it themselves).

How juvenile and self-absorbed do you have to be to complain about a sticker a bunch of 19-year-old kids employ to help grieve over their dead friends at an event nobody forced you to attend?

Last week, principal Val Wyatt told the football booster club at Ventura High School in California that they would be forbidden from selling 200 sandwiches donated by a local Chick-fil-A.  The original reason given was that the principal was working to keep the school free of marketing by vendors attempting to reap a profit.  Profits?!?! Horrors!  But as Todd Starnes points out, the Chick-fil-A shop donated the sandwiches; it wasn’t going to make a dime.  The principal conceded that her real motivation—supported by the district superintendent—was that she didn’t like Chick-fil-A’s position on gay rights:

“With their political stance on gay rights and because the students of Ventura High School and their parents would be at the event, I didn’t want them on campus.”

Trouble is, as Starnes also notes, Chick-fil-A as a corporate entity—bear in mind even that is separate from the local franchise owner who was actually donating the sandwiches—doesn’t have a position on gay rights.  And if what she’s really referring to is company president Dan Cathy’s now-infamously mis-paraphrased remarks in a 2012 interview in which he was asked about his personal views on same-sex marriage, all he said was he supported the Biblical definition of the family unit.  He didn’t slander or demean homosexuals. [As an aside, I’m not even sure you can characterize his statements as affirmatively opposing gay marriage or any other “gay rights.”  Saying you support traditional marriage is not the same thing as saying you oppose legislation permitting Ken to marry Steve (or marry Steve and Rick, or marry Mr. Tinkles the cat), and it’s worth noting that many of these same people on the Progressive Left support abortion at the top of their lungs yet will tell you that they do not condone abortion in their personal lives.]  But it was enough to deny the kids on the Ventura High football team the benefit of a charitable donation large enough to have bought brand-new state-of-the-art helmets for every kid on the team.

I wonder what Principal Wyatt will have to say to the parents of the first kid with a life-altering brain injury.

But wait. There’s more.

Last month at the College of Coastal Georgia, physics professor Dr. Leon Gardner handed out a syllabus that informed his students if they responded to someone’s sneeze by saying “bless you”—a common courtesy dating to before the Middle Ages, and maybe even to before the time of Christ—it would result in up to a 15% grade reduction. 15%.  That’s turning a B into a C-.  The rule was later rescinded after a massive public outcry, but the idea that it would even occur to someone to enact it in the first place speaks volumes.

At Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville, 8th grader Chloe Rubiano came to school last month wearing a t-shirt that said “Virginity Rocks.”  A laudable sentiment in a 13-year-old, don’t you think?  But at a school where girls are pregnant and guidance counselors distribute condoms, apparently the concept of virginity is too disruptive and sexually-charged to be permitted in public.  So she was forced to change into a gym shirt or be sent home.

This is where we are with our schools.  You can’t distribute the Constitution—even in a designated “free speech zone” on public property—without being slapped with a hyper-technical violation of bureaucratic “policy.”  You can’t mourn a dead teammate by putting a sticker on your football helmet.  You can’t support the local high school football team by selling sandwiches donated by a franchisee of a corporation whose president says he’s happy he’s still married to his first wife and that she’s a she.  You can’t say “bless you” if someone sneezes.  Your 8th grader can’t support virginity, at least not out loud.  Updating a post from several years ago, the 9th Circuit full panel has upheld rulings that an American high school can ban students from wearing American flags because they might incite Hispanic students to violence.   And as I’ve covered previously, your 5th grader can’t read his bible in class during “free” reading time, and if you protest too loudly about your 14-year-old being assigned porn as required reading you go to freaking jail.

Meanwhile . . .

At Clemson University, students and faculty are being required to answer a survey that asks, among other things, how many times they’ve had sex in the last 3 months, and with how many people.  Failure to do so is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.  Supposedly this is part of some kind of sensitivity training the federal government is requiring under Title IX—and if so, it’s a good example of why the federal government shouldn’t be funding state universities in the first place—but one struggles to see the connection.  I’ll let that speak for itself.

In a world where even dozens of purported “Catholic” universities—including Notre Dame—have sponsored productions of The Vagina Monologues in recent years, and public schools make graphically illustrated sex ed books available to middle school kids, I suppose this shouldn’t be that surprising.  But this is where our cow-towing to political correctness has gotten us.  Sane, rational speech that happens not to fit with the Progressive narrative is banned, while perverted and hyper-sexualized expression, behavior, and intrusions are perfectly acceptable.

I understand that the First Amendment does not mean you can say anything, anytime, anywhere.  And I get it that schools need to be able to maintain a certain degree of order, particularly inside classrooms, to be able to fulfill their primary mission of teaching.  But this persistent and two-faced attack on conservative expression is out of control.

If the Progressive Left gets to control—by force—what we can say and where we can say it, particularly in our schools, then it’s over.  We have to fight back.  We have to push back against this sort of PC-fascism and reclaim our unalienable rights guaranteed to us under the First Amendment.  All of us.  If we don’t start doing it soon, there may be little left we have to say about it.



A Tale Of Two Books

I remember when, I remember, I remember

When I lost my mind

There was something so pleasant about that place

Even your emotions had an echo in so much space

And when you’re out there without a care,

Yeah I was out of touch

But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough

I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?

            —Gnarls Barkley, Crazy




I saw these two stories separately, but h/t to Glenn Beck for helping me make the connection.

Meet Giovanni Rubeo, a Fifth Grade student at Park Lakes Elementary School in Broward County, Florida (yes, that Broward County).  It seems that his class sometimes gets “free reading” time during first period.

Well, by now we know that some are more free than others, and you can see the next part coming a mile away, can’t you?

Young Master Rubeo had the audacity to break out his new Bible—a gift from his church—as his choice of reading material.  His teacher, one Swornia Thomas, caught him red-handed with the inflammatory, racist, homophobic, and otherwise patently offensive literature, and ordered him to put it away.  In a voicemail to Giovanni’s father, Mrs. Thomas explained that “He [Giovanni] had a book, a religious book, in the classroom.  He’s not permitted to read those books in my classroom.”

The horror.

Imagine for a second the global outrage and rioting that would have erupted had the book in question been the Koran (also—so I’m told, anyway—a “religious book”).  We’d have petitions in the U.N. for sanctions, and President Obama would probably have had to dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to Florida to genuflect before some Imam just to stem the carnage.

The school district later clarified that Giovanni was of course allowed to read his Bible before and after school and during lunch, but conveniently made no mention of the “free reading” period during class.  Mrs. Thomas, for her part, has apparently refused to comment, although the schoolteacher’s husband reportedly told CBS Miami “She ain’t got nothing to say to you . . . get the [expletive] out of my yard.”

I’ll just let that speak for itself.

So we have a public elementary school teacher telling a Fifth Grader that he’s not permitted to read “those books”—i.e. the Bible—in her classroom.  Keep that in mind as we move to the next story.

Meet William Baer, whose daughter is a 14 year old Freshman at Gilford High School in Gilford, New Hampshire.  He learned that his daughter was assigned to read the book 19 Minutes by Jodi Picault.  The book’s defenders claim it has “important themes,” that it’s thought-provoking and appropriate for 9th graders, and that it’s been assigned at the school for years.

Among these “important themes” about which it’s appropriate for a public school to provoke 14 year olds to devote so much thought is an unbelievably graphic sex scene—one could read it as rape, in that the girl at one point says “no” although she soon becomes an enthusiastic participant—complete with a description of climax and ejaculation.  As Beck pointed out on his radio program, the book’s account is so graphic that if you filmed it as written and gave the film to a 14 year old, you’d be arrested for distributing pornography to a minor.  Even to read it on the air he was forced to substitute euphemisms in many places.  It was that bad.

Now, I’m not about censorship, for all I know the book may very well have some redeeming academic merit; Atlas Shrugged, and even the Bible have sex scenes, albeit not nearly in the same titillation universe as this one.  But to not only make this book available but in fact compel 14 year olds to read it without notifying parents first or providing an alternative assignment is beyond shocking.

And I haven’t even gotten to the good part.

When Mr. Baer learned of the book and its contents, he was understandably concerned, and he took his concern to a meeting of the school board.

Where he got himself arrested.

Yes, arrested.

For what heinous crime, you ask?  He exceeded the two-minute speaking limit.  Yep, he went over his two minutes, so a police officer put him in handcuffs and hauled his ass to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.

I am, of course, taking a little bit of dramatic license here.  Mr. Baer was asked to stop or leave, and apparently he dared the officer to arrest him, so you might argue that he brought it on himself.  But that’s really beside my point.  Hold these two situations next to each other and ask what it says about where we are as a society.

On the one hand we have a child—a child—attempting to use his free reading time to, I don’t know, read freely.  But he is precluded from doing so because his choice of literature happens to be the Bible.  How ridiculous is that?  There is no contention that he was preaching or proselytizing; he wasn’t trying to win any converts, and he wasn’t disrupting class.  He was just reading his book—a book that not that long ago would have been required reading in most households in the U.S., and that is still a fundamental academic tool for understanding history and Western literature (try reading Milton or even Lord of the Rings without a grasp of the Bible).

There is no conceivable objection to a child using time designated for reading to read his Bible.  The book itself isn’t objectionable as long as you don’t force it on others.  Any appeal to “separation of church and state” is simply moronic—(a) the concept doesn’t exist in the Constitution, contrary to ignorant common belief, and (b) the proper 1st/14th Amendment application is the preclusion against government entities—like a public school, Mrs. Thomas—from erecting any barrier to the free exercise of religion.  Yet here we are, with a teacher telling an 11 year old he is forbidden to read the Bible in her classroom.

One wonders if he’d been OK had his choice of reading been 19 Minutes, Playboy (only for the articles, of course), or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

On the other hand we have a public school forcing a child—yes, a child—to read material that includes scenes better suited for the erotica aisle, or hidden behind brown paper wrapping.  If you choose to allow your kids to read that kind of stuff, that’s not for me to judge; Ms. Picault, the author of 19 Minutes, brags that she reads that book to her own kids, and I think it tells you all you need to know about her that she would not only expose them to that material but wants to share in it with them.  Ew.  But when the school makes it a mandatory assignment without telling the parents, it deprives the parents (and the school assumes for itself) of the right/responsibility of determining what is/is not appropriate for their own kids.  I know my daughter better than the school district does, and I know better than they do what she’s ready to handle.

I damn sure know I want a say in to what my kids are exposed, and at what age.

But this is where we are now.  Children are forbidden to read the Bible, but forced to read what amounts to porn.  And if a parent objects too loudly (strictly speaking, too long), they go to jail.  There are people out there—people in charge of your kids—who actually think this way.

Think about this as you watch the debate over Common Core—a favorite of Jeb Bush’s, by the way, and that tells you all you need to know about him—which is essentially a nationalization of academic curricula.  You know, because everything else we nationalize works so well.  If you think it’s bad now, what’s it going to look like when your kid’s school curriculum isn’t even determined by your local school board, but by some bureaucrat from California?

Or New Hampshire.  Or Florida.

Overprotecting Our Kids

“I’m here a week now . . . waiting for a mission . . . getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.”

            —Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now


When I was at Rice, my upperclassmen friends—particularly those with older siblings who had attended before them—would often talk about the “pussification of Rice.”  I want to talk about the pussification of America.

The community center in Oxford, Massachusetts is now running no-scoring-everybody-wins youth basketball leagues.  Now, while the article I link focuses on the 6 to 8 year old league, notice that the no-scoring leagues at the center include all the way up to age 12.  This is a growing trend around the country.  Ostensibly, the idea is to focus on fun, keeping everyone included and engaged, and to emphasize teaching game skills over winning.  In themselves these are laudable goals, and I kind of understand it in the context of things like my daughter’s 4-5 year old soccer league at the local YMCA.

But really?  Twelve-year-olds can’t keep score?

Underlying all of this, of course, is this idea that we have to shield kids from the emotional trauma of losing.  After all, having winners and losers favors one set of players over another, and results in unequal outcomes, and we can’t have that.  But it goes on.

The school board in Windham, New Hampshire has just voted 4-1 to ban dodgeball (and other “human target” games) from the district’s schools.  Apparently some parents were complaining that bullies were targeting their kids during games. 

Don’t worry about that mean old Jimmy, Son.  We’ll talk to the school board and if they don’t ban dodgeball, we’ll file a lawsuit.  That’ll teach ‘em.

Jeez.  Rather than standing up to the alleged bullies, choosing not to play, or simply asking gym teachers to better monitor the games, we have to elevate this to the freaking school board and ban the age old PE staple altogether.  All because little Johnny got his feelings hurt.  What’s next?  You know, in baseball we sometimes try to tag a runner—the practice used to be called “soaking,” where you basically had to pound the runner with the ball itself—to get an out.  In kickball we actually throw the ball at runners.  In football we try to knock the ballcarrier down.  Tag is, well, tag.  Ever seen the wall of players guarding their testicles in front of an indirect kick in soccer?   All “human targets.”  Are we going to ban those? 

And we’re not confining our loving protection of these tender sensitivities to sports.  Consider what we’re now seeing in academia.

I’ve previously reported on the growing trend of schools eliminating the concept of an F.  More and more, schools are adopting policies setting a mandatory minimum grade of 70, regardless of the student’s actual performance.  Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor said that “If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I’m going to err on the side of opportunity.”  In Texas we actually had to enact a statute to prevent some school districts from setting minimum grade threshholds, and had to defend it in court. 

But it gets worse.  Not only are we increasingly shielding kids from adverse consequences resulting from poor classroom performance, some schools are now taking measures to shield those poor performers from the stigma and disappointment caused by the achievements of their classmates.  In Ipswich, Massachusetts, the local middle school has canceled “Honors Night,” a long-standing tradition in which high academic achievers are honored with a dinner, awards, and speakers.  Although the school has denied the charge, claiming that it just moved the function from a separate awards night to including it in a larger daytime awards assembly, the explanatory letter Principal David Fabrizio sent to parents is telling:

“The honors night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average.”

In other words, to avoid hurting the feelings of those who don’t achieve as well, we’re going to take away (or diminish) a celebration for those who do.

Over and over I see this Spockian mentality that we must at all cost buffer kids’ fragile egos from every manner of negativity.  No one ever loses.  No one ever gets hit.  No one ever gets picked on.  No one ever fails.  But rather than nurturing them, this is doing kids a tremendous disservice if not outright abusing them, because the real world isn’t that way.

There’s an old saying among gym rats (football players, boxers, Marines, etc.): pain is weakness leaving the body.  The only way to get stronger is to condition yourself to absorb the punishment, and the only way to do that is . . . by absorbing the punishment.  The real world is full of adversity.  But if we shield our kids from every conceivable emotional bump and bruise, we deny them the opportunity to develop the necessary conditioning to deal with it.  Instead they reach adulthood with a distorted worldview that can neither acknowledge nor cope with obstacles and unequal outcomes, because their whole life experience has taught them that these things do not exist.

How are they supposed to compete in the marketplace if they have never known a world with winners and losers?

How are they supposed to be able to handle a-holes and bullies if Mommy and Daddy have always taken up the fight for them?

How are they supposed to regroup and try again after a setback if they’ve never known a world with failure?

Am I suggesting that we need to be putting six-year-olds through two-a-days and sending them to personal trainers?  Certainly not.  But we have to stop coating our kids in bubblewrap.  Give them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from the consequences.  Let them experience facing—and overcoming—adversity and failure.  Push them to stand up for themselves.  Only in this way can they develop the hardness and strength of spirit—the toughness—necessary to survive on their own. 

As it stands, however, we’re raising generation upon generation addicted to Meow Mix.


EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 200th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  When we started this adventure nearly two years ago, I had a list of 21 topics, and thought we’d be lucky to stretch that list out 6 months.  Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me, sent me encouragement, and passed on links to friends.

Celebrating Average

“Your merciful God?  He destroyed his own beloved, rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of his glory.  *He* killed Mozart, and kept me alive to torture.  *Years* of torture.  Years . . . of slowly watching myself become extinct; my music growing fainter, all the time fainter, ‘till no one plays it at all.  And *his* . . . I will speak for you, Father.  I speak for all mediocrities in the world.  I am their champion.  I am their patron saint.  Mediocrities everywhere . . . I absolve you.”

            —F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus

What happens to us as a society when we stop cultivating talent?

Our parish priest once asked us why, if we were paying for private school anyway, we weren’t sending our kids to our parish school.  The answer at the time was pretty simple: St. Laurence didn’t have any kind of an honors program for academically gifted students, while the nearby secular school was nothing but an accelerated curriculum.  When we inquired as to why that was so, what we were told was that St. Laurence’s mission was to provide basic education to as broad a swath of the community as possible, so their sole focus was on the average student.  I suppose if you’re privately funding an educational endeavor, you are free to craft its charter any way you choose.

But watch the pattern here.

Fast forward several years, and our eldest has moved on to high school.  For a number of reasons not germane here, we steered her into the local public high school, which is one of the very best in Texas and a major reason we moved to this area.  Our school district has established a number of “academies” spread among the several high schools.  These are special programs that provide accelerated college-level curricula (and credit) for students with special talent and interest in specific areas such as computers, engineering, international business, math/science, etc.  The academies operate on a “magnet” basis, meaning that students who qualify for one can enroll regardless of whether they reside in an area zoned to attend the high school hosting it.

Well, it seems someone on the school board has gotten a burr under their saddle about the academy program.  A meeting was convened last week to discuss the “fact” that the district is spending too much on the academies at the expense of not spending enough on the regular curriculum for the average students.  Of course, no one had any hard figures as to how much was “too much” or why it was too much, nor on what was “too little” or why; these were just truisms to be accepted on their face.  Much of the blame, however, apparently is being cast at the cost of the extra busing required to move academy students away from their zoned schools.  But rather than consider the obvious solution of eliminating the busing (or charging for it), the board is looking at two draconian alternatives: (1) cancel the academy program altogether, or (2) consolidate the program at one high school that is underutilized because it is in so dangerous an area that everyone has moved out (which will effectively kill the program because everyone will pull their kids out).  Either way, the effect is the same: diverting resources away from talent to funnel them to mediocrity.

This is where we’ve come as a society, and it is positively insane.

I am not for one minute suggesting that there is anything wrong with average students or that they should be looked down upon.  Nor am I suggesting that they should be denied an education.  But we as a collective whole do ourselves an enormous disservice when we don’t do everything we can to identify talent and provide it with the means truly to excel.  We should be celebrating the gifted and investing in their success; otherwise we dumb everything down.

But Rusty, won’t the gifted students still be more successful than the average students if they’re all pooled into the regular curriculum?

Most likely, sure.  But those gifted students won’t become what they could have.  The average students will still reach the same level of achievement with or without the accelerated programs (which they don’t attend, and in which many, if not most, would likely not succeed if they did).  What killing the accelerated programs does is hold back those who would have been capable of more than the average students are, if given the resources and support to nurture and develop that additional ability.

Rather than maximizing our potential for development by investing in talent, we are increasingly about celebrating the average at the expense of the successful.  This was one of the principal warnings in Atlas Shrugged.  Consider the story of Midas Mulligan, the world’s most successful banker, who was sued under a law that forbade discrimination in any matter involving a person’s livelihood.  The plaintiff in that case was a failed businessman who demonstrated that due to his own incompetence his only chance to make a living was to be given the money to buy a factory.  As Mulligan tells it:

“[A] court of law ordered that I honor, as first right to my depositors’ funds, the demand of those who would offer proof that they had no right to demand it.  I was ordered to hand out money earned by men, to a worthless rotter whose only claim consisted of his inability to earn it.”

A court ordered him to make a loan to a man whose only qualification for the loan was that he lacked the business talent to qualify for that loan.  Ineptitude equaled need, and thus constituted the trump card over ability in the claim on resources.  Mulligan refused to participate in such an absurdity, and instead chose to close shop and drop out of society altogether.

This is where we’re heading.  We’ve already dumbed-down most of our core classwork in favor of standardized-testing based checklists; today’s average high school senior would flunk the 8th grade of 1950, not because of a lack of intelligence, but because we don’t teach the material anymore.  Many school districts have abolished Fs in a misguided attempt to protect children’s self-esteem and curb their dropout rate at the expense of actually making the kids learn.  And now we’re making a conscious decision to refuse to give those students who have the ability to excel the opportunity to make the most of that ability, choosing instead to increase our societal investment in those whose more modest potential is already more or less being maximized.

When we focus our resources on the average, when we shift our support from the gifted to the lowest common denominator, we as a society become limited to that which the mediocre can achieve.  The median is the ceiling, and we deny ourselves the opportunity to realize the much greater heights that could have been achieved had we nurtured the ability to fly in those that could.  This is the Peter Principle in its ultimate manifestation.

Why would we cheat ourselves like that?



BENGHAZI UPDATE:  107 days since a military attack on sovereign U.S. soil killed four Americans while somebody in intelligence or the White House watched live via spy drone, and the President still hasn’t addressed the American people about it.  He’s on vacation in Hawaii, and his Secretary of State is nowhere to be found.

The Ebbing Tide Of Personal Responsibility

“Private Pyle, if there is one thing in this world that I hate, it is an unlocked footlocker!!  You know that, don’t you?  If it wasn’t for dickheads like you, there wouldn’t be any thievery in this world, would there?”

            —R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket

Last week it was reported that New York City public schools were loosening their disciplinary code to eliminate suspensions for, among other things, cutting class, cussing, and smoking.  According to Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

“[W]e don’t just push students out of the classroom where they’re not learning as well . . . [o]ur goal is also to make sure if counseling is appropriate we put counseling in place for them and not just suspend.

“Education law specialist” Nelson Mar echoed the sentiment:

“Often times when children are removed for disciplinary measures it has a negative impact on education, so they have a greater likelihood of failing their classes and also a greater likelihood of them dropping out.

And an unnamed parent also agreed, saying:

“Often kids acting out need more support, not less.  I think guidance would help the student thrive in school more.”

The idea, as best I can tell, is we don’t want to suspend the student, because doing so risks alienating the kid from school, thus compounding the problem.  Better to talk to them, tassel their hair, and give them a hug than to mete out punishment.


This is tells you a lot of what’s wrong and getting worse in this country.  We’re so worried about not hurting children’s feelings that we’re failing to teach the basic life skills necessary to function in a free society: self-discipline, self-control, and personal responsibility.  Not that these things are necessarily the primary responsibility of the public schools—these things really should be being taught at home.  But the NYC school situation is indicative of a larger problem.

I think back to when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s.  The little league baseball organization in the small town I lived in gave a “sportsmanship” award to the players on the last place team every year.  In other words, in an effort to ensure that everyone got included and everyone got a prize, the league rewarded failure.

But at least we kept score.

There is a growing trend towards non-competitive no-scoring leagues for youth sports, where the games are played, but no score is kept, and at the end of play no one wins and no one loses (query whether they even count balls, strikes, and outs).  At least not officially.  The idea is to emphasize fun, sportsmanship, and learning the basics of the game, and I’m all for that for younger children to a point.  But at some point you have to recognize the perhaps unintended consequences of what you’re teaching, particularly when you understand that this is only one cog in a larger wheel.

A 2008 ABC News piece reported that an increasing number of American public schools were eliminating failing grades altogether, opting instead for do-over opportunities.  Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor said that “If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I’m going to err on the side of opportunity.”  In Texas we actually had to enact a statute to prevent some school districts from instituting a “minimum grade” threshold of 50, 60, or—yes, this was seriously proposed—70 regardless of the student’s actual performance, and then had to go to court to defend it.  Of course, no small part of the motivation for this move is that the adults in charge—the administrators and teachers—are evaluated largely by the performance of the students.  Eliminating failure (or minimizing its magnitude) by decree gives the appearance of better performance, and thus better evaluations for the faculty, and that’s a whole lot easier than pushing the students to actually do the work to learn the material and pass.  Once again, we seem to miss what we’re teaching when in the interest of self-esteem we give 20 work a passing grade of 70.

Even at home I see a trend towards the avoidance of any adverse results, rather than on preparation and work.  In my girls’ school, we have frequently seen parents obviously doing their kids’ homework for them.  Parents are even going so far as to pull their children out of school for the day just prior to a test for which the child hasn’t prepared, instead of keeping kid in class and making them experience what happens when it’s test time and they haven’t studied.

And have you seen a video game lately?  I confess we have some of these in my house.  Standard fare involves moving a character through a virtual world—fantasy Dungeons & Dragons type stuff, post-apocolyptic dystopia, World War, da ‘hood, you name it—where you kill everyone and everything you see.  Or you get killed.  Except that your character never actually dies, it just starts over wherever you left off.  It was one thing when you got three lives in Pac-Man; you were talking about a pizza-shaped cartoon, and your do-overs were limited by the number of quarters you had.  Here your character is human (albeit virtual), and the extra lives are limitless.

What’s the common thread?  There are no consequences.  There is no reward for effort and success, just for showing up, and there is no downside for failure.  There is no punishment for failing to adhere to minimum social norms.   This is what we’re teaching when nobody wins or loses, nobody fails, nobody gets kicked out, and nobody dies.  It’s just an endless series of do-overs, all in the name of preserving self-esteem.

Well, it’s no wonder, then, that we find ourselves increasingly in a culture of entitlement that embraces the concept of the free lunch and the bailout.  Whether it’s TARP money to banks, welfare with no expectation of actually getting a job, or government-forced forgiveness (or taxpayer-funded buyout) of loan principal, more and more we expect we will be relieved of any  burden associated with our actions.  Why wouldn’t we expect that, if from childhood we’ve never been expected to follow the rules, and it didn’t matter whether we did the work and learned the material because we’d get a passing 70 either way.  Everyone gets the same reward whether they win or lose.  Why should it be any different when we’re adults?

A child of whom nothing’s ever been expected can’t really be expected to produce results when it matters.  I have news for you, but the Chinese don’t give a rat’s ass whether it hurts your feelings that their engineers are better equipped and take your job.  The real world is competitive.  There are winners and losers.  Actions have consequences.  People die, and there is no second life.

If we haven’t learned to compete as children, if we haven’t been taught the self-respect that comes from personal responsibility and achievement (rather than the false self-worth that comes from everything in life having been handed to you for free), we will have no chance of leading in the world of the future, or of providing for ourselves and determining our own destiny.

There will be none of us left who knows how.


As an aside, I’m finishing this up about 6:00 p.m. on Monday evening and looking at the program guide for Dish Network.  CNN—the same cable “news” network that gave the RNC convention selected coverage last week—is currently running “Countdown Democratic Convention.”  That’s followed at 7:00 p.m. by “Obama Revealed,” which bills itself as a sit-down conversation with Barack Obama about his time in office.  And the two programs alternate, without break, until 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow they cover the DNC convention from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00, give Piers Morgan an hour, then replay the convention from midnight to 2:00 a.m., and again from 3:00 to 4:00 a.m.

But there’s no bias in the mainstream media.

What Are We Teaching?

Marty:            It’s just that another year has come and gone and I’m still doing the same old thing.  Stand over here, trot over there.  Eat some grass.  Walk back over here.
Alex:               I see your problem.
Marty:            Maybe I should go to law school.
—Chris Rock as the voice of Marty the Zebra, and Ben Stiller as the voice of Alex the Lion in Madagascar
Let me say first that college isn’t for everybody.  I don’t mean that as some sort of elitist/racist snobbery—there are plenty of white kids from wealthy suburban families boozing it up as frat house legacies who have no business darkening the door of a university classroom.  What I mean is there are a large number of undergraduate students who lack the desire, scholastic skills, and/or mental horsepower to perform in a college environment.
That said, something about the modern U.S. academy is to a large degree failing our young people in terms of preparing them to function in the real world.  Case in point: a new analysis of government data by the Associated Press reveals that 54% of college graduates under 25 were unemployed in 2011, compared with 41% in 2000.  Many more are underemployed, working outside their field of study in jobs that simply don’t require a college degree. 
As tuitions skyrocket, stories abound of students incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt only to find that at the end of their four years (or however long it takes), there is no job for them to earn the money to pay those loans back.  Typical of these stories is that of Michael Bledsoe, a 23-year-old Seattle resident currently working as a barista for a little better than minimum wage.  “I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” he says, explaining that his job search has dwindled from sending three or four resumes a day down to a current pace of one every couple of weeks.  
The story’s implicit undercurrent is that there must be something dreadfully wrong with the economy—presumably that something is George W. Bush’s fault and only Obama can fix it—for this to be happening.  But what’s interesting here is the study makes the shocking observation that your job prospects coming out of college have a great deal to do with what you chose to study.  There is good demand for college graduates in hard sciences, education, and health, but not so much for those with degrees in the arts or humanities, and the more esoteric you get, the worse your prospects.  Mr. Bledsoe, discussed above, is surprised to learn there aren’t many employers looking for someone with a degree in creative writing (one wonders if his prominent nose ring and nearly dime-sized aboriginal ear piercings might also be contributing factors).
Who knew?
This got me wondering just what courses of study our universities are offering these days.  Looking through the on-line materials for the University of Texas at Austin, I see some gems such as:
Communications Studies  Texas tells prospective students that this major “prepares a student for . . . any job involving interaction with people.”  In other words, we don’t know how, but this major prepares you to do anything.  Really?
Bachelor of Social Work  According to Texas, this major provides the training for students to seek “an exciting professional career and land employment in many different public and private work settings.”  Which ones?  Again, this gives so little specifics that it basically says nothing.
American Studies  This major “is always changing and can accommodate almost any interest or idea . . . If you can dream it up, there’s probably a place for it in American Studies . . . American Studies is so broad, it’s great preparation for work or graduate school.”  I think they could have left out the “work” part.  This looks essentially to be a major in attention deficit disorder.
Texas also offers the obligatory palette of ethnic/sexual orientation self-contemplation majors: African and African Diaspora Studies, Asian-American Studies, Mexican-American Studies, European Studies (I assume this is somehow something different than “History”), Hebrew Language and Literature (not to be confused with the separate Jewish Studies), Islamic Studies (not to be confused with the separate Middle Eastern Studies), Latin American Studies, Scandinavian Studies, and, of course, the ubiquitous Women’s and Gender Studies.  Not just to pick on Texas, I can report that similar offerings appear in the student catalogue at my alma mater, Rice University, and even at the venerable Harvard (which offers classic courses of study like “Urban Education and Leadership”—apparently at the Yard you can actually major in Barack Obama).  One suspects that the menu is very similar at virtually any other American university.
How did we get here?
Somewhere in the Spockian move to shield children from all negative outcomes and encourage them to be and do whatever makes them happyregardless of how impractical or unproductive it might bewe seem to have developed a collective assumption that all you have to do is show up at a college and do your time however you please, and the American Dream will be handed to you as your birthright.  And, of course, Obama is now playing to that assumption as a vote-driver, upping the ante to all but promise that not only will it all be handed to you, but the government will pay for it. 
Let’s understand something.  The idea that in America you’re free to be anything you want to be does not include the idea that society is obligated to make it work for you.  Nobody owes you a college education; certainly not one in whatever perverted art form (apparently vandalizing someone else’s pro-life demonstration by covering it with thousands of condoms now passes as the serious college-level study of art, right up there with welding toilet parts into random shapes) or narcissistic navel-gazing you and a tenured professor manage to agree merits a B.A.  And nobody owes you a job when you get out.  Just because you find Atlantean Language and Literature fascinating doesn’t mean anyone else—other than the professor who taught you—does.  More to the point, your interest in that subject doesn’t make you valuable to a prospective employer.
We’ve discussed this before.  Jobs don’t exist as a matter of constitutional right, and they don’t exist because government creates them.  Jobs exist because someone who owns a business (typically for profit) has a task they need done.  My guess is there simply isn’t much demand out there for someone with a degree in “Museum Studies” (a real major at Harvard).
No, I don’t consider college simply a trade school.  And yes, there is merit to broadening one’s mind for its own sake.  If your life won’t be complete until you’ve spent four years studying the great works of Esperanto, ancient Eskimo ice painting, or social justice and the Yeti, go for it.  But when you borrow $100,000—often from the federal taxpayer—to do it, you need to have a plan for how you’re going to pay it back, because that’s the agreement you made when you borrowed it.  Don’t come to me as the surprised victim of a grand conspiracy by the 1% when you find yourself six figures in debt and unable to pay it back because no one will hire you with a degree in Hyphenated-American Urban Lesbian Studies.