"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who Is Responsible For Our Actions?

The media is wringing its hands, reaching and contorting itself trying to find someone else to blame for Jarad Loughner’s actions in AZ. They are practically becoming a chiropractors dream. Some may be asking, “Where does this thought come from, that someone else can make a person act a certain way?” The simple answer is, we create it. It is thoughtfully, if unwittingly, being taught in our schools.

A middle school administrator recently spoke to the students announcing that, as part of the school’s no-bullying policy, students who are overheard saying something about another student that could be offensive or threatening to that student are subject to punitive action by the administration, up to and including detention. Let’s think about that statement for a moment.

“Students who are overheard talking...” Not students who are actively harassing another student to their face, not students intent on taking action against another student, just two kids talking about someone (perhaps not even identified), blowing off steam or gossiping as pre-teen kids are apt to do. These kids would be subject to penalties for acting like… kids. They are told that they are responsible for someone else’s feelings. They can make someone else act or feel a certain way just by talking, even if they’re not talking directly to that person. Does this sound familiar?

They are told that they can speak for someone else’s feelings if they report this conversation to the administration. And without any further clarification from the administrator, the kids believe they can act on what they think they heard without verifying it. Then there is an administration who can do what the entire US judicial system cannot. They can determine intent with accuracy based on the hearsay evidence of a third party and , using only that evidence, determine punishment. That is a truly amazing administration.

So the message to the kids is, “Watch what you say, because you are responsible for everyone else’s reactions to your speech.” If I were to do what the administration does and try to interpret the intent of the administrator making this statement to the kids I would guess that the intent was to tell the students they shouldn’t say bad things about each other. You should speak kindly and respectfully about each other and what you do in private often carries over into your public behavior. It is very hard to separate the two, so you should be good even when you don’t think anyone is watching. It’s the whole Santa Claus message.

Those are all laudable goals, but what it leaves out is the other side of this little scenario, the person listening in to the private conversation. That, apparently, is perfectly acceptable. There should be no expectation of privacy. That person is encouraged to, to use the old vernacular, “narc” on his/her peers. If you think you hear something that you subjectively judge to be offensive you should immediately walk, no run, to someone else to do something about it. And they have promised to act on your report. The message the kids get is that they cannot or should not try to address these issues by themselves. They are too weak to do that . And lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly, these kids will come to believe that what someone else merely says about them is so painful that those in power are obliged to stop it. It teaches the kids that they are fragile and impotent. Imagine what kids taught these values will do when they become adults and the administration is the government.

1 comment:

  1. According to the MO Department of Education, MO taxpayers spend $44 million on remedial education courses at the COLLEGE and UNIVERSITY levels. Why? Is this $44 million for the 3 R's (reading, riting, rithmetic). If so, don't school districts have 13-15 years to educate students to this level? Why do we pay college prices for high school or below levels of education, and don't the districts provide diplomas decreeing a student with same is literate to the 12th grade level?


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