"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

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Nanny State Demonstration Program

I happened to be in Massachusetts this weekend so I can't help but comment on their newest ban on sweets.
Bake sales, the calorie-laden standby cash-strapped classrooms, PTAs and booster clubs rely on, will be outlawed from public schools as of Aug. 1 as part of new no-nonsense nutrition standards, forcing fundraisers back to the blackboard to cook up alternative ways to raise money for kids. - Boston Herald
The irony of this coming from state where there is a Dunkin Donuts LITERALLY every two blocks should not be lost on your typical Massachussan. The Department of Public Health and Education is even suggesting schools do away with whole milk and white bread to combat an obesity epidemic affecting a third of the state’s 1.5 million students. Dr. Lauren Smith, of the Massachuseets Department of Public Health said,
“We’re not trying to get into anyone’s lunch box. We know that schools need those clubs and resources. We want them to be sure and have them, but to do them a different way. We have some incredibly innovative, talented folks in schools who are already doing some impressive things, who serve as incontrovertible evidence that, yes, you can do this, and be successful at it.”
They're not trying to get into anyone's lunchbox, they're trying to get into their grocery cart. The DPH is pushing schools to expand the ban 24/7 into weekends and evening events as well. There are already limits on the type of foods allowed for WIC purchases. How far behind can a general ban on sugar, fat or salt be?

Massachussetts is a state on the liberal front lines for everything. They are the second largest demonstration program for the nanny state in the country, coming in just behind California. They have banned the following and more:
Those who think parents are not qualified to raise their children believe that such nanny state bans are the best way to raise children properly. They provide the necessary boundaries that otherwise intelligent parents would not know to establish.  But watching what such suppositions do to the community is disheartening.

I watched a town sponsored soccer league game for 9 year olds, in a well off town of mostly highly educated white collar workers (and quite a few tiger moms).  These parents had been retrained to be observers of those who will actually raise their children. The soccer field became an eerily silent gathering that felt more like a Stephen King novel than a fun family event.  You see, cheering had been banned in this league. 

Initially it was an attempt to quell the pushy parents coaching from the sidelines.  It has morphed into an all out ban on any type of shouting from the sidelines, justified by saying such noise confuses the kids and makes it hard for them to hear the coaches. (These kids will never make it into international football, where the vuvuzela challenges the concentration of even the passive fan.)

Midway through the second half, I watched this ominous exchange. One parent, caught up in the excitement of watching her son play, spoke in a voice just above a conversational tone, "Go Josh." In the next moment a look of panic crossed her face. She turned to the league director who was standing a few feet away and quickly apologized, "I guess I wasn't supposed to say that." He curtly responded, "Nope."  The rest of the parents shrank a little further down in their lawn chairs, pursed their lips a little tighter and kept their silent vigil over the movement on the field. It wasn't even a game, since scoring had also been banned.

That these children retain any enthusiasm for sports is a testament to natural human competitiveness.

One of the greatest teaching tools we have is feedback and these kids are being systematically deprived of it. Mom and Dad can say, "Good game" after the fact, but it can't help but feel like too little too late.  They learn to seek the approval of the official, their coach, or in school, their teacher. Their parents are being relegated to silence on the sidelines.

They will also learn the double speak of adults. While the kids' legs got exercise in the soccer league, the only muscles their parents used was their eye muscles to provide generous rolls at all the rules: No unhealthy snacks (the kids don't eat the apples and carrots brought), no bottled water (but Gatorade is ok), no cheering a goal (though every kid on the team knows what the final score was).  In the nanny state, life goes on, we just don't talk about it.

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