August 14, 2011

Wrest of the West

Unless you've been living under a rock the last week or so, you may have noticed that there are riots going on in Britain, continuing riots in Greece, and here at home there has been a small epidemic of "flash mob" violence in various large cities. There has been no shortage of explanations as to why this is all happening, including, of course, the usual "progressive" conclusions: hopelessness, economic marginalization, poor schools, excessive greed by the "rich," etc. Admittedly I don't know enough about economic stratification in the UK (as opposed to the US) to make a more informed judgment about said "progressive" reasons above; however, it appears that stratification is more rigid in the Britain (less class mobility), and this site confirms it. And it is unlikely that said "progressive" reasons for rebellion are legitimate in and of themselves. But there is an underlying dynamic -- "progressive" in nature itself -- at the root.

Let's take two of the "progressive" reasons (or, if you prefer, "excuses") above -- hopelessness and a lousy educational system. Here in the United States, the question is why are many (typically urban area) schools so lousy? Is it because of lack of funding? Many urban districts have some of the highest per-pupil spending in the country. In fact, this funding usually [far] outstrips spending by Catholic and private schools, yet these schools produce better academic results. So what gives?

Well, let's see: For one, parochial and private schools have the ability to discharge students who perpetually misbehave and disrupt classes. Public schools do too, but it is an extremely onerous process, and one that district and school administrators are loath to invoke. Why? Potential lawsuits, bad publicity, and a general reluctance to deal with upset parents (or guardians). Thus, chronically disruptive students continue to wreak mayhem in classrooms, all the while knowing that there will be little, if any, repercussions. By law, special education students can only be suspended out of school for a certain amount of days per year. Did you know that? When that limit is reached, what happens? They either remain in the classroom causing problems, or often they're huddled into what's known as "in-school suspension."

(Note: I'm cognizant that the higher per-pupil spending in public schools includes the mandatory funds for special needs children, something which parochial and private schools do not have to deal with if they do not wish it. Nevertheless, overhead and administrative costs in public schools indeed outpace their private sector competitors.)

And it all begins with the small things. One of my favorite edu-bloggers, Mamacita, recently wrote about the notion of "community school supplies." Specifically, she laments that such a concept devalues the concept of ownership -- of valuing something that you purchased and thus, have a stake in (my emphasis):

I guess so, because teachers who don’t want to bother with a child’s private property are forcing the kids to dump it all in the pot for everybody to use. “Don’t be selfish.” “Share.” Well, you know what? I don’t like that kind of forced sharing. I had to share everything, EVERYTHING, and that little pile of school supplies was my only private stash of anything. I do not feel it was selfish, or is selfish, to want to keep school supplies that were carefully chosen, to oneself. Children who have their own things learn to respect the property of other children. Children with no concept of personal property tend to view the world as a buffet of free, unearned delights awaiting their grasping, grabbing hands. Both tend to grow into adults with the same concepts learned as children.

This business of everything being community property in the classroom causes problems in the upper levels, too. Junior high, high school, even college students, are expecting things to be available for them without any effort on their part. Upper level students come to class without pencils, erasers, paper, etc, because they’re used to having those things always available in some community bin somewhere in the room. They have never been required, or allowed, to maintain their own things, and now they don’t know how to. The stuff was always just THERE, for a student to help himself to. And now that they are supposed to maintain their own, they really don’t know how. Plus, why should they? HEY, I need a pencil, Teach, gimme one. No, not that one, that other one there.

In my own classroom, I've occasionally gotten grief(!) from parents and/or school personnel for my refusal to supply chronically unprepared students with pencils, paper, or whatever. Hey look, everyone occassionally forgets something at one time or another, I know that. I'm not that unreasonable that I won't lend a pencil out to a kid who usually is always prepared. I'm talking about the chronic offenders. All my school's teachers are given a fistful of pencils at the beginning of the year for a combo of personal use and for forgetful students. Being the "seasoned veteran" that I am now, I've tried just about all the "tricks" involved in lending things out and making sure I get 'em back: "minus points" for no return, kids give me something in return for a pencil (or whatever), a sign-up sheet ... Eventually I came to realize that, at my students' age, there should be no reason for such measures. That, and it always cut into instructional time more and more. Why should I waste minutes on the same unprepared kids day after day? So, today, when I hear "I don't have a pencil!" my usual retort is "And that is my problem how ...?" Then I'll say "Look around. There are around 30 others in here. I'm sure at least one of them has an extra writing utensil, so start asking." Hard-ass? Perhaps. Or, my little contribution of preparing kids to act more responsibly and to get ready for the real world. Or, at least the real world as it currently still is, God willing.

This sense of entitlement, whether it is the "rights" of chronically disruptive students to remain in classrooms to the detriment of everyone else, or the beginning seeds of "gimme" attitudes in the early grades noted by Mamacita, is not the result of an "oppressively hierarchical neo-conservative state." On the contrary, it is the direct result of progressive theories and teachings -- social, educational and beyond. In essence, when you are given things instead of having to put forth effort to acquire them, you value them a lot less, if at all.

This progressive theory also condemns any sort of "shaming" of bad behavior, often on the pretext that it will result in still more bad behavior. Notice I said I would sometimes get some grief for my stance on giving things out in my classroom to perpetually lazy students. Wondering why kids who get free breakfast and lunch have cell phones, iPods and $200 sneakers? Don't dare say anything. Don't these kids have the "right" to feel "included" by having what a lot of other kids do? Wondering why that person is using food stamps to buy a bunch of junk instead of actual food at the grocery store? Who are you to judge? Just keep your mouth shut, dammit!

During the so-called "Great Society" era we began to fundamentally alter society by giving people things. Housing. Vouchers for food. Extra money when you have another kid. Meals in schools. Transportation for after-school activities. Now I, like the vast majority of conservative-leaning folk, have little qualms about assisting people in need -- real need -- whether it's via private assistance or even some governmental help. But we've bastardized the original intent of such assistance so that the personal incentive to better one's own situation has plummeted to negligible levels. Some have recognized this perverse situation and sought remedies. Former VP candidate Jack Kemp, when he was Secretary of HUD (Housing and Urban Development), championed a program by which people in public housing could eventually assume [private] ownership of their homes. While it was not as roundly successful as one would hope, Kemp nevertheless had the right idea. After all, consider: why do public housing units quickly become blighted areas of disrepair? Is it because there is little-to-no incentive for residents to maintain upkeep ... because they have no stake in it? If it's not theirs, why should they care what happens to it? Someone will eventually come and fix it.

Ironically, what then happens when you take something away (or merely threaten to take something away) from a culture that has grown accustomed to getting something for virtually nothing ... and for whom there are little consequences for negative behavior? We witness something like that in the United Kingdom. Here in the US, on the other hand, you don't even need the former aspect; the mere fact that consequences for anti-social behavior are slim-to-none is sufficient alone for the recent series of "flash mob" violence witnessed in various big cities of late.

The good news is the public at large by and large no longer subscribes (if they ever really did) to the progressive BS about an "oppressive" society "holding down" the participants of these riots and flash mobs. Just scan through reader comments on the online reports and editorials about these events. What they recognize is that the anti-social behavior of these hooligans is largely the result of poor individual lifestyle choices made by themselves, their parents, their friends, their relatives, or any combination thereof -- and you and I who work hard, behave civilly, and act responsibly aren't accountable for it.

Posted by Hube at August 14, 2011 03:56 PM | TrackBack

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