Thursday, 2 November 2006

Don't offend jelly bellies

Political correctness has claimed yet another sacrifice. But this time the affronted victims calling for blood are not a super-sensitive ethnic or religious group, not of the perpetually grieved feminist persuasion, but of a type we don't normally associate with teary-eyed victimhood. This time we are talking about overweight policemen.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, you had better think twice before you offend the delicate feelings of your local jelly-bellied constable on patrol. It could cost you your job. Ask Police Chief Paul Goward.

Goward committed the impardonable sin of addressing a memo entitled "Are you a jelly belly?" to the 80-member police force of Winter Haven, Florida. Although no individual was named or singled out, hurt feelings prevailed and Goward was forced out for exhorting his force to lose their overhanging guts in the interests of better carrying out their jobs. (Remember Will Smith in Men in Black? "I AM half the man you are!") The department became the butt of fat cop and doughnut jokes. And now they can be the butt of weepy, touchy-feely cop jokes too, and they will richly deserve it.

Speaking as a fellow jelly belly, I say, "Suck it up guys!" Better yet, suck it in. Goward is right. You can't carry out your job as well with suburban sprawl creeping over your belt buckle. (In all fairness to the Lakeland police force, they claim Goward was routinely abrasive and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. But still I can't see anything about the memo in question that warranted a response other than a jog around the block.)

And to society in general I say, why on earth are we constantly looking for reasons to be outraged and offended? I am all for treating other people with compassion and respect, but I am sick to death of the prevailing mentality of reading sexist/racist/insensitive/nasty motivations into just about every word spoken in public. And it is about time that courts, governments and bureaucracies stopped enabling these perpetually offended people. I need my outrage for situations that genuinely warrant it (think Darfur and kiddy porn, just for starters) and these people are giving me outrage fatigue. Grow up and get over it and let's use that energy to tackle problems that actually matter.

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Wednesday, 1 November 2006

The fallacy of building self-esteem

Patrick Mascoe owes his first grade teacher a debt of gratitude. He failed him. And little Patrick, who had missed a lot of school because of asthma attacks, got a second chance to learn the fundamentals that were so necessary to ensure his success in future years. Patrick, now a teacher himself, credits that teacher with saving his entire school career. And his frustration is acute as he sees his attempts to do the same stymied by principals and parents who argue that it will damage the children's self-esteem.
He explained to my parents that without mastering the basics I would lag behind. He saw it more as an opportunity for me to learn what I had missed. I can honestly say that had I not repeated Grade 1, I probably would not have graduated from high school. My self-esteem wasn't a concern. My academic development was. Having obtained three university degrees (one in education), in retrospect my Grade 1 teacher did the right thing.

Had I grown up in today's education system, with its tendency to abolish student failure, I would not have been permitted to repeat Grade 1. Today's educational environment believes that failing is taboo. Students don't fail because it's deemed bad for their self-esteem. Feeling good about a subject is now more important than being good at it.

As teachers, we tell our students not to be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to make mistakes, and don't be afraid to fail because this is how we learn, but we are being hypocritical because rather than embracing failure as a method of learning, we are now being instructed by administrators to ignore it.

So the students go to the next grade anyway, sometimes with their basic skills years behind the proper levels. Their self-esteem is definitely upheld by being the stupid kid in the class, often being labelled "special needs" when their only special need is to learn discipline and responsibility. They learn the important lesson that effort and accomplishing goals is pointless; they will be rewarded no matter what they do. You can imagine what a useful preparation for the real world that is! They hit the job market full of confidence, knowing that no matter how poor their output, they will be promoted and praised nonetheless.


The foolishness of such an approach is so immense that it makes you wonder what planet the educators who support it come from. But unlike aliens, their existence can easily be demonstrated. They are in charge of the system.

They are undoubtedly the same ones who keep feeding the children the line: "Follow your dreams. Just believe in yourself, and whatever you want to be, you can be." This is nothing short of child abuse, in my mind.

Martin Luther King, Jr.I know I am offending the prevailing dogma here, but you can't sell a product like that without the appropriate warnings. It just ain't true in far too many cases. I personally have watched friends with tin ears and no rhythm convince themselves they can be musicians, squat homely girls dream of being fashion models, and do-nothing students persuade themselves that their future holds lucrative contracts as rap artists. An entire industry has been created to exploit these poor deluded fools and expose them to public ridicule. We all know that American Idol is just as much about mocking the losers - often viciously - as it is about helping the winners. We sell them the dream and then jeer at them as we brutally wake them.

Before you tell your children to pursue their dream, there are some important questions they need to ask themselves. Not only do they need to ask if they have the basic abilities necessary but it is also worth determining if the dream itself is worthy of pursuit. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream worth pursuing. But most of the visions dancing in their heads are taudry affairs, toxic sugarplums of self-aggrandization and ego-inflation, the worship of celebrity rather than the creationof excellence.

If our children are taught to work toward dreams of excellence, not fame, and to cherish the process as much as the result, then they will not be crushed when the shoddy structure of fantasy castles collapses on them. Dreams rooted in reality and a worthy cause are the kind that they devote their lives too, becoming truly rich in the process.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 29

What is Al-Jazeera up to? The Arabic news channel comes in for some fierce criticism - in the Arab media.
Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shobokshi wonders just what Al-Jazeera TV is about.

He notes that the TV channel is right out there condemning Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but has remarkably little—try nothing—to say about Lebanese imprisoned in Syria. We hear a lot about the US 'occupation of Iraq', but nothing about Iranian occupation of islands in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE. To pretend that Al-Jazeera speaks for the Arab world is nonsense, Shobokshi says.
John Burgess has more at Crossroads Arabia.

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The real beginning of the civil rights sit-in movement

This post at Stubborn Facts literally had tears streaming down my cheeks. It tells the story of the true and almost forgotten beginnings of the civil rights movement in the US, when a group of black teenagers, with immense dignity and perseverance, insisted on being served at a drugstore lunch counter. There is a memorial in downtown Wichita, Kansas, with no explanatory plaque.
If there were, that plaque would note that on July 19, 1958, several black teenagers, members of the local NAACP chapter, entered the downtown Dockum Drug Store (then the largest drug store chain in the state) and sat down at the lunch counter. They were ignored. They kept coming back and sitting at the counter, from before lunch through the dinner hour, at least twice a week for the next several weeks. They sat quietly, creating no disturbance, but refusing to leave without being served.

The store tried to wait them out by ignoring them. They kept coming back and sitting there, silently, day after day, waiting to be served. On one occasion three police officers tried to coerce and intimidate the teenagers to leave, and succeeded. But they came back, and the police did not return. They were breaking no law, only a store policy, and the store was not willing to challenge them directly.


On August 11, while the early arrivals were sitting at the counter waiting for their friends to show, a white man around 40 walked in and looked at them for several minutes. Then he looked at the store manager, and said, simply, "Serve them. I'm losing too much money." He then walked back out. That man was the owner of the Dockum drug store chain.

That day the lawyer for the local NAACP branch called the store's state offices, and was told by the chain vice-president that "he had instructed all of his managers, clerks, etc., to serve all people without regard to race, creed or color." State-wide. They had won, completely. Their actions inspired others, and the sit-in movement spread to Oklahoma City. By the middle of 1959, the national NAACP was losing disaffected members for refusing to endorse the scattered but spreading sit-in protests, gave in, and sponsored the Greensboro sit-ins.

Nineteen months before the Greensboro sit-ins that have been credited with being the start of the civil rights sit-in movement, it really began at a downtown drug store in Wichita, Kansas. The Dockum sit-ins were largely ignored by the NAACP in their archives, probably out of embarrasment, and were unknown even to many civil rights historians. That error was corrected by the NAACP this summer.
Do go around to Stubborn Facts to read the whole inspiring story. It reminds me yet again that you do not need fame, power, or connections to effect real change.

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