Sunday, March 10

One In The Head

George Eff Will, "The Pop-Tart terrorist". March 8

JUST so we all understand each other right from the start, the only bit of public stupidity I hate worse than bureaucratic stupidity is stupid public grousing about bureaucratic stupidity. Maybe it's just me, but there you are, and I've always been like that. To me it's like someone squawking about how stupid diplomatic language is while ignoring the fact that it just prevented open warfare.

[And this goes double for the sub-genre of Current Events commentary which explains why some particular Sequester-required cut is so much worse, or less intelligent, or inherently evil than some other cut the commentator proposes. Fuck you. As though the great service the Republican party can provide is demanding cuts, so that it's incumbent upon the proponents of good government to make it work to everyone's satisfaction. Either you believe in cutting government services drastically, or you oppose it. If you believe in it, take what you get; the Sequester is just the first wobbly baby step with those people.  Otherwise you're insisting on intelligent action designed to make a total piece of shit taste more like a Tootsie Roll. I hope the President personally ordered an end to White House tours. If he's not gonna (and not s'posed to) make a point about such things, why's he President?]

Complaints about stupid bureaucracy being stupid is something like 10% of our coverage of Education, innit? Down from 25, and only because of high-stakes testing and sideshow hucksters like Michelle Rhee? And 9 in 10 stories are absolute bullshit: the teacher fired for displaying a picture of George W. Bush, the one fired for passing out copies of the Constitution, students expelled for wearing flag teeshirts or Support the Troops bracelets. You'd think we might make a special effort after that to get things right, doncha?

And let us remind ourselves, before we go any further, that our current imbroglio over public education is now in its seventh decade, that it is almost entirely the result of right-wing agitation which followed Brown, and which reached maximum Dunning-Kruger Effect velocity half a decade after, when two Court decisions eliminated coerced prayer in public schools. And has remained at that level ever since. This is where crap like the Pop-tart Gun comes from. The right doesn't give a fuck about student rights. If that kid had nibbled himself an image of Khalid Sheik Mohammed he'd be getting death threats from the same people who are so concerned about his "rights" and "political correctness".

We've fought for fifty years with people who insist that what the First amendment actually does is enshrine the right to impose majority doctrine, so long as you don't openly burn heretics, just give 'em directions to the bus station. Maybe it's time we tried correcting that to see if it has a palliative effect on education.

Anyway, so here we are again at the confluence of Snopes and Principled Discussion of Educational Policy, as Told from the Perspective of Someone Who Hates Public Education, Teachers Unions, and a Wide Swath of Germ-y Proles, a place where George Eff Will provides the occasional guided canoe tour.
Rodney Francis is insufficiently ambitious. The pastor of the Washington Tabernacle Baptist Church in St. Louis has entered the fray over guns, violence and humanity’s fallen nature with a plan for a “buyback” of children’s toy guns. And toy swords and other make-believe weapons. There is, however, a loophole in the pastor’s panacea. He neglects the problem of ominously nibbled and menacingly brandished breakfast pastries.

"…ignores the profound ramifications of holiday-theme cocktail napkins." "…glosses over serious portent of printed messages on articles of clothing." "disregards the acute disquiet…"
Joshua Welch — a boy, wouldn’t you know; no good can come of these turbulent creatures — who is 7, was suspended from second grade in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County last week because of his “Pop-Tart pistol.” While eating a rectangular fruit-filled sugary something — nutritionist Michelle Obama probably disapproves of it, and don’t let Michael Bloomberg get started — Joshua tried biting it into the shape of a mountain but decided it looked more like a gun. So with gender-specific perversity, he did the natural thing. He said, “Bang, bang.” 
But is this really natural? Or is nature taking a back seat to nurture, yet again? Is Joshua’s “bang, bang” a manifestation of some prompting in our defective social atmosphere, and therefore something society could and should stamp out?
Or should schools enforce rules an' stuff?

The school did not sentence little Joshua to Life at Gitmo, nor Wal*Mart. It responded because a seven-year-old boy pointed a "gun"--leave us, arguendo, ignore the "nibbled pastry" origins of the weapon, as well as the debatable classification of a Pop-Tart as a product of the baker's art, and join in thanking the Lord for once this gun wasn't real--and said--allegedly--"Bang Bang!" at another student.

We can, of course, debate whether the policy is intelligent, or efficacious; we can, while we're at it, debate whether Pop-Tarts constitute child abuse. But let's first see if we can take out of the situation what's actually there, shall we?

ITEM: The matter plays out against a backdrop of an epidemic of real school violence, and we expect schools to respond. This is not a matter of some anti-consumerist, Ur-feminist crusade against corn syrup and toy machine guns on Saturday morning teevee in the Sixties.

That is to say, Mr. Eff Will, that your outrage could stand a little upgrade after forty years. Me, I'm willing to let the people who actually work there decide what does and doesn't constitute a threat. When loopy assholes start shooting up box seats at Nationals Park you can help decide what to do about it.

ITEM: Presumably the impish lil' scamp was disciplined for the act of imitating a weapon pointed at another person, not for Thoughtcrime in Food Sculpture. Further, let's assume that his actions violated an establish rule which was at least written down somewhere, and probably--knowing, as you and I do, the Liberal Statist Hivemind--drilled into his head over and over and over again.

So you're taking the position that schools shouldn't enforce rules, so long as someone out there could ridicule them for doing so. If that's not a fair characterization, tell us where the line should be drawn. At least before we arm every teacher in America.
By now, Americans may be numb to such imbecilities committed by the government institutions to which they entrust their children for instruction. Nothing surprises after that 5-year-old Pennsylvania girl was labeled a “terroristic threat,” suspended from school and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation because she talked about shooting herself and others with her Hello Kitty gun that shoots bubbles.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all my important news from Michelle Malkin, too. I've yet to see the "terrorist threat" tag come from anyone at the school, mostly because the school has said very little about the incident because it is legally precluded from talking in public. How convenient for y'all. It did release a statement saying that news reports were not necessarily accurate, but to hell with listening to bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo when there's a story to be told, fed by the completely objective report from her litigious parents.

And so fucking what? So we're keeping young children from threatening violence, even cartoon violence, these days. We've kept 'em from much sillier stuff. Saddle shoes and hair over the collar, to name two. So someone overreacts, even. Zero tolerance and school discipline are trademarked slogans of the American Right, so long as white middle-class children aren't being punished.
But looking on the bright side, perhaps we should welcome these multiplying episodes as tutorials about the nature of the regulatory state that swaddles us ever more snugly with its caring. If so, give thanks for the four Minnesota state legislators whose bill would ban “bullying” at school. 
Yeah, "bullying". What crap.
They define this as the use of words, images or actions that interfere with an individual’s ability “to participate in a safe and supportive learning environment.” Bullying may include, among many other things, conduct that has a “detrimental effect” on a student’s “emotional health.” Or conduct that “creates or exacerbates a real or perceived imbalance of power between students.” Or violates a student’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Or conduct that “does not rise to the level of harassment” but “relates to” — yes, relates to — “the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined” in another Minnesota statute.

I'm sorry, but what exactly is it you object to in this?
If this becomes law, it will further empower the kind of relentless improvers and mindless protectors who panic over Pop-Tart pistols and discern terrorism in Hello Kitty bubble guns. Such people in Minnesota will be deciding what behavior — speech, usually — damages a “supportive learning environment.”

I daresay anyone who ever attended public school at any time is aware that school administrators have always had the power to decide what behavior damages a learning environment, and it's the rare one who's applied that judiciously. This codifies a certain type of prohibited behavior; codification is necessary precisely because every goddam suburban parent sues the district when little Jayden or Chloe is disciplined. It's the fucking faux-Fifties macho code some people feel should not be threatened, and you, George Eff Will, ought to be about the last person to object to that. "Relentless improver and mindless protector" is, in fact, the sort of thing the public clamors for in a public education establishment, so maybe these poor victims of PC Run Amok should be in charter schools, where they're allowed to act out when and as they please.
Government is failing spectacularly at its core functions, such as budgeting and educating. Yet it continues to multiply its peripheral and esoteric responsibilities, tasks that require it to do things for which it has no aptitude, such as thinking and making common-sense judgments. Government nowadays is not just embarrassing, it is — let us not mince words — inappropriate.

Y'know, George, it doesn't help the cause when a beneficiary of the most expensive education available in the US of A utters something so remarkably stupid.


Xjmueller said...

What makes this worse is that he equates local school districts with "big government". These are generally the lowest level of government - as close to the community as you're going to get. Shoot, they're so close that a slate of anti-science whackos can get elected and dictate what can be taught as science. Or is that small government in action because their hearts are pure?

Robert M. said...

You're missing the point because, unlike conservative policymakers and pundits, you insist on using words according to their definitions and common usage.

"Judicial activism" means "judges making decisions we don't like." The Second Amendment is an inalienable right, but the Fourteenth is a "racial entitlement". The exhaustion of the Social Security trust fund in 15-20 years is a "fiscal crisis", but requiring individuals to maintain private healthcare coverage is "socialism".

In the same vein, a local school board making a decision George Will don't like is "big government", but Michigan legislators seeking to require a trans-vaginal ultrasound before a woman can receive a prescription for Plan B is merely sound governance.

Cato the Censor said...

George Will should be stripped, scourged, and nailed to a cross.

Anonymous said...

cato the censor:

oh, god, no, don't play into the winger's number one martyr fantasy. better to take away will's various electronic/paper pulpits and leave him to spout his nonsense on whatever unoccupied street corner he can find

jim, from iowa

Jonathan said...

There was a day, when I actually thought GFW was a leading intellectual of the right.

oh wait, still is. damn that's a low bar.

Kathy said...

Government is failing spectacularly at its core functions, such as budgeting and educating. Yet it continues to multiply its peripheral and esoteric responsibilities,
Gov is making an effort to respond to the needs and demands of American citizens, at least in "small" ways. My daughter was bullied, and reacted in appalling ways, including drug taking & cutting her wrists- at age 13. She also expressed a wish to kill her tormentors. So we moved, and have no guns or other weapons. She's being home-schooled as well. What did the vice=principal & school counselor say "Wellll... you could press charges, what they did was a felony, but gee-whiz, we think they're basically Good Kids. "Compared to what?"

At age 58 I recall the various schools I attended giving kids eye, ear and other health exams, visits from dentists (with free toothpaste), inoculations for all sorts of diseases including TB and Polio. One teacher enraged my parents by telling them they ought to "so something" about my (faint) lisp (which I still have).

Schools were a lot more hands-on then than now. I wish they were half as good, my daughter would be attending one.

Anonymous said...

There is also the hypocrisy that George F Will, who was almost certainly bullied from the age of 5 through 18 (if not longer), because of his Extreme Tool-ishness, is somehow against bullying now. Maybe it's a hazing thing -- it happened to me, kid, you have to deal with it, too. Have a free bowtie.

Uncle Eeneezer said...

If that kid had nibbled himself an image of Khalid Sheik Mohammed he'd be getting death threats from the same people who are so concerned about his "rights" and "political correctness".

Or Charles Darwin!

Calming Influence said...

Of course the initial reaction to the Pop-Tart Gun incident is WTF?!? from every part of the political spectrum, and of course "political correctness" gets trotted out once again to put the left on the defensive. And we can say "the teacher's probably nuts" or some shit, but how 'bout this?

Maybe the teacher was just fucking worn out because her class that used to be 20 students is now 35 little 7-year-old terrorists, and she isn't getting paid squat, and maybe little Josh Welch would not SHUT THE FUCK UP, and being a resourceful person willing to use every tool at her disposal realizes that while not TECHNICALLY a gun, the Pop-Tart Art means that little Josh Welch is OUT OF THERE! and now she's down to 34 little fuckers, slightly increasing the odds that this won't be the evening when she slips into a warm bath and opens a vein.

Maybe that's what's going on here.