Weekend reading recommendations

The West is getting weird.  This site has frequently discussed our broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop), but perhaps we are just going crazy.

  1. Search Me“, Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, 21 April 2009 — “The Supreme Court is neither hot nor bothered by strip searches.”
  2. Thought police muscle up in Britain“, The Australian, 21 April 2009

(Update) Another aspect of our craziness is our fascination with apocalyptic threats.  This week’s example:  “The Geomagnetic Apocalypse – And How to Stop It“, Wired, 24 April 2009.  Like most such, it describes a real and documented threat.  Like too many, it does so under an over-the-top headline.  The text itself seems reasonable to me (although I’m no expert in these things).  At the end of this post are links to more material about end-of-the-world threats (aka shockwaves).  Hat tip to the Instapundit.

Excerpt

(1)  “Search Me“, Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, 21 April 2009 — “The Supreme Court is neither hot nor bothered by strip searches.”  Excerpt:

Yet in recent years, the high court has slowly chipped away at the privacy rights of students-frequently based on the rationale that there were drugs!!! Somewhere in America!!! Drugs!!! Creating danger!!! (This led an annoyed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to dissent in a recent case that the court was peddling “nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas” to justify drug tests for any student with a pulse.)

… This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—”what was done in the case … it wasn’t just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!” Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

But Breyer just isn’t letting go. “In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.”

Shocked silence, followed by explosive laughter. In fact, I have never seen Justice Clarence Thomas laugh harder. Breyer tries to recover: “Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever. I was the one who did it? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think it’s beyond human experience.”

It gets weirder. Wolf claims school administrators should have known better than to suspect that “Savana was currently concealing ibuprofen pills underneath her underpants for other’s oral consumption,” noting “a certain ick factor to this.” The Chief Justice quickly replies that the ick factor doesn’t attach when you are talking about “the brassiere as well, which doesn’t seem as outlandish as the underpants, right?”

Oh, ick indeed. The search for a bright line rule about the expectations of student privacy has turned into a fight between a bunch of guys who still say “brassiere.”

By now, even Justice David Souter has ditched Wolf, musing that if he were the principal in a school, he “would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search … than have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.”

On the courthouse steps after argument today, Redding is asked what she’d have wanted the school to do differently. “Call my mom first,” she says. You see, we now have school districts all around the country finding naked photos of teens and immediately calling in the police for possession of kiddie porn. Yet schools see nothing wrong with stripping these same kids naked to search for drugs. Evidently teenage nakedness is only a problem when the children choose to be naked. And the parents? They are always the last to know.

(2)  Thought police muscle up in Britain“, The Australian, 21 April 2009

BRITAIN appears to be evolving into the first modern soft totalitarian state. As a sometime teacher of political science and international law, I do not use the term totalitarian loosely.
There are no concentration camps or gulags but there are thought police with unprecedented powers to dictate ways of thinking and sniff out heresy, and there can be harsh punishments for dissent.

Nikolai Bukharin claimed one of the Bolshevik Revolution’s principal tasks was “to alter people’s actual psychology”. Britain is not Bolshevik, but a campaign to alter people’s psychology and create a new Homo britannicus is under way without even a fig leaf of disguise.

The Government is pushing ahead with legislation that will criminalise politically incorrect jokes, with a maximum punishment of up to seven years’ prison. The House of Lords tried to insert a free-speech amendment, but Justice Secretary Jack Straw knocked it out. It was Straw who previously called for a redefinition of Englishness and suggested the “global baggage of empire” was linked to soccer violence by “racist and xenophobic white males”. He claimed the English “propensity for violence” was used to subjugate Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and that the English as a race were “potentially very aggressive”.

In the past 10 years I have collected reports of many instances of draconian punishments, including the arrest and criminal prosecution of children, for thought-crimes and offences against political correctness.

… In September 2006, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Codie Stott, asked a teacher if she could sit with another group to do a science project as all the girls with her spoke only Urdu. The teacher’s first response, according to Stott, was to scream at her: “It’s racist, you’re going to get done by the police!” Upset and terrified, the schoolgirl went outside to calm down. The teacher called the police and a few days later, presumably after officialdom had thought the matter over, she was arrested and taken to a police station, where she was fingerprinted and photographed. According to her mother, she was placed in a bare cell for 3 1/2 hours. She was questioned on suspicion of committing a racial public order offence and then released without charge. The school was said to be investigating what further action to take, not against the teacher, but against Stott. Headmaster Anthony Edkins reportedly said: “An allegation of a serious nature was made concerning a racially motivated remark. We aim to ensure a caring and tolerant attitude towards pupils of all ethnic backgrounds and will not stand for racism in any form.”

A 10-year-old child was arrested and brought before a judge, for having allegedly called an 11-year-old boya “Paki” and “bin Laden” during a playground argument at a primary school (the other boy had called him a skunk and a Teletubby). When it reached the court the case had cost taxpayers pound stg. 25,000. The accused was so distressed that he had stopped attending school. The judge, Jonathan Finestein, said: “Have we really got to the stage where we are prosecuting 10-year-old boys because of political correctness? There are major crimes out there and the police don’t bother to prosecute. This is nonsense.”

… A bishop was warned by the police for not having done enough to “celebrate diversity”, the enforcing of which is now apparently a police function. A Christian home for retired clergy and religious workers lost a grant because it would not reveal to official snoopers how many of the residents were homosexual. That they had never been asked was taken as evidence of homophobia.

Muslim parents who objected to young children being given books advocating same-sex marriage and adoption at one school last year had their wishes respected and the offending material withdrawn. This year, Muslim and Christian parents at another school objecting to the same material have not only had their objections ignored but have been threatened with prosecution if they withdraw their children.

… Any one of these incidents might be dismissed as an aberration, but taken together – and I have only mentioned a tiny sample; more are reported almost every day – they add up to a pretty clear picture.

Hal G. P. Colebatch’s Blair’s Britain was chosen as a book of the year by The Spectator in 1999.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop)

  1. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
  2. The two tracks of discussion about the Iraq War, never intersecting, 10 November 2007
  3. Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
  4. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
  5. What do blogs do for America?, 26 February 2008
  6. Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, 24 February 2009
  7. The housing crisis allows America to look in the mirror. What do we see?, 8 March 2009
  8. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009

Posts about shockwaves:

  1. Spreading the news: the end is nigh!, 8 May 2008
  2. The “Oil Shockwave” project: well-funded analysis of the obvious, 10 April 2008
  3. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, 8 May 2008
  4. What does $120 oil mean for the global economy?, 15 May 2008
  5. There is no “peak water” crisis, 19 June 2008
  6. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  7. Comment: warnings about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, 30 December 2008
  8. About our certain doom from the Yellowstone supervolcano, 11 January 2009 
  9. A serious threat to us – a top priority shockwave – a hidden danger …, 20 January 2009

18 thoughts on “Weekend reading recommendations

  1. Another victory in the “War on Drugs”! Strip-searching of students (just don’t take pictures with you cell phone of the event)!

    Where is the outrage? What if it was Chief Justice Roberts’s daughter? Strip-searching of students is OK for po’ white trash from South Carolina but not the elites.

    Everybody in this madhouse of our country thinks the 2nd amendment is untouchable but who cares about the fourth? Maybe Americans can’t be bothered to read that far into the Constitution? Maybe bullet points or a power point slide of the Bill of Rights is necessary. A possible example below:

    *1st Amend: Free speech and religion (Except you Mussies, Pagans and Scientists)
    *2nd Amend: Guns are cool
    *3rd Amend: GI Joe can’t sleep over
    *4th Amend: No illegal search & seizures (unless it’s involves the drug war)
    *5th Amend: Go Corleone style in front of congress
    *6th Amend: Speedy Trial (unless it’s involves the drug war)
    *7th Amend: A jury trial of your “peers”
    *8th Amend: No torture (unless it involes the terror war)
    *9th Amend: Too complicated and the Feds pay no attention to this one
    *10th Amend: Once again the Feds don’t follow this one either
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The death of the American Constitution is IMO one of the major stories of our time. For more about this see these posts:
    * Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
    * The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it, 15 February 2008
    * Congress shows us how our new government works, 14 April 2008
    * See the last glimmers of the Constitution’s life…, 27 June 2008
    * Remembering what we have lost… thoughts while looking at the embers of the Constitution, 29 June 2008
    * Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
    * What comes after the Consitution? Can we see the outlines of the “Mark 3″ version?, 10 November 2008

  2. The Supreme Court needs to go much further to protect our children. They need to send a signal that not just strip searches, but multiple repeated cavity searches of underage children in public are not only legal, but mandatory. Only extreme mesures will protect the innocence and purity of our children.

    Several other notable articles:

    “Inmate Count in the U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations”, NYtimes, 23 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

    Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

    Guilty of Being Poor“, Eric Ruder, Dissident Voice, 23 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    “Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son… When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments.”

    “Deadly Mexico City Swine Flu Outbreak Has Spread to US“, Associated Content, 25 April 2009 — Excerpt:

    Mexico City shuts down after 68 people die of a new multi-strain swine flu which doctors worry could create a pandemic. The CDC reports that the new flu has already spread to the U.S. … While Mexico’s swine flu epidemic seems to be circulating and claiming lives, all eight confirmed swine flu cases in Texas and California were reportedly mild and all have recovered.

  3. WTJ has gone too far in asking, “What if it were Chief Justice Roberts’ daughter? Strip-searching of students is OK for po’ white trash from South Carolina but not the elites.”

    WTJ may not have been aware, as I was not until doing some web-searching on the topic, that Josephine Roberts is adopted, and although the source I read does not state where her birth mother lived, the fact that she was given up for adoption suggests that, if she had not been adopted, she would indeed be what some would call “po’ white trash.”

    However, I can believe that WTJ did NOT know that Josephine is adopted, and so rather than intended to insult her specifically, WTJ only intended to insult “po’ white trash” in general. However, it is quite clear that this term, by itself, constitutes thought crime. The authorities should be notified, and WTJ sent to a re-education center [with the obligation to reimburse the public for tuition, fees, room and board, of course – if unable to pay, perhaps a kidney suitable for transplantation could be removed and sold, at fair market value, of course.]

  4. What, no “killer comet” or “Andromeda strain” stories? Must be a slow news week.

    By far the silliest example remains the scare headlines about how the Large Hadron Collider at CERN would suck the earth into a black hole.

  5. electrophoresis (comment #2):

    Thank you for the link to the annual New York Times “America Has Too Many People In Prison” article. They publish it every spring. This year I was surprised to read that they actually mentioned the idea that a) keeping criminals in prison reduces the number of crimes they commit and b) the US is more Democratic and judges respond to the will of the people a lot more than in Europe.

    This is actually a change from the traditional spring NYT article which would always complain tht there were too many people in prison even though crime is down.

    I have to take issue with the Times for excluding the Chinese Laogai prison camp system from their count, though. They also fail to mention that the Chinese execute a lot of people for what would be low level felonies in the US which helps keep down the Chinese prison population. When they discuss drug enforcement, they also don’t mention that places like Taiwan and Singapore execute even fairly low level drug dealers which also helps keep their prison stats low.

    Still, this iteration of the annual prison population article does make me hopeful that even the New York Times is capable of learning. They don’t learn fast but it is encouraging that they can learn at all.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Another important article about the US prison system is “Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, “Five myths about prison growth dispelled”. The myths are –(1) Long sentences drive prison population growth.
    (2) Low-level drug offenders drive prison population growth.
    (3) Technical parole and probation violations drive prison population growth.
    (4) In the past 3 decades, we’ve newly diverged from the rest of the world on punishment.
    (5) The incarceration boom has had no effect on crime levels.

  6. There is no little common sense basis for treating children/minors differently from adults, but – subjectively speaking – it seems that especially with teenagers who are by definition soon to be adults, failing to observe attention to fundamental legal norms is fundamentally wrong/unskillful even though clearly authorities of minors should be able to impose discipline on those in their charge.

    Because of course there is no simple answer to this sort of thing, it serves as a good example of how the underpinnings of any constitution or social contract – whether imposed, constituted by law or vaguely assumed ad hoc – depend upon the underlying community foundation, all of which exists in the intangible realm of ‘culture’ and ‘family values’ and suchlike.

    From the Bill of Rights from the US Constitution, Amendment IV:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    I doubt this was intended to cover things like strip-searching juveniles at school for banned substances and suspect that trying to apply it strictly in such cases would be regarded by our forebears as somewhat absurd, to say the least. But that said: how does one transmit a sense of respect for such rights without exposing minors to them consistently before they attain maturity?

    (My suspicion is that this sort of thing needs a formal procedure within the schools, a couple of steps in there plus rules about how and where it is done, but that is for each community or School Board to sort out for itself.)
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t think you see the effect of your advice, which is part of the problem.

    “My suspicion is that this sort of thing needs a formal procedure within the schools”

    When rules have to be written in such detail (e.g., rules about strip searches of little girls), the result is thousand page rule books for managers. Nobody except the lawyers know what is in them. Managers make decisions fearfully (it might break of one of the rules, exposing them to censure or litigation). Operations become rigid, inflexable to normal variation of circumstances. It generates still more absurd responses, which create the need for more rules.

  7. “When rules have to be written in such detail (e.g., rules about strip searches of little girls), the result is thousand page rule books for managers. Nobody except the lawyers know what is in them. Managers make decisions fearfully (it might break of one of the rules, exposing them to censure or litigation). Operations become rigid, inflexable to normal variation of circumstances. It generates still more absurd responses, which create the need for more rules.”

    Well said, but this is exactly why this should be done by the School Boards themselves, not ‘managers’ or ‘lawyers’, in other words, it should not be centralised or universalised.

    This sort of nit-picky little conundrum illustrates why law and order are best maintained by having a decent, well-disciplines citizenry in the first place, something Confucius so well pointed out millenia ago and which remains true today. Furthermore, are you implying that since rules are inadvisable that therefore anything goes, that there can be no such thing as abuse of a minor by an authority figure or that the latter should never be able to impose discipline on the former in a way that would be inappropriate between one adult and another? I doubt it. We are left in the middle gray area, with or without rules. That’s why it’s a conundrum. But the solution is not, I suggest, Federal Legislation.

    Procedures/rules can be simple and effective:

    In the event that a teacher/staff member wishes to instigate a search for contraband substances or weapons they can request the student or students in question to accompany them to the Principal’s Office where at least two same-gender teacher/staff members, upon approval by the Principal or his acting Deputy should he/she be out of the office, can administer such search in a private, concealed area. In the event the weaponry is/might be involved, a security officer, preferably of the same gender, should be present. Parents should be informed that such a search was administered.

    Something like that. In other words, you can’t just suddenly spring on a bunch of students and demand they strip off and shake their undies at you!

  8. I have just spent an inordinately long period of time neglecting other chores today and going through the US Constitution, Bill of Rights and several recent Bills, such as:

    The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. (Balanced by H.R.17 Citizens’ Self-Defense Act of 2009). (Then of course at there is Blair Holt’s Firearms Licensing and Record of Sale Act.)

    On a larger scale 1913 (and 45) are similar to this smaller, rather silly-sounding, issue (strip searching of minor females in school gyms!) in that they are an immediate, ongoing example of what you cite above viz. rules engendering more rules.

    Although not trained in legislation, it seems to me that 1913, does absolutely nothing except
    a) state that a violent crime is a crime but a hate crime as defined by the threat or action of violence is also a crime even though it already is anyway because violence is involved (whatever the ‘motivation’)
    b) a new form of federal bureaucracy is being added to the mix, starting small with the ability to provide $100,000 grants to aid local law agencies to pursue investigation (including preventative).

    Significantly and thankfully, though perhaps redundantly practically speaking, it ends with:

    “SEC. 10. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION. 1 Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

    Seminally perhaps, in terms of one of your blog’s main themes about how people seem to be stepping way from self-governance, this proliferated, restricting maze of rules, which are indeed descending in many areas into thought crime/thought police territory and which is insufficiently addressed in US public discourse, are perhaps ’emasculating’ the citizenry. This is perhaps what happens, in one form or another, with any maturing, growing society in that at some point large numbers do indeed start to engender clogged up class, legal, governance and other structures and it takes a while to slog through it all to come up with something workable. China has been through three or four of such cycles the past 2000+ years. Usually they take about 150-250 years to sort out!
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am glad you find these bills so innocuous. It’s amazing how often foolish people worry that legislation will have effects easily foreseen but beyond the drafters’ stated intent.

    Like the silly folks who worried that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would require busing of schoolchildren across disticts. Hubert Humphrey shot that down:

    “In fact, if the Bill were to compel it, it would be a violation of the Constitution because it would be handling the matter on the basis of race and we would be transporting children because of race.”

    Or the weird folks who worried that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) would be widely used — not just against the Mob, but as a powerful club against regular businesses and citizens. No way!

  9. The solution is to hold classes entirely in the nude. Lockers will be made of plexiglass. Toilets will be placed in the hallway, without walls or stalls.

    Privacy? What privacy? This is war!

  10. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”

    I think Erasmus has it right here, in saying these lines probably were not orginally meant to apply to cases such as the above. In those days, parents beat their children, and ruled them in authoritarian ways we would today consider out of bounds. Children, like women and slaves and propertyless laborers, were not even considered full citizens!

    However, as our common sense of who is human, and what respect that entitles each of us to, has grown, written law has to be modified by that common sense. FM’s objection — that this would result in 1000 page booklets that no one would read — is partly a red herring, as Erasmus’ follow-up two paragraph model procedure for school searches illustrates.

  11. A suggestion from a Sun newspaper columnist was to appoint a Minister Of Common Sense . As that might be an oxymoron , I suggest a Department of Common Sense . it would only need 2 staff , each covering for the other’s holidays , because the solutions would not be in a 1000 page manual , or need translating into Gudjerati and Albanian , but “yes” or ” no “. I think difficult decisions could be passed to a Jury. As could decisions on foreign policy.
    PS How does one get high on Ibruprofen ?

  12. In those days, parents beat their children, and ruled them in authoritarian ways we would today consider out of bounds.

    Parents also did not, by and large, subcontract out the responsibility of raising their children to the government. Come to think of it, if children were at home with mom and dad all the time, would it even be possible for them to get into the kinds of mischief that ‘necessitate’ these harsh measures the begin with?

    The whole point of common sense and common law is that they do not need to be written down. Everybody just knows.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed. Schools ran for generations with small staff and thin rulebooks. What’s gone wrong? For examples too numerous to count, see the Wall Street Journal’s Zero Tolerance Watch. Insanity cubed.

  13. When was the last time any of you were members of the US public school system?

    When you ‘educate’ kids by having them raised in a setting which really is on the whole, totalitarian, can you really be surprised at their behavior as voters? Schools teach a way of living and thinking, not math, reading, writing, history, ethics, and science.

    The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher“, John Taylor Gatto (1992)
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The schools were far more “totalitarian” in the past. In my schooldays we lined up quietly before going anywhere. Classrooms were relatively quiet and disciplined. By comparison, current schools are anarachy.

  14. “Parents also did not, by and large, subcontract out the responsibility of raising their children to the government. Come to think of it, if children were at home with mom and dad all the time, would it even be possible for them to get into the kinds of mischief that ‘necessitate’ these harsh measures the begin with? The whole point of common sense and common law is that they do not need to be written down. Everybody just knows.”
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed. Schools ran for generations with small staff and thin rulebooks. What’s gone wrong? For examples too numerous to count, see the Wall Street Journal’s Zero Tolerance Watch. Insanity cubed.

    ———-

    FM, RE: Zero Tolerance Watch and the public schools

    As a former secondary chemistry teacher in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can vouch that our public schools are a strange mixture of politically-correctness run amok, and the wild west.
    A few of the things that happened (I saw them or a trusted colleague did) at the racially-mixed inner-city school where I taught…

    ~ A student was murdered over Christmans break for his “Air Jordan” basketball shoes, another was mugged for her leather flight jacket right in the building.

    ~ I was threatened with a knife on more than one occasion.

    ~ Students having sex on school grounds; a colleague walked into a stairwell one day, and found a “couple” thus engaged. The male students commonly bragged of how many ‘scores’ they’d had, and young women were encouraged to act and dress provocatively.

    ~ Pregnant teens were celebrated, not scorned or in any way ashamed. Perhaps rashly, I asked one young mother-to-be why she wanted a baby so young, she replied “I want something cute to hold.” No knowledge of what being a parent meant, the responsibilies and expenses, the skills required, etc. These girls went on the public dole, more often than not, and the district was forced to provide special accomodations and tutoring for those wishing to finish their diploma (including taxpayer funded daycare).

    ~ I was openly propositioned by female students for sex, as were male colleagues. No male teacher ever allowed himself to be alone with a female student w/o at least one other faculty or staff member there. The same rule applied for female staff/faculty and male students. Meetings were held if at all possible in public places, so that witnesses could vouch for your behavior should a student make an accusation. A mere allegation could end your career.

    ~ The principal, who knew “where her bread was buttered,” took the side of parents and students against teachers, in most disputes over discipline, etc.

    ~ Social grade promotion was common, many of my high school chemistry students lagged far behind expected benchmarks in reading comprehension, math and other areas. The worst had no business being in my class, but some prior teacher had turned away from their terrible grades and achievement, and sent them up the line anyway.

    ~ There was subtle pressure (sometimes overt) to pass any athlete on a school team, from coaches, parents and even the principal. Athletes got special breaks on retaking tests, remedial help and the like.

    ~ Often, when calling a student’s home, to discuss poor grades, absences, or discipline problems, a small child (as young as 3-4 years old in one case) would answer the phone. I’d ask to speak a parent, older sibling, or babysitter; sometimes, there wouldn’t be one.

    ~ Many students came from single-parent families, or were being raised one or more by step-parents.

    ~ Students who studied and tried to make something of themselves were ridiculed and bullied as “acting white” or selling out, by their peers. There was intense pressure to conform to rap/hip-hop culture, including rejecting intellectualism, reading and scholarly pursuits of any kind.

    ~ Materialism was rampant, even by teen standards. Jewelry, expensive and flashy clothing, a nice car – these were the status symbols, not being a good person or doing well in school. The only two school activities that had any prestige among the students were sports, and performing arts. That’s it.

    The list could go on, but you get the idea. Far as political correctness goes, that’s a whole different entry; suffice it to say that the kids had all sorts of rights, the faculty very few. Tellingly, our performance evaluations (including adminstrators) were filled out in part by the students themselves.

    Top-to-bottom, the system was basically FUBAR.

  15. This discussion of the school system is obviously generalised, as brief comments about large issues must be. But I humbly suggest, unfamiliar as I am with the US public school environment that
    a) it differs from school to school
    b) it differs from region to region
    c) it differs (generally) from urban to rural
    d) it differs from low-class urban to upscale urban.

    Now: if you are teaching/staffing in a school where many of the student ARE dealing drugs and DO carry weapons:

    how do you deal with it? Talking about old-fashioned down-home 19th century family structure, though worthy, probably won’t cut it!

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