Friday, February 13, 2009

De-Programming Students

by Thomas Sowell

Letters from parents often complain of a sense of futility in trying to argue with their own children, who have been fed a steady diet of the politically correct vision of the world, from elementary school to the university. Some ask for suggestions of particular books that might make a dent in the know-it-all attitude of some young people who have heard only one side of the story in classrooms all their lives.

That is one way of going about trying to de-program young people. There are, for example, some good books showing what is wrong with the "global warming" crusades or showing why male-female differences in income or occupations are not automatically discrimination.

Various authors have written a lot of good books that demolish what is currently believed-- and taught to students-- on a wide range of issues. Some of those books are listed as suggested readings on my website (

Yet trying to undo the propaganda that passes for education at too many schools and colleges, one issue at a time, may not always be the best strategy. There are too many issues on which the politically correct party line is considered to be the only way to look at things. Given the wide range of issues on which students are indoctrinated, instead of being educated, trying to undo all of that would require a whole shelf full of books-- and somehow getting the students to read them all.

Another approach might be to respond to the dogmatic certainty of some young person, perhaps your own offspring, by asking: "Have you ever read a single book on the other side of that issue?" Chances are, after years of being "educated," even at some of the highest-priced schools and colleges, they have not. When the inevitable answer to your question is "No," you can simply point out how illogical it is to be so certain about anything when you have heard only one side of the story-- no matter how often you have heard that one side repeated. Would it make sense for a jury to reach a verdict after having heard only the prosecution's case, or only the defense attorney's case, but not both?

There is no need to argue the specifics of the particular issue that has come up. You can tell your overconfident young student that you will be happy to discuss that particular issue after he or she has taken the elementary step of reading something by somebody on the other side. Elementary as it may seem that we should hear both sides of an issue before making up our minds, that is seldom what happens on politically correct issues today in our schools and colleges. The biggest argument of the left is that there is no argument-- whether the issue is global warming, "open space" laws or whatever.

Some students may even imagine that they have already heard the other side because their teachers may have given them their version of other people's arguments or motives. But a jury would never be impressed by having the prosecution tell them what the defendant's defense is. They would want to hear the defense attorney present that case.

Yet most students who have read and heard repeatedly about the catastrophes awaiting us unless we try to stop "global warming" have never read a book, an article or even a single word by any of the hundreds of climate scientists, in countries around the world, who have expressed opposition to that view. These students may have been shown Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" in school, but are very unlikely to have been shown the British Channel 4 television special, "The Great Global Warming Swindle."

Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that students are being indoctrinated with the correct conclusions on current issues, that would still be irrelevant educationally. Hearing only one side does nothing to equip students with the experience to know how to sort out opposing sides of other issues they will have to confront in the future, after they have left school and need to reach their own conclusions on the issues arising later. Yet they are the jury that will ultimately decide the fate of this nation.


British single mothers have created a useless generation who are costing taxpayer a fortune, claims deputy head

A deputy head who sat on a Government taskforce aimed at improving behaviour in schools yesterday condemned a generation of modern parents as 'uber-chavs'. Ralph Surman said the parents of today's pupils were themselves the children of the 'first big generation of single mothers' from the 1980s. He claimed they - and in turn their children - have been left with no social skills or work ethic and may be impossible to educate.

Mr Surman spoke out in response to figures unearthed by the Conservative Party, which show that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training - known as NEETs - is rising across Britain. 'We must talk about a class of uber-chavs,' he said. 'They are not doing anything productive and are costing taxpayers a fortune. 'It is very difficult, almost impossible, to take these people now and provide basic social and work ethic skills.

'The offspring of the first big generation of single mothers were children in the 1980s. 'Now they are adults with their own children and the problems are leading to higher crime rates and low participation in the labour force.' Mr Surman, 43, a national executive member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, has taught at Cantrell Primary School in Bulwell, Nottingham, for 20 years. Bulwell has been identified as an area of socio- economic deprivation and the proportion of children entitled to free school meals is higher than average at the school, which is rated good by Ofsted.

Mr Surman was a member of the Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, a group of experienced heads and teachers set up four years ago, which helped enshrine in law a teacher's right to discipline a child. As a result of its conclusions, the Government introduced legal powers giving teachers the right to discipline children beyond the gates.

Mr Surman, a father of three, was unavailable yesterday to comment further on his claims, made in a local newspaper. It is not clear if he was referring to the parents of children at his school, in Nottingham as a whole or to modern parents generally. But his attack was criticised by David Mellen, portfolio holder for children's services on the Labour-run Nottingham City Council. He said the number of young NEETs in Nottingham had bucked the trend and fallen. The councillor, who is also a teacher, said: 'We are talking about young people here and (uber-chavs) is an irresponsible term to use. 'The comments are illinformed in light of the reduction in crime in the city and the reduction in young people who are NEET.'

But Norman Wells, from the Family Education Trust, said that, while many single mothers do an 'excellent job' raising their children, 'we cannot close our eyes to the evidence which shows that, on average, children fare better in terms of health, education and future career prospects when they are brought up by a mother and father who are committed to each other for life in marriage'.

Official figures obtained by the Tories last month showed that the number of people aged 16 to 24 not in employment, education or training had leapt by 94,000 to 850,000 between 2003 and 2007. 'Chav' was a new entrant in the Collins English Dictionary in 2005. A chav was defined as 'a young working class person who dresses in casual sports clothing'. Uber means greatest or most extreme.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said Mr Surman's comments did not reflect the view of the union.


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