Friday, June 01, 2012

When Schools Are Like Jails — Or Worse

A 17-year-old Texas honor student has been jailed for missing too much school. Diane Tran works both full-time and part-time jobs, in addition to taking advanced and college level courses, and her parents have split up and moved away, leaving her in charge of younger siblings, making it hard to keep to the exact school day. Judge Lanny Moriarty was not sympathetic: “If you let one run loose, what are you gonna do with the rest of ‘em?” [CBS Atlanta].

As one commenter noted, “The judge’s thought process is so primitive it’s just gut wrenching. His response is literally, ‘If you let one of them loose, What are you gonna do with the rest of them?’ What are humans? Animals? How on earth does that justify the fact of detaining a 17-year-old girl working overtime to support her sister and brother?”

If she were an adult college student, no one would fault her for occasionally missing class in order to earn a living or take care of relatives. (At Harvard Law School, I missed virtually every class in my secured transactions course, but still received a “B.”) Indeed, it would be deemed praiseworthy for her to earn academic honors despite juggling shouldering such heavy, competing burdens and responsibilities.

But Diane Tran, who has been forced to grow up fast and assume the mantle of adulthood, gets sent to jail for doing so. Why? Because the age of compulsory school attendance has been increased from 16 to 18 in many states. Most recently, “answering a call from President Obama,” Maryland increased the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18. Increased mandatory attendance ages deprive some impoverished students who are old enough to work of the needed flexibility to earn a living or care for siblings or sick relatives.

They also increase risks to school safety by forcing bored underachievers who are not interested in learning to keep attending school even after age 16 — resulting in some of them acting out, disrupting class, or even committing acts of violence.

In reality, 17-year-old students forced to stay in school seldom learn much; their learning is “typically quite low,” says a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Forcing students to attend school longer creates jobs for teachers’ unions that seek to require schooling of some sort until age 21, and leads to truancy prosecutions against parents unable to get their stubborn, fully-grown offspring to school.

In Florida, a 17-year-old student with asthma nearly died after a school nurse denied him the use of his own inhaler, because his mother hadn’t signed a form. Then the nurse locked the door and watched him lose consciousness while refusing to call 911. There is absolutely no reason a 17-year-old student who is old enough to drive or join the military cannot be trusted to use his own inhaler as prescribed by a physician. The school district defends the nurse’s outrageous actions.

If a parent had withheld an inhaler like this, it would be considered child abuse. If a prison did it to a prisoner, it would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment. But school officials, who cite the doctrine of in loco parentis when they want to restrict students’ free-speech and privacy rights, hypocritically refuse to accept any responsibility for the lives of their students even when the risk to the student’s life is created by the school’s own rules (like rules forcing students verging on adulthood to leave their inhaler with the school nurse).


‘Meaningful Work’: Elites harm low-income people and society by denigrating “menial” work

By Thomas Sowell

‘Education” is a word that covers a lot of very different things, from vital, life-saving medical skills to frivolous courses to absolutely counterproductive courses that fill people with a sense of grievance and entitlement, without giving them either the skills to earn a living or a realistic understanding of the world required for a citizen in a free society.

The lack of realism among many highly educated people has been demonstrated in many ways.

When I saw signs in Yellowstone National Park warning visitors not to get too close to a buffalo, I realized that this was a warning that no illiterate farmer of a bygone century would have needed. No one would have had to tell him not to mess with a huge animal that literally weighs a ton, and can charge at you at 30 miles an hour.

No one would have had to tell that illiterate farmer’s daughter not to stand by the side of a highway, trying to hitch a ride with strangers, as too many college girls have done, sometimes with results that ranged all the way up to their death.

The dangers that a lack of realism can bring to many educated people are completely overshadowed by the dangers to a whole society created by the unrealistic views of the world promoted in many educational institutions.

It was painful, for example, to see an internationally renowned scholar say that what low-income young people needed was “meaningful work.” But this is a notion common among educated elites, regardless of how counterproductive its consequences may be for society at large, and for low-income youngsters especially.

What is “meaningful work”?

The underlying notion seems to be that it is work whose performance is satisfying or enjoyable in itself. But if that is the only kind of work that people should have to do, how is garbage to be collected, or how are bedpans to be emptied in hospitals, or jobs with life-threatening dangers to be performed?

Does anyone imagine that firemen enjoy going into burning homes and buildings to rescue people trapped by the flames? That soldiers going into combat think it is fun?

In the real world, many things are done simply because they have to be done, not because doing them brings immediate pleasure to those who do them. Some people take justifiable pride in working to take care of their families, whether or not the work itself is great.

Some of our more utopian intellectuals lament that many people work “just for the money.” They do not like a society where A produces what B wants, simply in order that B will produce what A wants, with money being an intermediary device facilitating such exchanges.

Some would apparently prefer a society where all-wise elites would decide what each of us “needs” or “deserves.” The actual history of societies formed on that principle — histories often stained, or even drenched, in blood — is of little interest to those who mistake wishful thinking for idealism.

At the very least, many intellectuals do not want the poor or the young to have to take “menial” jobs. But people who are paying their own money, as distinguished from the taxpayers’ money, for someone to do a job are unlikely to part with hard cash unless that job actually needs doing, whether or not that job is called “menial” by others.

People who lack the skills to take on more prestigious jobs can either remain idle and live as parasites on others or take the jobs for which they are currently qualified, and then move up the ladder as they acquire more experience. People who are flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s on New Year’s Day are seldom flipping hamburgers there when Christmastime comes.

Those relatively few statistics that follow actual flesh-and-blood individuals over time show them moving massively from one income bracket to another over time, starting at the bottom and moving up as they acquire skills and experience.

Telling young people that some jobs are “menial” is a huge disservice to them and to the whole society. Subsidizing them in idleness while they wait for “meaningful work” is just asking for trouble, both for them and for all those around them.


Free pre-school education for poorest toddlers 'to give them fair crack of whip', British Liberal leader  says

That such schemes have never worked either in Britain or the USA is a lesson that "sound-good" liberals are incapable of learning

Free pre-school education is being extended to two-year-old children in the poorest areas of the country to boost their chances in life.

Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, will also say today that parents of children on free places can drop their children earlier and collect them later.  Mr Clegg said the changes were designed to help children from the poorest backgrounds get the best start in life.

More than 800,000 three and four year olds nationally are currently eligible for 15 hours per week of free early education.

The plan had been to extend this to 150,000 two year olds from the poorest families from September 2013, rising to around 260,000 in the following year. However, Mr Clegg said that a £3million trial – affecting around 1,000 children - will now start in September in 10 trial areas.

The time when parents can pick up and drop children is also being increased from 8am to 7am, and from 6pm to 7pm, to suit better parents work commitments.

Parents will also be able to spread their free nursery places over two, rather than three, days, which will allow them to leave their children for longer on individual days.

Mr Clegg said: “Every child should have a fair crack at the whip from the start and be able to go on to fulfil their potential. “By getting things right from the off we’re making sure our youngsters are ready to learn when they start school so that they get the most out of their education.”

The news came as a Government review is expected to say that people from poorer backgrounds from the North are least likely to get ahead in their careers in Britain.

Some professions – such as politics and the law – were becoming more elitist, and were virtually shut off to people from working class backgrounds.


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