Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Year, New Decade, New Millenium, Same...

There's an old saying attributed to the philosopher Edmund Burke that effectively goes, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it". You may have heard it more contemporized as "Those who forget the past..." or "Those who ignore the mistakes of the past..." but I'm convinced that the original quotation is the most accurate. Our modern American society has become one of unparalleled ignorance. While Chris Rock famously joked that 'some black people take pride in being ignorant and call it keeping it real', this is obviously not a condition that has been relegated to blacks only. A recent study showed that overall, American students finished 17th in science and 24th in math out of 57 countries that were measured. While that's disturbing enough, what's even more distressing is the category that we did finish on top - you guessed it - self esteem! We're stupid and we're proud!

I'm convinced that the vestiges of both of these problems can be traced back to two factors: Reagonomics and soccer moms. Few people remember where the Alzheimer's president and his cronies made most of their deepest funding cuts in the 80's to partially fund their trickle-down economic theory tax cuts. They came from education. Many socially responsible and academically needed programs were gutted in the process of igniting the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Programs like headstart and the much maligned midnight basketball were not only providing a platform for students to receive help but the environment was conducive nationally to fostering a competitive spirit in the classroom across ethnic groups. It was the old "rising tide lifts all boats" adage. Parents and students took advantage of opportunities to allow their kids to participate in environments that were evocative of learning because there were trained professionals available just as there were at the police athletic league facilities and the boys and girls clubs.

But underfunding and cut funding either eliminated or marginalized these programs and the dumbing down of American began. And scarcely a single generation later in the 90's and early 00's, we had the first celebrations of ignorance. Remember the Jaywalking segments on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Street Smarts the game show? Both of these actually made "fun" of our spreading ignorance by asking simple questions to people on the street which they regularly got wrong to the delight of the studio and television audience. Oh, what hilarity!

So, what of the other culpable group that I mentioned earlier, the soccer moms? Well, here's the skinny. They're responsible in largest part for the pride in ignorance. Because they seemingly have a vendetta against competitive sports activities, they've undermined the very best aspect of competition which is to bring out the best in us. The overarching theme in sports has always been to prove who's best by providing recognition for the efforts of those who perform the best. But leave it to soccer moms (and wimpy men) to decide that competition is not only a bad thing for the psyches of little Johnny and little Susie but that superior performance incentives should also be squashed flat. Everyone must play and everyone should receive the same recognition. Never mind that there are kids who simply aren't any good at particular sports and many that actually don't want to play sports but are forced to anyway because far be it from Ms. soccer mom to have a kid who wasn't on the team! In an ironic twist, these parents have actually created this environment of non-competition among the children because they want to be able to compete with the other parents in having their kids involved in all the same activities.

So here we are in 2011 with our kids getting dumber by the minute and yet so proud of their non-accomplishments. That's why I'm convinced that the original saying in the 1st paragraph is correct. Ours is a new society that simply doesn't "know history"...

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