Lies People Tell Children

Friday, September 17, AD 2010

Ann Althouse has fun with a recent back-to-school speech delivered by President Obama:

President Obama’s back to school speech contained blatant lies…and if there were any students not bright enough to notice that they were hearing lies, the lies, in their particular cases, were, ironically, bigger lies. Check it out:

  • “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing. I believe that.”

If you believe that, you are so dumb that your chances of controlling your own destiny are especially small. But it’s absurd to tell kids that if only they dream big, work hard, and get an education, they can have anything they want. Do you know what kind of dream job kids today have?  A recent Marist poll showed that 32% would like to be an actor/actress. 29% want to be a professional athlete.  13% want to be President of the United States.  That’s not going to happen.

Even young people with more modest dreams — like getting a decent law job after getting good grades at an excellent law school — are not getting what they want. To say “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach” is a blatant lie, and Barack Obama knows that very well…

…Does [Obama] look at a poor person and say, his life is what he made it? Of course not.

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13 Responses to Lies People Tell Children

  • The ideology of egalitarianism (we all have the same moral worth, but differ quite a lot in aptitude and interest) has massive opportunity and emotional costs – and not infrequently, just so some elite can feel good and morally superior.

    In education, for example, what if very easily observable differences in educational attainment (existing across time and environment, regardless of massive influxes of cash – go ahead and look into the Kansas City and New Jersey examples as particularly bad on that score) are due in no small measure to heredity? UH OH – thought crime. But then our whole educational system is a giant false pretence, with constant “innovation” to little avail. Better to have tracking and a revival of vocational training (combined with a massive lowering of immigration to keep wages from crashing).

    If, that is, our PC-addled stomachs can take it, which I seriously doubt.

    Once again, leftists and right-liberals: you care about the poor? Stop destroying their wages through the systematic decline of industry and the influx of labor. Cesar Chavez, a great hero of mine, understood this, but many of you seem much more interested in status posturing – after all, your job is not in jeopardy……

    /rant

  • Interesting. The idea of ‘vocation’ is thrown quite out the window, isn’t it? When life only has a meaning that you choose, can it really have a meaning?

    Having said that, I believe intelligence is a very flexible trait. Not to mention wisdom.

  • I find myself conflicted about this kind of thing, in that, on the one hand, it’s demonstrably false that you can do anything if you try hard enough, believe, in yourself, etc.

    On the other hand, with sufficient effort one can often do a number of things which a given teacher, relative, mentor, etc. would not actually realize that you would be capable of doing. So while what you can do in life is certainly contrained by ability, there is a great deal one can do with sufficient effort.

    It seems to me that sometimes our development is spurred on by a bit of delusion. I look back at stuff I wrote in high school, which I honest thought was very good writing at the time, and I know it was just bad. Yet, if I’d been fully aware at the time how bad my writing was, I probalby would have simply quit. In similar form, a certain amount of “you can do anything with sufficient effort” kind of thinking may actually be helpful, even if it isn’t true. But if you have no idea of what your actual limits in ability are, and you really do spend fifteen years of your life trying to become an astronaut or an NFL star, when you pretty clearly just can’t, you’ll end up a pretty disappointed person.

    American culture seems fairly heavily based on the illusion that with sufficient hard work anyone can do anything — perhaps as much so as some traditional cultures were built on the idea that everyone was categorized by birth. I’m not sure what happens to American culture if we actualy admitted on a widespread level that many people don’t actually have the ability to “rise to the top” even if they work hard.

  • It’s a balancing act. I’ve been discouraged from doing things I’ve been told I wouldn’t excel at but looking back my only obstacle was the discouragement. I’ve also been encouraged to do things I’ve failed at miserably. It’s good to pursue big dreams but it’s equally important to assess our chances of success realistically and take measures to hedge our risk of failure.

  • ….How many folks stick with what they wanted to do in high school? (Well, TECHNICALLY I’m being paid to write, but I don’t think that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk would even be recognizable to me. ^.^ I’ll still never be able to write the stories I dream of, any more than I’ll paint the images I dream, or be a great singer.)

    I can’t stand the “you can be anything you put your mind to”– although I like its cousin, “work hard and you can succeed.” It may not be the success you were thinking of, and the work may be in more places than you ever imagined, but hey.

    An odd association popped up: how many dang times in the Bible does God pull his little joke of giving folks things in ways they never thought of?

  • I can’t remember who said it (W.C.Fields or Will Rogers?) but I always loved this advice:

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After that, move on – there’s no sense in being a dang fool about it.

  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again… Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” ~Mark Twain

  • I think Christopher Lasch offered that early 19th century writings on the subject of coming into adult life did not typically incorporate notions of upward mobility, but of each man having a ‘competence’. The difficulty with that at this time is that contemporary division of labor leaves a large fraction of the labor force with service jobs for which the level of skill and capacity for acquiring it is severely limited. One salutary social adjustment is having such employment nearly universal for people at a given point in their life cycle and another is having such employment as a pragmatic supplement to family income. Still, you have a large fraction of the labor force who do this sort of work all their lives and have to look outside their work for aught but minor satisfactions.

  • I can’t speak for other eras, but all my 50+ years I have observed that most people work for money. They very seldom have jobs that they would confuse with their avocations, and those that do are mightily blessed. Fathers work in jobs they do not particularly enjoy as an expression of love for their families. I doubt this is new. There is risk in the ubiquitous admonishment “Find your passion!” We have tens of thousands of 20- and 30-somethings in this country who live at home waiting for an occupation to surface that suits their passion or interest. This is not to say that no passion seeker ever succeeds — just that it is a very risky strategy. My observation is that those who embark on this strategy successfully usually do so from a posture of family comfort. A trustafarian can more rationally try to align his work-life with his interests than most of us.

  • The part of the message that is true, and ought to be repeated is this:

    Nobody knows what you can do until you work at it for a while.

    But “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” is simply false. It also sends an extremely bad message (as does the french fry poster), that certain kinds of work is to be sneered at, that workers who toil at those kinds of work are “people who didn’t put their mind to it,” and that the purpose of work is self-satisfaction and pride.

    Which it’s not.

  • Which it’s not.

    It is not, but there is a sense of craftsmanship to be had in tasks well-executed. (Of course, people’s capacity to experience that is variable, as is their opportunity).

  • Craftsmanship =/= pride.

    Satisfaction in a job well done =/= self-satisfaction.

  • As in most things there needs to be a balance between “You can do absolutely ANYTHING if you try hard enough” vs. “You are nothing but a helpless victim of circumstance and it doesn’t matter what you do.” Perhaps the first attitude is an overreaction to the latter, or vice versa.

    Although perfection cannot be achieved in this world, there is a value in setting the bar pretty high. Another favorite quote of mine from Mere Christianity: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

Monday, May 24, AD 2010

The Left in this country has been having a hissy fit over conservatives on the Texas State School Board amending the social studies standards in that state.  For example, California State Senator Leland Yee (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would require the California Board of Education to be on the lookout for any Texas content in reviewing public school textbooks.  He also makes the hilarious statement that the Texas curriculum changes pose a threat “to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”  This in a state where the legislature has instituted a Harvey Milk Day to propagandize students in the gay rights agenda, and where the California Education Association, the teacher’s union, is the largest spender on politics in the state.

To support the meme of the Left that evil conservatives were perverting educational standards in Texas, the Washington Post wrote a hit piece that may be read here.  Ann Althouse, law professor and blogger decided to compare the claims of the Washington Post to the new standards.  Here is what she found:

Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

The Washington Post writes:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…
The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…
Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.

… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…
What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.
Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”
The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?

Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!

ADDED: Birnbaum had an article in the previous day’s Washington Post that does contain quotes, and these have to do with changes that went through on Thursday (and which do not — but should! — appear in the documents that are available at the Board of Education website):

Students will now study “efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty,” an addition late Thursday evening encouraged by board member Don McLeroy (R), who has put forward many of the most contentious changes….

Another one of the seven conservative board members, David Bradley (R), added a list of Confederate generals and officials to the list of topics that students must study.

This provides support for Birnbaum’s statement that the standards “include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.” And it answers my question “Where is the language that can be paraphrased ‘imperil American sovereignty’?” My criticisms about “vindicating” McCarthyism, “the equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses,” and the term “free-enterprise system” remain.

I have not been defending the Texas standards, only attacking the quality of the journalism that fails to quote or link to a text that is referred to. Birnbaum’s Friday article contains some useful quotes (though still not a link to the whole text). The Saturday article was unanchored to text and forced me to look for what I could find on line. I’m also criticizing inaccurate paraphrasing, like the use of the words “vindicating” and “equivalency.” Birnbaum’s take on the standards might be true, but in an article that refers to a text, I do need to see the text. Paraphrasing, without the text, raises suspicions, and I don’t apologize for having those suspicions.

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17 Responses to Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

  • I will wager this fellow Birnbaum was acting as a mouthpiece for some advocacy group or looks at just about anything with a set of distorting lenses and has no idea he has said anything tendentious.

  • There is the issue that the role of Thomas Jefferson’s writings in influencing the founding of America is being de-emphasized. Allegedly, St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought in influencing America (more of a stretch than Jefferson) is being noted.

    Moreover, the emphasis on the presidency of Lincoln, the unintended consequences of the Great Society, Reagan, the contract with America in 1994, and the emphasis of the Founding Fathers’ particular interest in a small, limited government leads me to believe that this is a politicized curriculum — in fact, the Chair of the State Board, Don McLeroy has said himself admits:

    “It’s imperative that our children be taught the original direction of our country…And I think you tie that in with the concept of American exceptionalism that we’ve added to the standards. I think that it’s important to understand why America is such a wonderful place.”

    McLeroy wrote in an Op-Ed in the USA Today that the curriculum will “challenge the powerful ideology of the left,” whose “principles are diametrically opposed to our founding principles.”

    Sorry, but the curriculum is heavily politicized and I prefer history not historical revisionism.

  • And that need not be taken as a defense of the current curriculum — hardly. But this surely is not a remedy. I hope it fails.

  • Sorry, but the curriculum is heavily politicized and I prefer history not historical revisionism.

    Why are you confident the extant curriculum is not ‘heavily politicized’? What, roughly, would a ‘non-politicized’ curriculum look like?

  • In regard to Jefferson being de-emphazised Eric, that claim is made, but I do not think there is substance to it. The Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jefferson’s magnum opus, is to be studied at several points in the curriculum. The one place where Jefferson is omitted is under World History:

    “Government. The student understands the process by which democratic-republican government evolved how contemporary political systems have developed from earlier systems of government. The student is expected to:
    (A) explain the development of trace the process by which democratic-republican government evolved from its beginnings in the Judeo-Christian legal tradition and classical Greece and Rome, through developments in England the English Civil War and continuing with the Enlightenment; and
    (B) identify the impact of political and legal ideas contained in the following significant historic documents: including, Hammurabi’s Code, the Jewish Ten Commandments, Justinian’s Code of Laws, Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government,” and the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen;
    (C) explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present; ”
    Jefferson is omitted under C.

    Under United States government Jefferson’s ideas are to be studied:

    “(D) identify analyze the contributions of the political philosophies of the Founding Fathers, including John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, John Jay, George Mason, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson, on the development of the U.S. government;”

    I think the idea that Jefferson is being de-emphasized is not really accurate.

    Politics since the days of Horace Mann have always played a large part in curriculum development for public schools which is why states produce laundry lists of dos and don’ts in regard to what is taught. For example in Illinois the kids get off for Casimir Pulaski day and learn about him in school. Pulaski played a fairly minor role in the American Revolution dying at the siege of Savannah in 1779 leading a cavalry charge. However, activist Poles in Chicago wanted him in, so class time is taken up on this minor figure. What is unusual in Texas is not the politics, but the publicity it has received.

  • Texas is in the process of being “Arizonaed”.

  • Re: politicized curriculum, a few years back I noticed that my beliefs about political events were roughly that liberals were almost always right up until the 1980s, at which point conservatives were usually right. It occurred to me that my knowledge of pre-1980s politics came mainly from my public school education, whereas since then my knowledge of politics came from having experienced it as it happened.

  • Art,

    I didn’t say the current curriculum is not politicized. In fact, I stated explicitly that I’m not defending it.

    Education curriculum is not my specialty nor need I devise a “non-politicized” scheme of education, but when the Chair of the Texas State Board of Education is making statements focus on reversing ideological trends in emphasis rather than providing a solid presentation of American social history for Texas children, I’m inclined to think the curriculum is being politicized and with the emphasis on the Judeo-Christian roots of America, small and limited government, Lincoln, Reagan, the unintended consequences of the Great Society, the 1994 Contract with America, it seems obvious that the shift in emphasis is to offer a certan reading of history and the filtering of information is to, more or less, generate students that have a more conservative (politically speaking) view of society. The education seems primarily aimed at that end and I simply don’t support that. And this does not mean that I support in totality the current liberal establishment in the education scene.

  • Eric,

    Saying that “the curriculum is being politicized” suggests that it is not politicized already.

  • Steve Sailer wrote a pretty damning piece on one high school history textbook:

    http://www.vdare.com/sailer/100425_schoolbook_massacre.htm

    It’s hard to read that and not come to the conclusion that something in education has gone horribly wrong.

  • In my Texas public school I suffered a day of in-service regarding a computer instruction program. When I told the expert that the English IV segment contained nothing but two novels of manners (oh, yeah, boys go crazy over Jane Austen), she airily advised me that “It’s not all about Texas content.” My response was that Beowulf, Shakespeare, and Milton are still taught in Texas and, presumably, in Rhode Island.

  • “oh, yeah, boys go crazy over Jane Austen”

    Only if they are given the zombie version:

  • This is one guy who’s a huge Jane Austen fan.

  • Nice icon pic Mr. Anderson!

  • I’m with you, Jay.

  • I find the hullabaloo over the new standards to be most intriguing indeed. As a native Texan who attended public schools I have always viewed the curriculum as s starting point for education. I would humbly assert that it is the duty of parents to supplement the learning taught in the classroom. In thirty years I have seen three such battles and each time it was an exercise in futility.