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Every once in a while I get to just this point in the day and realize that I really have nothing to say. 

I suppose I don’t actually mean this literally, although it feels like I do. 

I think it’s more that I feel that nothing I have to say makes much of a difference. 

And I’m not the sort of person who has a lot of patience with people who run around saying that they “want to make a difference,” either.  The phrase always feels to me incredibly vague and not very well thought out. 

Make a difference to what?  In what sense?

Hitler made a difference.  In fact, he changed the world.  So did Stalin and Mao.  So did the Black Plague.

Of course, so did Washington and Jefferson and Adams, and Jonas Salk.  There are people who “make a difference” for the better. 

But the phrase always seems to me to be aimed at something more fundamental, and probably at something impossible to change. 

Or it’s something worse–it’s a catch phrase for not doing very much of anything, but feeling noble about it.

A lot of people seem to use it when what they actually mean is that they intend to go into one of the “helping” professions, and not make as much money as they might if they went into Wall Street.

I don’t have a lot of patience with the “helping” professions.  Sometimes they actually help, and sometimes all they do is apply the latest conventional wisdom to problems that they’re probably exacerbating.  They are, in fact, the chief source of social scientism–the declaration that this or that explanation is “science” and that we should all therefore do x or y whether we like it or not.

Competition is bad for children, that’s one of those things.  The most important thing for children is that we make them “safe.”  Between those two, we’ve seen schools eliminate dodge ball, jump rope and even jacks, and teachers patrolling recess to make sure that nobody gets “picked last” or not at all for games.

They’re then absolutely shocked when the kid hits junior high or high school and the kid can’t handle what’s now called “bullying.”

Let me back up a little here.

I know a little something about being “bullied,” although that wasn’t the word I would have used for it.  If you want to know what my life was like between seventh and ninth grades, Somebody Else’s Music is fairly accurate.

I don’t think it’s nice.  I don’t think it’s acceptable.  I do think that practically everything we now do about it is wrong.

The first, and most wrong thing, is the tendency to interject ourselves into the situation by getting the victim therapy.

Am I really, really the only person in the world who sees what’s wrong with this?

You have this kid who’s being harassed for being strange and different, and you send her off to a shrink, which just proves that she’s–strange and different.

When I bring this up to the “helping” professionals I know–the fact that the victim here sees herself as being punished (and told that her harassers are right) and that the harassers now feel justified in their harassment–I get indignant lectures about how it isn’t the way it used to be, therapy is far more accepted now.

We are now doing with “bullying”–sorry for the continued scare quotes, but to me, bullying will always be a physical act, like beating up another kid for his lunch money–

Anyway, we are now doing with bullying what we have done with physical stressors.   Fifty years of trying to make sure every possible germ was out of our children’s environment has resulted in higher numbers of children with asthma and more virulent food allergies.

We’ve only been at sanitizing our children’s “self-esteem” for about thirty years, but the results are similar, and the entire craze for “treating” “bullying” are only going to make them get worse.

Which doesn’t mean that I want schools to do nothing about bullying, even about the verbal and social bullying that has few if any physical aspects.

I’ve always thought–all the way back to the time when the victim was me–that that sort of thing could not happen without the collaboration of adults.  In my memories of junior high school, teachers were as enamored of the “popular crowd” and as disdainful of the kids who were “out” as any of the kids were. 

Looking at present-day proposals to “do something” about bullying, it often looks to me as if we mean to make that collaboration official.   That’s why there’s so much emphasis placed on getting the victim into therapy–obviously, kids wouldn’t be taunting you and calling you names if there wasn’t something wrong with you.

And these days, of course, there’s another factor.  The Internet is forever.  Mean girls can  now put there meanness out there where everybody can see and it could be raked up twenty years from now when the victim is looking for a job.

Maybe I’d be less annoyed about all this if I thought that all these bullying workshops would do anything at all to put a stop to that kind of thing, but they won’t.  For one thing, both parents and teachers are, as I said above, often collaborators here. 

What might do a little better is a law enforcement approach–both slander and libel are crimes.  Why not arrest and prosecute the perpetrators?

Knowing that if you get caught putting put lies about your classmates on the Internet, you’ll end up in juvie instead of the junior prom is more likely to have some effect than empathy exercises and watching your victim go off to the shrink.

Mostly, though, we’re back to “making a difference.”  This is human nature, and nothing you do will ever change it.

Written by janeh

June 24th, 2011 at 8:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Speechless'

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  1. I just read an article in the Atlantic about the self-esteem movement and the harm it does to kids. It was interesting – apparently there are kids who go their whole lives never having to deal with failure and then they go to college. Apparently colleges are having to hire people to deal with parents who are reluctant to leave when they drop the kids off, who call to complain when Johnny gets a bad grade, and so forth.

    Imagine hiring one of those kids.


    24 Jun 11 at 9:53 am

  2. I didn’t experience – or didn’t notice all that much = an in crowd and out crowd in high school, although we certainly had bullies. Kids have to learn to deal with bullies, but also any kind of bad behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated in schools – not even mild rudeness or thoughtlessness, much less bullying.

    But how do you stop in in a society in which teachers have less and less power and control in the classroom and parents feel perfectly justified in insisting ‘my child right or wrong!’ under all circumstances – back in the bad old days when I was closer to all this stuff, a teacher got his jaw broken by a parent who didn’t like him telling an elementary school student to stop throwing snowballs, on school property, yet!

    It’s not so much the teachers liking a nasty in crowd; it’s teachers without the power or ability to force appropriate behavior from all children, and a certain subset of parents who encourage misbehaviour in the name of independence and self-reliance.

    The victim may well need help, but the assailant shouldn’t get off scot-free either.


    24 Jun 11 at 6:55 pm

  3. It’s interesting. For better than a century, teachers and principals had a pretty free hand with discipline–to the limits of public humiliation, occasional corporal punishment and detention. School medical staff–if any–was a nurse and a stock of band-aids. Now the treching faculty have little disciplinary authority, but school nurses and shrinks can drug a child and leave “diagnoses” which can mess with the rest of the student’s life–and some of the schools need armed guards. Not sure we’ve got that right.

    As long as we hand authority out without commensurate responsibility, and insist on treating opinion as fact in the field of “mental health” I see no way out of our difficulty. It’s a situation made to breed Nurse Ratcheds.

    I was reading GAUDY NIGHT, and hearing Miss Barton explain that all “anti-social behavior” was pathological–she, of course, getting to decide which behavior was anti-social–and got a cold chill down my spine I’m reasonably sure Sayers, writing in 1935, did not intend. I’m not sure Miss Barton would much care for the world she helped crate–but it’s a lot of fun for some people.


    24 Jun 11 at 8:58 pm

  4. Having spent nine years from age 7 until age 16 in a boarding school, I saw a lot of bullying and suffered a fair share of it. Somehow I survived, and I often wonder how much of the person I am was moulded by that experience and whether I am a better (or worse) person because of it. Perhaps a bit of both, who knows. But I do believe that spoilt, over-indulged, over-protected and under-disciplined brats do not usually grow up to be the best citizens. What is generally seen as mere “bullying” is often simply the application of constructive peer group pressure; “peer review”, perhaps, of behaviour unacceptable in that microcosmic society.

    I don’t know if the Americans here would ever have seen that fine British comedy based on a WWII entertainment unit in India (or thereabouts) called “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”.

    The principle character in the show, the Sergeant Major played brilliantly by Windsor Davies (Google is your friend), had a stock comment for anyone having a bit of a whine about how life, the universe and everything were being cruel. “Oh dear, how sad, never mind”, he’d say with mock sympathy and much sarcasm. That was about all the “therapy” anyone at my school could expect unless blood was actually being shed.


    24 Jun 11 at 10:29 pm

  5. MaryF is absolutely on target. And at the college level it is more than just parents trying to intervene on their kids behalf – they’re also claiming bullying on their own behalf. Two nights ago a student (I’ll call her Linda) asked to speak to me after class. She had just completed a group project with 5 other students in the class, groups randomly assigned by me after the first night of class. She was very upset and wanted to share her experience with me and it went something like this: At the first group meeting the group was trying to establish a common meeting time. A young male who took the group lead suggested a meeting time which was agreeable to all but Linda. She indicated that she couldn’t meet at that time because she was a single mom and had ‘kid’ obligations. Apparently the young man immediately said “I knew you 2 were going to be a problem because of the kids.” There was another woman with children in the group, but that woman was married so her husband could step in and help with the child care, freeing her up to be flexible with meeting times. According to Linda, the group process then was a ‘complete nightmare’ for her because she felt completely bullied by this young man.

    On the surface it might seem that Linda is the victim of bullying. Should this young man have said what he did? Probably not. But is it bullying? I don’t think so. I think that Linda is experiencing the consequences of choices she has made. Linda chose not to attend college after high school. Instead, she chose to create babies without the benefit of a husband. While a husband doesn’t guarantee much of anything, it does guarantee a certain legal obligation (in this state) of financial support for children you have produced. Choosing to make babies without one means that your legal right to financial support from that baby daddy is somewhat compromised, assuming that baby daddy has actually been named and can be found.

    Now, at 31, Linda has chosen to come back to college to get a degree. I applaud this choice of hers. However, the consequences of her earlier choices mean that the next 20 or so years of her life are going to be very hard. She’s a single mom, uneducated, unemployed, and now back in college. She’s juggling college work, full parenting responsibilities and all the other obligations of being an adult with dependents. It’s not an easy thing. However, it was her choice. And the reality is that other people shouldn’t have to feel an obligation to accommodate her at everyone else’s expense. And, I understand why they would feel resentful at being asked. If Linda is a victim of anything, she’s a victim of her own decisions.

    The self-esteem movement would have done a much greater service to everyone had it acknowledged that self-esteem can’t be given to someone. It’s a result of challenging yourself and working hard to achieve a goal – in the most literal sense of the words -self-mastery.


    25 Jun 11 at 10:41 am

  6. I graduated from high school in 1960. There was no bullying in either of the two public grade schools I attended, nor was there bullying in the public junior high or in either of the two public high schools I attended. None. Yes, there were mean kids, who undoubtedly bullied kids outside of school. But in school and on school grounds there was no bullying.
    There were, however, teachers and principals who were completely in charge. I never actually saw a student “talk back to” a teacher in any class I was in, from kindergarten through my master’s degree. I was bawled out in class twice, once in grade school and once in junior high, and both times it was for things I hadn’t done, but I didn’t even protest my innocence or try to explain that it had actually been someone else. I just sat there. It wasn’t that I was a coward, it was just that I’d never seen any other student protest anything any teacher did or said in class, so it never even occurred to me that it was a possible course of action.
    In grade school, the threat of being “sent to the principal’s office” didn’t even need to be said aloud by the teachers. Peer pressure? Sure, we had it–“You’d better not do that, cause if a teacher sees you, you’ll be sent to the principal’s office.” What would happen to us in the principal’s office in grade school was unclear, but we knew it would be not good.
    In junior high, on the other hand, everyone knew precisely what would happen. In his office the principal had a very large nail pounded almost all the way down into his floor. When a boy was sent to the principal’s office for conduct unbecoming a student, he had to bend over and put his finger on the nail, and the principal then whacked him x number of times (depending on the degree of the offence) with the official school paddle, which was wielded by the assistant principal if the principal was away on business. Paddling was only for boys. I don’t know what the punishment was for girls because I never knew any of the girls (very few) who were sent to the principal’s office. (My next older brother was the one who told me about the nail in floor of the principal’s office, and I believe he knew from first-hand experience.)
    In high school if you were walking through the door of your classroom as the bell was ringing, you got sent to the principal’s office to explain why you thought you were so special you didn’t need to be in your seat at the proper time. It has now been fifty-one years since I graduated from that high school, and I still have nightmares in which I can’t get my locker open, and then I hear the bell ringing, and I know–unspeakable horror!–that I’m going to be sent to the principal’s office.
    Did our parents complain about how we were treated in school? Actually parents were not any more eager to be called to the principal’s office than kids were. My parents never had to go in and answer for the misbehavior of one of their kids, but it was well known around the school that if someone’s parents were summoned by the principal, that kid was going to be in a heck of a lot of trouble when he got home.
    Were the schools I attended socially perfect? No. In junior high and in the first high school I attended, there were two girls’ cliques, each with maybe 10-15 girls in them. The girls in the cliques didn’t bully the rest of us, they just treated us outside of class as if we didn’t exist. In the summer between 9th grade and 10th grade, the most “popular” girl in my class, i.e. the leader of the top girl’s clique, moved away, and the two girls’ cliques got together and voted to merge.
    The boy’s weren’t actually organized into such definite cliques. Basically, if a girl who was in one of the cliques was willing to date a boy, he was “in.” Popular boys had more freedom than popular girls–they could talk to a non-popular girl or boy in the halls without losing status.
    Looking back on it, I wonder why 95% of “us” let the other 5% of “them” make us feel inferior. Yes, the ostracism did hurt–a lot. It did not happen inside the classrooms, however, and it did not happen at home. The popular kids had very little power, in fact, except in the school hallways and at the school dances. But it still was wonderful for me when my family moved to a different state, and I got to go to a new school where there were no cliques–where anyone could be friends with anyone, and where there were no “in groups” whose guiding principal was rejecting everyone outside their own select few.
    We did not fear our teachers, by the way, nor did we fear the principal. I didn’t fear my parents, although I’m sure there were abusive parents whose children feared them. What we feared was “getting into trouble,” because when we got into trouble, we had to pay the penalty. We were not saints, either. We did our share of things we were forbidden to do, always hoping that we wouldn’t get caught. For every spanking I got at home, I probably committed ten other “spanking offences” about which my parents never had a clue, which is why I continued to do things which might—but which usually didn’t—lead to a spanking.
    This was not the case in the public schools I attended. The odds were definitely in the teacher’s favor. Teachers found things out. We weren’t always quite sure how. Probably some of it was just greater situational awareness. When the bell rang and students changed classes, teachers stood in the open doorways and observed the students in the hallways. Undoubtedly some students tattled, but the teachers were not dumb enough to let the other students know when or if someone tattled. However the teachers found out, no excuses for bad behavior were accepted. Punishment was sure, swift, and the type and extent of it was well known in advance.
    The public schools I attended were in small college towns in the Midwest. By 1965 when I started teaching German in a high school in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, things were already changing. Parents were marching into the principal’s office and demanding that the principals force the teachers to do whatever was necessary to make their child’s educational experience a more pleasant one. The parents who were on the faculty at the University of Illinois tended to fall into the category “if my child doesn’t get an A, obviously it’s because the teacher is incompetent because I KNOW my kid is smart,” while the non-faculty parents tended to use the argument that “my child only has another year of high school, and then he’s probably going to be drafted and sent to Vietnam so you should let him do whatever he wants in school,” i.e. he should be allowed to be disruptive in class, be late, be tardy, skip school, whatever. And we must not forget that perennial favorite, “My child couldn’t possibly have done that! I know my own child! He/she would never do such a thing!”
    In 1970 I was no longer teaching because I was home with a small child (the state law in Illinois at that time not only mandated that a pregnant teacher be forced to take a leave of absence just as soon as she started “to show,” but ordained that she could not come back to her teaching job until her child was at least 12 months old; oddly enough, she could be a new hire even if she had a one-day-old child). Back then a former student teacher of mine was teaching in a “consolidated” school in a farming community about 30 miles from Champaign-Urbana, and I had the opportunity to substitute teach for her for a week, substitute teachers who knew German not being easy to find. I discovered that that school had not yet made the transition from “if you’re in trouble at school, then you’re in more trouble at home” to the “my child shouldn’t be expected to do schoolwork–high school is supposed to be his fun years.” I have always assumed from this that schools in big cities probably went through this transition earlier than the schools in small towns, and that schools on the coasts probably went through it earlier than schools in the Midwest.
    The question, of course, is what was the cause of the transition.
    I have been thinking about the problem of bullying for the last couple of years, because my daughter and granddaughter live with me, and my daughter is determined that her daughter will be neither the bully nor the bullied, and so my daughter has spent a lot of time researching the subject, both by reading and by talking to other parents, as well as discussing it with me. I have not come up with the definitive answer, nor are my thoughts completely organized, but this is where I am in my thinking right now.
    As is so well portrayed in LORD OF THE FLIES, group bullying arises when there is no authority to prevent mobs from forming and doing what mobs are ever wont to do.
    Principals and teachers lost their authority in the 1960s (or possibly earlier in cities and definitely a bit later in predominantly faming communities). Yes, the official school paddle was hung up when corporal punishment was no longer allowed, but I don’t think lack of corporal punishment was the most important factor.
    Principals lost the authority to send a kid home during the school day. It was explained to me thus when I started teaching: Since the school stands “in loco parentis,” if the principal sends a child (even a 17-year-old “child”) home during the day, then if anything happens to said child, the school district could be sued. So no more dress codes (couldn’t send a child home to change his clothes), no more kicking a student out, not even for smoking or fighting, unless, of course, the principal managed to get in contact with a parent and make him/her come pick up his/her child… assuming the parent would respond to the principal’s “authority” any better than his/her child did.
    Teachers lost the authority to keep a kid after school for detention. Most of the students started riding buses back and forth to school (my generation had walked both ways), and it was deemed too much of a “hardship” on families to have to drive to school and pick the kids up if the school forced them to miss the bus. And the kids could not, of course, be expected to walk home, because it was too dangerous to let kids walk home, and if anything happened to them while they were walking home, the school district could be sued. And even if a kid lived within walking distance, you couldn’t give that walker detention if you excused the bus riders from detention.
    Teachers lost the authority to flunk students, because holding students back so that they were in classes with younger students might damage them psychologically.
    If you can’t flunk them, and you can’t spank them and you can’t throw them out and you can’t give them detention, it becomes a lot more difficult to make them behave in class or do their schoolwork.
    And if a teacher even tried bawling a student out in class, the parents would complain to the principal, and the principal would come down hard on the teacher. Of course if the teacher didn’t keep order in the class, the principal would also come down hard on the teacher.
    These are only a few of the areas where schools, i.e. principals and teachers, lost the authority they had earlier.
    The present popularity–and success–of charter schools stems from the fact that they have the authority to kick students out permanently, which is arguably the most fundamental authority from which all other authority flows. They can therefore demand that the students adhere to a dress code (or you’ll be kicked out), that the students pay attention in class (or you’ll be kicked out), that the students do their homework (or you’ll be kicked out), etc. Oddly enough, from what I’ve heard there is still a lot of bullying in most of these charter schools, apparently because the teachers and administrators there have bought into the idea that bullying and being bullied is “just a normal part of growing up, and nothing can be done about it.”
    While it would be nice to blame all the loss of authority on the school boards’ fears of being sued, I don’t believe that was actually the most important cause of the transition from (a) principals/teachers having the authority to make rules and enforce rules in their schools/classrooms to (b) principals/teachers having essentially no control over what happens in their schools/classrooms.
    It seems to me that the rise of Civil Disobedience was one of the major causes in the loss of authority by teachers and principals.
    No, it has nothing to do with racism or the Vietnam War–at least not directly.
    Why was Napoleon exiled rather than executed after he was defeated? Because he had been crowned Emperor of France (even if he was the one who crowned himself), and the other monarchs in Europe did not want to do anything that would encourage their own lower classes to get the idea that monarchs could be executed, no matter what the circumstances. A General Napoleon might therefore have been executed; the Emperor Napoleon was not.
    Just so did the rise of Civil Disobedience strengthen the idea that authority could be ignored. After all, laws are man-made (and school rules aren’t even laws!), and if the laws and rules and regulations are not just and righteous, then it is the right–nay, it is the obligation of right-thinking people to protest and even to deliberately set out to break the laws.
    How can you have parents protesting or even talking with approval about other people’s protesting, and then get their children to believe that they have to respect the authority of their teachers and obey the rules as laid down by the principal even if they think what the teachers are requiring them to do is stupid.
    If none of us read the assignment, what’s going to happen? Can the teacher flunk us all? No? So then we don’t have to read the assignment, so let’s not.
    If we as a group bully another student, what’s going to happen? Nothing. Then let’s make this kid eat dirt.
    This is not a case of finding out the Wizard of Oz was a fraud. Teachers and principals did actually have authority back when I was growing up because society as a whole stood behind them and gave them authority.
    Peer pressure. Hmmm. To my way of thinking, this is also a recent development, or rather I should say the rise in power of peer pressure among children of a lower and lower age until it outranks the pressure of parental and school authority is recent. (I do a lot of research in the 16th and 17th centuries, so I tend to think of anything that happened in the last hundred years or so as being recent.) Simplified greatly, the cycle is:
    Start with a lot of parents who want to be friends with their children rather than being “mean” and making their children obey family rules or help with household chores or show respect to their elders, etc., and add a bunch of parents who had a child or children but who are unable or unwilling to make any time for their child/children in their lives and who therefore have essentially turned the responsibility for raising their child/children over to child-care providers or the schools or to a television set. Such abdication of authority on the part of parents leads to children who have no respect for any authority, inside or outside the family. Such children have a tendency to form groups or join gangs, and that leads to mob behavior like bullying or even worse (if you don’t believe it can be worse, you haven’t read LORD OF THE FLIES).
    It is tempting to blame everything on the child-raising books of the 20s (or 30s?) that advocated “permissive parenting,” but I don’t think there were actually all that many parents who raised their children according to those how-to-raise-your-children manuals. Parents who were permissive just because they were too busy or too lacking in interest to be parents–those were a lot more numerous.
    So do we blame everything on women getting careers outside the home? Do we blame everything on television spreading the idea that children are smarter than adults? Do we blame everything on the Civil Rights Movement or on the Vietnam War or on the rise of fast-food restaurants that have done away with families sitting down together for meals?
    There is room here for a good scholarly paper on the rise of bullying and childhood peer pressure because what we have here in America today is not “the way it has always been.” I don’t plan to write such a paper, by the way.
    Beyond looking at the cause of this transition, there is of course the larger question of whether or not raising children to respect authority is a good thing. This is not an easy question.
    On the one hand, if people grow up to respect authority too much, then we can have a Hitler or a Jonestown or an Abu Ghraib. On the other hand, if the majority doesn’t respect any authority that can lead to the collapse of society. (An oversimplification, I know.)
    Do we want our children to blindly follow what “they” say without thinking for themselves? Of course not.
    Do we want our children to flout authority to the extent that they end up in prison for breaking the law? Of course not.
    So how do we teach them to recognize the line between respecting proper authority and defying improper authority? Can we ever recognize the line ourselves?
    No matter what the cause(s), what we have now is a situation where bullying happens in almost all schools, with teachers and school administrators claiming they are helpless to stop it.
    My granddaughter is now attending what is probably the only grade school in the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area where there is no bullying. The school has no dress code, nor does it have a policy of forcing the children to sit in their seats and “be good.” There is way more freedom of movement and speech in the classroom than I ever experienced in any class when I was in growing up.
    What the school does have that is unique is parental involvement. Every child in the school has a parent (or in some cases a grandparent) who is required to teach in the school 3 hours per week, i.e. one morning or one afternoon. (For families with more than two children, the parental obligation maxes out at six hours per week.) The parents also are required to serve on committees and come to class parents’ meetings. Note: These are not optional meetings.
    What this means is that every teacher has numerous teacher’s aides. More importantly, in my opinion, this means that every child in the school has–at a minimum–at least one adult family member who is involved in said child’s life. None of these children suffer from real or virtual abandonment by their parents. They can’t get away with crap at school, because their mother or father or grandmother or grandfather is right there in the classroom every week, and it’s pretty hard to convince your parents that the teacher is being unfair to you when your parents can see just exactly how you are behaving in school.
    Are these children perfect? Of course not. There are kids in the school who are antisocial, who are mean, who are selfish, who are greedy, etc. For the most part, however, attempts at bullying are stopped right away by the other kids in the class, who as a group just won’t tolerate it. This is, of course, the other side of peer pressure.
    Is it possible to stop bullying in school? Yes.
    Can we take the necessary steps to stop it in most schools? I doubt it, because I don’t believe the problem actually originates in the schools.


    3 Jul 11 at 10:41 pm

  7. Thanks again, Charlou. Like you I’ve noticed that change over time, being old enough to have had my hide tanned by the Principal, and my class teachers, and knowing full well that I’d get no sympathy at home.

    I totally agree with you that any misbehaviour of whatever sort in schools, and particularly bullying behaviour, is unlikely to be overcome in the schools because the problems do not originate in the schools. I believe that our children learn their behaviour, in differing degrees, from their parents, other people around them, particularly those whom they choose as their rôle models, and from society in general.

    When it becomes clear to them that there are few if any boundaries, the more rebellious, or more adventurous, or simply the more gullible and easily led, will experiment. That and peer group pressure will lead to just about any sort of behaviour conceivable. (I know, because I’ve been there and done that, particularly way back in the later WWII years when my father was serving overseas. My mother, completely overwhelmed with me and my younger siblings to raise on her own, had no idea what I got up to, sometimes literally miles from home, when I was barely 5 or 6 years of age, including nearly being killed, as a playmate actually was killed, in a fatal electrical accident that started as a childish dare).

    For me, I think the sixties baby boomer-led “revolution” was a significant way point in the subsequent deterioration of a whole host of societal norms and mores. I don’t want to argue that the changes wrought as a result are all bad or even worse than the previous situation. I’d much rather live in the world as it is now, for all its faults, than as it was 60 years ago or even 40 years ago, and unlike most modern opinion makers, particularly the more extreme of the radical environmentalists, I’m experienced both.

    But what I do regret is that the laws and legal machinery developed by organisations like the ACLU, and designed to emancipate and relieve the suffering of the truly disadvantaged, eg oppressed racial, religious and cultural minorities (as opposed to the merely dissatisfied malcontents), have been used and abused for less honourable aims. These days, too many people are willing to exploit those laws and legal machinery when they see opportunities to gain special treatment such as you describe above.

    School districts can no longer enforce rules for fear of being sued by angry parents who have easy access to lawyers falling over themselves to take their cases on a contingency basis, knowing that they can easily milk large settlements from school districts. It’s extortion by any other name, morally no better than bank robbery, but much safer and much more lucrative for the lawyers.

    Back in the day, up to and including the Korean War at least, military personnel who earned a dishonourable discharge, or even anything at all less that a fully honourable discharge, would find it very, very hard indeed to gain a good job with any sort of career prospects in a reputable organisation. This was a powerful disincentive to misbehaviour although, of course, it didn’t even come close to controlling the behaviour of the sociopaths or others who simply didn’t care about that. However, these are a tiny minority in any group, let alone a disciplined force.

    But, the Vietnam War changed all that. Those protesting against that war, including rebellious boomers with a sheer weight of numbers giving them hitherto unthinkable economic and political clout, made rebellion and defiance of the law respectable, indeed virtually de rigueur. Thus, draft dodgers and deserters became heroes rather than the pariahs that they had previously been, and these attitudes seemed to spread right across society as that generation aged and moved into positions of authority in the institutions of the media, government and learning. Gramsci’s Long March through the institutions at work.

    So, having sown the wind we are in that regard at least reaping the whirlwind.


    5 Jul 11 at 12:09 am

  8. Rather than blaming the Vietnam era war protestors for changing the way society reacts to authority, I’d rather blame the press for empowering the protestors.
    Every war this country has ever been involved in has had draft dodgers and deserters and yes, even war protestors. One might argue that the Vietnam War had more than it’s share of protestors because it was an unjust and stupid war (it was indeed). But there were other unjust wars before that. It’s hard to find one of the Indian wars, for example, that was just. World War I, start to finish, was too stupid to qualify as a “just” war, although the governments on both sides churned out mountains of propaganda to justify fighting. Then we have the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War. Sheesh! Even the morally-justified wars, like the Civil War, had war protestors and deserters. One of my great-grandfathers was in a Wisconsin regiment whose only task during the entire Civil War was tracking down draft dodgers. Even World War II, which has been nicknamed “The Good War,” had its share of protestors. Young men were drafted in other wars; young men evaded the draft in other wars; atrocities were undoubtedly committed in every war from the stone age until today.
    So why did massive numbers of people protest the Vietnam War until finally their protests brought about the end of that war?
    The only conclusion I can come to is that it was because of the press.
    During World War II the press was forbidden to publish a picture of any American war dead. Dead German soldiers, dead Italian soldiers, dead Japanese soldiers—yes. Dead American soldiers—no. Punishment for disobeying this edict was swift, sure, and did not take into account the rights of any citizen under the First Amendment.
    Earlier wars and conflicts also had similar governmental control over the press. Admittedly, before the Constitution was ratified and the United States came into existence, it was more a matter of “you will be tarred and feathered by your neighbors, and you will have your property confiscated if you disagree with how this war is being prosecuted,” but still, there was control over what you were allowed to say, how much you were allowed to say, and how you were allowed to say it.
    The only difference I can see is that during the Vietnam War the press, instead of gushing about great battles our side won, or lauding the heroism of our noble soldiers, exposed all the horrors of war. We saw the atrocities being committed live, in full-color, right there in our own living rooms. We read about the stupidities, had to pay for the waste, saw the destruction of the environment, the loss of life—and there was nothing the government or the military could do to stifle the press. In short, we saw that war is not glorious or heroic. Added to that, the press exposed the lies we had been fed by our government to justify sending our troops in ever greater numbers into Southeast Asia.
    So today, when Dubya’s statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been exposed as lies–those lies that suckered us into a war that is destroying the country we were supposed to be bringing the blessings of democracy to–
    Why are we now not out in the streets protesting by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands? Why are even the “End the war in Iraq!” bumper stickers falling off our cars?
    The only reason I can come up with is, “Been there, done that.” We’ve seen the horrors of war, so now let’s read about the latest extravagances of Paris Hilton. We’ve gone to the concerts to raise money to feed the starving children in Africa, so now let’s cast our votes on “Dancing with the Stars.“ We’ve listened to the whales’ singing, so now let’s listen to our i-pods.
    Or is it the fault of the ratings and Sweeps Weeks that have changed the press so that it brings us whatever will increase its market share rather than what we need to know to be well-informed?
    I could go on and on. Trying to trace back the threads of the events that have led us to where we are today is a Herculean task. Right up there with trying to change Congress.
    ‘a’ caused ‘b’ caused ‘c’ … or maybe (a + x + y + z) caused (b + p + q + w) plus (x + r + y) caused (c + t + h) caused…
    Great books have been written showing how minor events have caused bigger events have caused major events, have caused world-changing events. No matter how good the writer, no matter how meticulous the research, all of those books fall short.
    Read CHAOS by James Glieck. Yes, Virginia, a butterfly flapping its wings today in China does actually change what our weather will be next April right here in Podunk, U.S.A. That’s why no one will ever, no matter how big a computer is used, be able to predict the weather accurately more than a few days in advance.
    Yes, Johnny, a child’s falling in front of a cart in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1695 has undoubtedly made our world a different place than it would have been if that child had been caught and held back. (“if a clod be washed to sea…”)
    We will never be able to identify .0000000000000001% of the events that have shaped our world today, and we will never be able to identify and sort out all the reasons why schools have lost their authority and why bullying is on the rise.
    But in the immortal words of Tom Hanks, we should still “deal with it!”


    5 Jul 11 at 4:05 pm

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