|Opinions in this week's issue|
|From the Editor|
|Global Warming is a Pressing Concern|
|"Global Warming" Does Not Exist|
|The Educational Costs of Free Online Lecture Notes|
|Job Discrimination at the CPPC?|
|Dis-Orientation: Dissing the Dis-O|
|Socialized Education and the Ascendence of Kid Culture|
Now is that tedious time that gets lost somewhere in between fading memories of the summer passed and the torrid countdown till the holidays. You know that the middle of the quarter has arrived when the evening bay breeze starts rolling in a little bit earlier and you start sleeping a little past the initial buzz of your alarm clock. So here at the Stanford Review, we try our best to provide you with crisp and biting news and opinions of the recent events on campus. Our mission: to keep you on your toes.
In this issue you will find coverage of the Madeleine Albright luncheon at Hoover last week which Dave Myszewski and I were fortunate enough to attend. It was a surreal afternoon and I must say that meeting Warren Christopher was certainly the highlight of my week.
You will also find an extensive and thorough debate on the issue of "global warming" from the perspective that it is a pressing concern and from the counter-perspective from which its existence is denied. In my attempts to open the Review into more of a forum setting, I have sponsored the submission by two students researchers of the issue. They are of two entirely opposite camps and have provided extensive evidence for their respective claims so that you, the reader, may make your own call.
We have also included a critique of the Dis-orientation book and subsequent conference held last weekend. We are astounded that it has not caused more of an uproar and encourage you to approach the publication and event with a skeptical eye. For some baffling reason, the blatant and ill-supported disrespect of the University sponsored by the Dis-orientation people has failed to raise an administrative eyebrow.
In addition, we hope that you find the assessment of the ethnic minority career fair as intriguing as we do. There were many options in approaching this nonsensical event and in the end we decided that a simple editorial might be the best route. Although, I must say that I am still tempted to respond to the University's sponsorship of a career fair in which all ethnic minorities are invited and Caucasians are "welcome too" by sponsoring a career fair in which all Caucasians are invited and ethnic minorities are "welcome too." I think that this would clearly illustrate the point that racial discrimination is not only wrong when it's against minorities but rather that it is always wrong.
There is much more in this issue that we sincerely hope you enjoy. Also, make sure to look for next week's issue in which the feature story will be the immense connection between George W. Bush's bid for the presidency and Stanford University. Good luck with finals and I wish you all a productive and fulfilling week.
By Leo Feler
Debate on global warming currently rests on the contention that no scientific study has succeeded in finding a cause and effect relationship between human activities and a rise in atmospheric temperatures. This lack of conclusive evidence certifying a relationship between human activities and global warming does not, however, negate the existence of global warming nor does it imply that scientists disagree about global warming per se. Rather, many studies have succeeded in showing a statistically significant rise in temperature beyond mere weather phenomenon.
Santer et al.., in their study, "Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes" posited that the global mean temperature had risen by 1 degree Celsius in the twentieth century and approximately 9 degrees Celsius since the last ice age. Although this study attempted to factor the possibility of various weather phenomena into its calculations, several scientists contended that it was impossible to calculate such changes in the Sun's output or volcanic aerosols that might account for the increased global mean temperature. Thus, while agreement abounds on the assertion that global mean temperatures have risen, there is nevertheless disagreement on whether this increase is natural or unnatural.
While the chance exists that such a temperature increase is a mere fluctuation within natural norms, the chance also exists that this increase is due to human activities that will only exacerbate the problem of global warming if the world adopts a passive stance and fails to react. This wager could prove to be very costly.
On the one hand, the costs of reacting involve curbing greenhouse gas emissions which many scientists assume to be the cause of global warming. The global community signed the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty formulated in 1997, in an attempt to mitigate global warming. By signing the Kyoto Protocol, the United States committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by either 7% below the 1990 level or simply below the 1995 level, depending on the greenhouse gas. Currently, the United States emits greenhouse gases at 16% above the 1990 standard, and, according to the American Petroleum Institute, without the Kyoto Protocol, the United States would be emitting greenhouse gases at a level 37% higher than the 1990 level by 2010.
These findings of the American Petroleum Institute demonstrate the necessity of implementing restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving the goals established by the Kyoto Protocol would require the United States to procure such tactics as conducting research in order to find cleaner burning fuels and placing restrictions on industries that would limit their greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions. While these restrictions may offer industries the incentive to find cleaner and more sustainable ways of producing, the American Petroleum Institute argues that these restrictions would merely force industries to produce less, resulting in an overall loss of 2.4 million dollars and $300 billion of U.S. GDP (or $2700 per household).
The American Petroleum Institute, however, holds a vested interest in the global warming debate. Any restrictions the United States would implement would likely target the industries represented by the American Petroleum Institute. Rather than assume responsibility and attempt to procure more efficient, cleaner, and sustainable means of production, the American Petroleum Institute is lobbying for no restrictions whatsoever, so that the projected greenhouse gas emission levels of 37% above the 1990 standard by 2010 become a reality rather than a mere projection.
In part, the American Petroleum Institute objects to the Kyoto Protocol because it places greater restrictions on developed countries like the United States versus non-developing countries like China and Brazil. Although non-developing countries like China and Brazil bear a tremendous potential to become major emitters of greenhouse gases, the responsibility for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions at present rests on industrialized nations (namely the United States, the members of the European Union, Canada, and Japan). As such, the targeting of restrictions toward these industrialized nations seems fitting. Ideally, all nations would be restricted by the Kyoto treaty to minimize their greenhouse gas emissions, but fear that universal restrictions would hinder the development of underdeveloped countries prevents such countries from ratifying the treaty.
But because the major emitters of greenhouse gases are the industrialized nations from which the Kyoto Protocol invites compliance, the restrictions imposed by the Kyoto Protocol would indeed be effective. And although such restrictions might, as the American Petroleum Institute and even several economists argue, result in slower economic growth and higher energy costs, the costs of passivity and inaction toward global warming could be even higher.
Dan Becker of the Sierra Club and also a government appointed member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that "there are two main ways in which global warming will effect human health: extreme weather events (including heat waves) and infectious diseases."
Of course, no conclusive evidence has yet surfaced to prove beyond doubt that global warming is related to human activities. However, proof exists that global warming is indeed a reality. While the passive standpoint suggests assuming this trend in global warming is nothing beyond the normal variations of weather, the costs of inaction are too high if global warming is indeed related to human activities. The assumption, therefore, that global warming is caused by human activities, and consequent efforts like the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions, reflect noble efforts by the world community to assume responsibility and win the wager in the global warming debate. In the worst case scenario, if anthropogenic global warming turns out to be a figment of the scientific imagination, GDP may decrease and economic growth may slow. But if anthropogenic global warming is indeed real and no action is taken, then the disturbances in weather pattern, disease, and discomfort to humanity will be much more costly than the present attempts to make the earth more sustainable.
By Rachel Scarlett-Trotter
Science teachers and environmentalists render "global warming" and "greenhouse effect" terrifying phrases, evoking images of blistering heat and impending doom. The terror these words strike into the hearts of people across the world is justified. The idea of climate change-the altering of the Earth's climate due to human, or anthropogenic impact-is a frightening one.
If the fears about temperature increases and atmospheric destruction were founded on concrete scientific fact, the implications would be serious. However, the scientific evidence available fails to confirm climate change to any degree that warrants fear or significant government intervention.
The term "greenhouse effect" refers to the concept that much like the glass walls of a greenhouse, certain gases in the Earth's atmosphere act to trap heat from the sun, as light penetrates the surface, but cannot escape through reflection as it does in other circumstances. Scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect on Earth-that the atmosphere does indeed create a virtual greenhouse around our planet. The principal gases that contribute to this effect are carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Another contributing factor are the "particulate aerosols", or fine dust particles, that are suspended in the atmosphere.
A combination of natural processes like animal metabolism, lightning, and volcanoes and human activities like fuel use and manufacturing produce most of these gases. Once the gases are in the atmosphere, human and natural influences can further affect their concentrations.
Measurements of greenhouse gases are new and fairly limited, beginning only in the late 1950's in the South Pole and at Mauna Loa. However, most scientists today agree on some general statistics of sources for individual gases. Only 3.5 to 5.4 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions are generated by humans, while the bulk that enters the atmosphere comes from the planet's natural "carbon cycle" from animal metabolisms.
About seventy percent of the methane in the atmosphere, however, comes from human sources, while the rest is from natural emissions form wetlands, termites, and aquatic life. Thirty percent of the atmospheric nitrous oxides, which have 200 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, are due to human activity, and CFCs are entirely man-made. Some of these CFCs, however, have a cooling effect, rather than a warming one.
To further complicate the issue, the warming effect of a particular greenhouse gas is difficult to measure. For example, though carbon dioxide is a less powerful warming agent than methane, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there is methane, which is only a trace gas. Nitrous oxides, similarly, are greater warming agents than carbon dioxide, yet make up only .0000001 to .00000000001 percent of the atmosphere by volume, compared to carbon dioxide's .034 percent. Thus the cumulative effects of the methane versus the carbon dioxide are difficult to determine.
Since the human contribution percentage-wise of methane is larger than that of carbon dioxide, but the carbon dioxide makes up a larger portion of the atmosphere, it is even more difficult to determine the potential for human activity to effect the greenhouse effect.
Another complicating factor in the science of climate change is the lack of convincing data relating any ties between anthropogenic activity and actual changes in the climate, such as heating or rising water levels.
The report issued by the IPCC, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 1995 relates a warming trend of .3 to .6 degrees Celsius since 1850, with .2 to .3 degrees of this warming occurring in the last 40 years. However, the warming recorded is not uniform in chronology or distribution. For example, more of the warming occurs over land than over water, at night than in the day, and during the winter than during the summer. In other words, the daytime temperatures are not hotter, but the evenings are warmer, and the summers are not hotter, but the winters are milder. Other more recent measures, taken by balloons and satellites, give more accurate readings, but over a shorter time span. Some of these measurements actually indicate a cooling trend in some areas.
Rainfall is another measurement used to discuss climate change, for increased rainfall could signal the greenhouse effect, as more of the atmospheric water is released in the form of precipitation, and more is absorbed into the atmosphere by evaporation. Numbers on this trend indicate a slight global increase of one percent during the 20th century. However, this increase is not uniform, translating into rainfall increase in areas such as the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, but decrease in the subtropics and tropics from Africa to Indonesia.
Due to the lack of data for any length of time, it is difficult to fit these numbers into any sort of large scale framework. It is quite possible that similar climate trends have been present throughout the centuries, even millennia. The data we possess on climate change in fact covers only .000004 percent of the Earth's history of over four billion years.
Looking at climate change from this perspective, any evidence must be carefully weighed and any preventative action must be carefully considered. The question of human impact on climate change is yet unanswered. That humans, like any other organism on the Earth, affect the environment they inhabit is certain. The extent of the effects, and the implications these effects have is less certain.
Any government action will necessarily have wide spread effects. Restrictions, for example, on fuel use or manufacturing activity, effect not only individual freedom, but also human productivity and progress. Instead of taking regulatory actions that will by nature have tradeoffs, Americans are much better off to invest in more experimentation and data collection.
The data available on climate change now does not warrant any intensive government action, nor does it spell impending doom for us or for future generations. The most sensible approach to the topic is intensive study and careful examination of the problem. If it becomes clear that humans are negatively impacting the climate, and that there is danger of drought, land loss due to rising water levels, or health hazards from temperature increase, precautions should be taken to prevent such a situation. However, from the current evidence, there is no such need. The reality of climate change itself is uncertain, in terms of extent and seriousness. The role humans play in the change is even less clear. Until more facts are obtained, the words "global warming" and "greenhouse effect" should not arouse fear or direct blame towards humans.
This past semester, many of our nation's campuses have witnessed the invasion of a new and troublesome Internet phenomenon. I refer to the sudden and aggressive appearance of private online companies that distribute lecture notes of courses taught at colleges and universities on the Internet. I wish to draw attention to the serious dangers this intrusion implies with respect to our educational rights and responsibilities as students and teachers.|
Online lecture notes companies are a very recent phenomenon. Of the ten companies that I know to be presently online, at least three have already begun to distribute notes. The companies are not affiliated with a university or college, but are privately owned businesses that have garnered large funds to start up the service. One company reported it had attracted $11.2 million in financing from a group of investors. The notes are offered free of charge and the companies work on a for-profit basis through revenues derived from web site advertising.
Online notes companies may have many negative effects, especially because students could be led to think that they no longer have to attend class when lecture notes are available online. More broadly, the availability of online notes could imply that students would develop a short-sighted and narrow perspective that views of education as just getting the notes to make the grade. However, irrespective of their anticipated impact, I believe there are at least two serious educational concerns involved with these companies. First, these companies interfere with the autonomy and dignity we enjoy in our student-teacher relationships and intrude upon our rights and responsibilities in learning and teaching. Second, online notes companies lack the accountability and standards of qualification that apply to teachers in colleges and universities.
In my view the most serious drawback of online note companies is the loss of autonomy and responsibility that it involves in student-teacher relationships. Online note companies do not ask instructors for permission, but the companies explicitly post and advertise lecture notes with reference to the class titles and the universities where they are taught, further identified by the course section number and/or name of the teacher. Such a form of intrusion goes squarely against the rights and obligations of educators, who as appointed instructors determine the subject matter, the reading list, the assignments, and other aspects of their teaching. Yet, with online provided notes, teachers lose control over what is nonetheless presented as an educational tool related to their teachings. No matter the effects, such a service constitutes an intrusion in the student-teacher interactions which we value without third-party interference. In fact, not only do online notes companies not ask for instructors' permission to post lecture notes, they do not cancel the service when the instructor so requests. Over the past weeks, for instance, I repeatedly asked one of the companies to remove postings for one of my courses from their web site, but to no avail. The company is still trying to hire a notetaker for the class (which, incidentally, counts 41 students). In fact, the web site of that particular company has in the meantime been so reconfigured that I no longer have full access to it. Fortunately, I have many students and colleagues helping me out in this matter and through a friend I was able to find out that this company is looking for notetakers for some 64 classes taught at Stanford.
The loss of autonomy for instructors also implies a loss of responsibility. With online companies providing notes, teachers are not in command of a service that is nonetheless advertised as an element of the student's learning process. The aggressive and seemingly for-the-benefit-of-education manner in which the companies present their services may lead students to think that the service could be approved by instructors or their universities.
On the part of the companies, there is an absence of quality standards and accountability in providing course notes. There are no requirements or procedures governing who provides online notes. This is probably best demonstrated by a Michigan-based company which has been set up by a few college drop-outs. While the notes are typically presented as a useful learning tool, company providers are not trained in educational matters and there is no authority of supervision enforcing any guidelines. There is with these companies, in other words, nothing equivalent to the hard work qualified teachers invest to acquire and maintain their position. Neither is there an equivalent to the university rules that regulate instructors' educational duties and their relationships with students. Instead of all the safeguards designed to establish and protect the integrity and standards of student and teacher conduct, online notes companies merely benefit from a parasitic freedom of opportunity on the Internet.
Online lecture notes companies also lack accountability in providing educational materials with any guarantees of quality. The company websites not only contain claims that all the materials presented are copyrighted and may not be used in lawsuits brought against them, they are also careful to detail a user agreement that includes the disclaimer that no guarantees are made on the quality of the notes and that the company cannot be held liable for mistakes. Explicit disclaimers on the quality of a service presented as educational are in complete contradiction with a responsible understanding of education. Students cannot only ask questions and clarification from their instructors, they are encouraged to do so. Responsible teachers encourage participation from students in a quest for valuable information that is accurate in contents and appropriate in form. The online notes, instead, are presented as just one more complementary tool of education. The philosophy seems to be that more information is better and cannot hurt. But freedom of information and expression do not contribute to teaching in such an unqualified sense, for the classroom is not a forum of participatory democracy but a purposively designed setting with a particular function and division of labor. The key is not more information but information that is appropriate relative to teaching objectives.
At the heart of this problem is a free-marketization of our educational system. The problem is not the Internet and not the free market, but a profit-oriented and technologically-based invasion of education that applies market principles in an area of society governed by fundamentally different standards. Online lecture notes companies rely on expectations of e-commerce as a someday profitable market in which teaching will be done on a supply-and-demand basis that currently applies to soft drinks and tennis shoes.
I encourage students and teachers to join in on the debate surrounding the educational issues involved in this matter. To provide information and awareness, I have set up a web site with news and opinions, a list of companies, and educators who share critical concerns on the matter: http://www.sla.purdue.edu/people/soc/mdeflem/education.htm
Mathieu Deflem is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University.
Once again, it is the time of year for many anxious seniors to begin their quest for gainful employment. For those students industrious enough to make use of the available resources, Stanford's Career Planning and Placement Center (CPPC) provides a vast array of research material, interview opportunities with America's top companies, and career counselors who offer invaluable advice in the job search process. We are thus very disheartened that the CPPC continues to engage in a subtle form of job discrimination -- the annual Career Fair Reception for women and minorities.
Each year, the CPPC hosts a large career fair with 350+ companies in mid-October, which offers students an excellent chance to network and make contacts with prospective employers. This career fair is preceded the night before by the Career Fair Reception which the CPPC bills as "An informal reception for our diverse community." Co-sponsors for the event include various theme centers such as the Women's Center, the Disability Resource Center, as well as the campus's myriad ethnic centers. The fact that official university organizations sponsor an event which is targeted toward only certain segments of the Stanford population is cause for great concern.
While we do not condone any sort of discriminatory career events, this event would be less egregious were it organized and executed by voluntary ethnic organizations. Because the Career Fair Reception is conducted under the auspices of university departments, it violates Stanford's Statement of Nondiscriminatory Policy. To paraphrase the policy, "Stanford University...does not discriminate against students on the basis of sex, race, age, color, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin in the administration of...University-administered programs." As the CPPC is quick to point out, the event is not discriminatory and even one of "inclusion" as able-bodied white males are not excluded from attending the reception. Though such an event may not violate the letter of the Nondiscriminatory Policy, it certainly violates its spirit. If all students are welcome to attend, then why even marquee the event as one for Stanford's "diverse community?" Why not just bill the event simply as a Career Fair Reception with prospective employers?
The CPPC contends further that it is the employers who wish to meet with students of certain minority populations, and that the CPPC organizes the event solely at their request. If this is the case, would the CPPC be equally willing to sponsor a career reception for employers wishing to target the aforementioned able-bodied white males. Of course not, and we too would deplore such an event were it ever to take place. By the same token, it is equally unethical to hold the current Career Fair Reception and remain true to the spirit of the university's Nondiscriminatory Policy.
The comments of one CPPC employee are particularly illustrative. In October 1997, career counselor Veda Jeffries inadvertently addressed the following email to Review Editor Emeritus Eric M. Jackson. On the subject of the Career Fair Reception, Ms. Jeffries wrote, "It is something to think about, but if there were equal opportunity for people of color as with white men, I would agree. Let's get real here. We will discuss this further as we move closer to the event." Again, the fundamental contradictions of affirmative action are exposed here. Our liberal friends are overly-passionate in emphasizing that affirmative action programs merely "level the playing field" and that are not a handout, but a "hand up." Yet, affirmative action programs abound at Stanford in graduate school admission, applying for one's first job, etc. The effect is only to increase dependence on such programs and many qualified minority students forever second-guess whether or not they truly received a job based on their merits.
We hope that the CPPC will follow the paradigm set by former Provost Condoleezza Rice in regards to affirmative action. While Provost Rice approved of affirmative action in the initial hiring of faculty, she categorically "opposed its use in the tenure process." In the same way, the University could stipulate that while affirmative action will be practiced in initial undergraduate admission, programs targeted at specific populations have no place when it comes time for students to make plans for their post-undergraduate years. After all, given its top-rated academic programs, vast libraries, and cutting-edge technology, it is hard to imagine how any student lucky enough to gain admission to Stanford can be disadvantaged when it comes time to look for a job.
As immoral as they are, we naturally cannot prevent individual employers from employing racial quotas in their hiring policies, especially given the obtrusiveness of federal affirmative action mandates. But Stanford and the CPPC can set an example of zero tolerance for discrimination by ending the Career Fair Reception once and for all. Moving "closer to the event" of equal opportunity for "people of color as white men" is certainly an arduous task, but one that can only be achieved by emphasizing individuals and by practicing policies which do not benefit any social group. If Stanford and the CPPC were to remain true to the spirit of that vision, we might be discussing a few things with Veda Jeffries sooner than she might think.
"Stanford's Shame: The Hoover Institution" is the title of the article on page 29 of this year's disorientation guide. The Hoover Institution of Economics the only prominent conservative institution at Stanford and the publishers of the disorientation guide want to get rid of it for precisely that reason. The guide argues that it is a partisan institution on an otherwise non-partisan campus. Burn Hoover tower, a cartoon that accompanies the article suggests, because it is a haven for conservative scholars. Is this how we achieve diversity?|
Five months of effort came to fruition with the recent publication of the 1999 disorientation guide and the accompanying conference on October 9. The guide claims to be a "tool to challenge the 'orientation' (we) were given on arrival, and the on-going socialization that accompanies being a student here." It purports to take an alternative point of view and help us understand our ignorance.
The contents of this year's guide ranges from a relatively mild explanation of the different minority groups on campus to a full blown criticism of the University's policies. Ultimately, the guide complains that the University supports a conservative institution, maintains profit motives, and is not accessible for disabled students.
The disorientation guide works as a medium of discussion, but its arguments are illogical. The critical element missing from the disorientation guide is realism. The University does not need to maintain a philosophy of brutal realism, where the ends justify the means. But we all need to understand the needs of the university and how it must operate in the real world. What Stanford needs is a practical realism, and that the disorientation committee ignores. The University does need to stay competitive, academically and economically, to maximally serve its students' educational needs. It is an inevitable truth of the world that able bodied people will be able to function with a greater degree of ease than disabled people. And the University is not apolitical and it can only be in vain that we pretend that it is.
Perhaps the most poignant criticism in the disorientation guide is that of the Hoover Institution. The University, the guide professes, insists that it is nonpolitical and objective. The disorientation committee is therefore upset because purportedly only conservative scholars fit well at the Hoover Institution, which they claim goes against the nonpartisan policy. The guide ignores the fact, however, that Stanford faculty is 90% democrat and that generally only liberal scholars fit well at the rest of the University. The University cannot be free of political bias, no matter how hard it tries.
Flushing the University of conservatism, or any other single point of view, isolates a minority group, creating the us and them mentality that perpetuates the tension that the disorientation committee opposes. A student can have multiple views and ought to have access to both partisan and non-partisan organizations at a diverse University. Unless we are going to ignore intellectual diversity, pretend that we are apolitical people, and accept the ostensibly neutral stance of the predominantly democratic faculty, the Hoover Institution is necessary.
Making a University inclusive, though, has limits. Stanford should certainly be accessible to students of all backgrounds. The disorientation, guide, though, takes this notion a bit too far. It complains that Mirrielees, Synergy, and Paloma are the only undergraduate residences with elevators. Disabled students cannot, therefore, access every level of every residence. The guide omits the fact that most undergraduate dorms do include other, more essential facilities for disabled students, such as sinks, showers, and furniture. Most dorms do sufficiently serve the needs of disabled students. The cost of putting elevators in every undergraduate dorm just so that some students would have the option of venturing to the second floor would be exorbitant.
The final source of the guide's animosity is Stanford's apparent profit motive. The guide argues that within the standard structure at Stanford, there are two sub-institutions. The first is the educational institution with which we are all most familiar. The second, however, is an institution devoted to increasing Stanford's "wealth, prestige, and 'greatness'" The guide claim's that the second institution, the one with the profit motive, detracts from Stanford's educational purpose.
What the guide ignores is that financial resources are necessary to maintain high level research facilities, such as the Hoover Institution, and other resources that help every student. Increasing our financial resources is pertinent to increasing our educational resources.
It is true that increasing the prestige of the University at the expense of real substance would be detrimental. But a prestigious University attracts a diverse array of intelligent, qualified professionals. If the University uses its prestige appropriately, it benefits us all.
Stanford has the potential to be an intellectually diverse community with an open forum of debate. Its current institutions and resources, when utilized effectively, can help us to actualize that potential. Yet the disorientation guide claims that "Stanford's actions adversely affect us all." The University will only adversely affect us when we fail to take advantage of the opportunities it can offer us.
I see a fourteen year old boy slouching down my quiet suburban street with the crotch of his pants almost down to his knees. He has to tuck his butt under and get his thighs a little horizontal to keep his pants from falling all the way down. At least a jacket covers his rear end. He looks quickly over his shoulder a couple of times, maybe trying to verify that no one is watching him, and I feel much pity. He is obviously obsessed with these clothes. They contort and burdens his every step. Doesn't this boy have a father? What parent could let a child tie himself to utter discomfort and trivial obsession? Who could let his son think this a reasonable vocation? The boy's hand reaches momentarily for the back of his pants. The lunacy of his self-imposed burden must be stark before him now. "Come on kid," I exult inwardly, "you can do it. Pull up your pants!" |
But he doesn't. It is right there in his power but something holds him back. To my dismay, I watch his foolish bent kneed walk acquire a slow thuggish jauntiness. Oh no. He is trying to look like the rappers on TV, the gang trash that pantomime doggerel about gang-banging and bitches and popping caps over disrespect. When no one is watching, when he can slouch down the road in his own world, he is thinking about how cool he looks, how bad: "steer clear of me."
Half of him is crying "I'm a miserable dork!" The other half is a psychopath in training. He spends his life making himself the object of contempt while consoling himself with thoughts about what he will do to anyone who "disses" him. I want to grab every parent of every kid like that by the throat: in your kitchen, away from the eyes of the world, he's your sweet boy, but have you never followed him out the door? He is head first in quicksand and nobody is pulling him out.
In the wake of the Littleton massacre much has been made of the cruelty of high schoolers towards those who are "different." I think these memories people have are way overblown and that the greater source of youthful agonies is the thin-skinnedness of youth. Either way, what a disastrous misfortune that young people today are going to such bizarre lengths to make themselves, not just different, but ludicrous, in their attempts to conform to weirder and weirder subgroups.
It is a commonplace to say that kids have always dressed weird and tried to shock their parents but the fact is that what kids are doing today is unprecedented. When the gang-banger look arrived in the early eighties, with the falling down pants, people assumed it would be gone as quickly as the mini-skirt or the bell-bottom. Instead it has persisted for going on twenty years. Similarly for the black-dressed, dyed-hair subculture of the would-be effete. The dynamic has changed. The internal forces of kid culture are more dominant. How has this come about?
I attribute it to our socialist monopoly on education (enforced by the extremely high barrier to entry of requiring those who send their children to non-government schools to pay twice). Kids used to live under the tutelage of adult culture but two features of socialized education allowed kid culture to turn the tables and become the determining influence for kids, especially teenagers, starting in the early sixties.
First, the socialist monopoly caused school size to burgeon. In most suburban towns all the kids would go to one high school and thanks to the baby boom there was an explosion of high school age kids. Not till the edge of rural would you find a high school with less than two thousand students. In an all private system with schools competing on the basis of success my guess is that the average high school would have three to five hundred students. Instead of one school trying to be all things to all people, schools would specialize, catering to students abilities and parents goals. The sheer size of socialist schools provided the critical mass for kid culture to become the dominant influence there.
At the same time the ACLU forced us to live with the implications of our illiberalism. If the government is going to establish a socialist monopoly on education, so that people have no where else to go (without paying twice), then it must be open to all whose rights are not impaired by criminal conviction. Fashion crimes don't count so dress codes cannot be enforced and neither can any other limits on behavior short of criminal disruption, with the burden of proof on the schools and the procedural restrictions of criminal law all in place. Adult culture was forced by law to retreat from actually imposing its influence.
The combination caused a breakout of kid culture over adult culture as the dominant frame of reference for kids in school. Funny thing about kid culture though: it bears absolutely no connection to sense and reason but is entirely obsessed with what other kids are doing, with fitting in, with what other's think is cool. Kid culture is an unguided missile, entirely self-referential, yet the directions it blindly follows have consequences: a life tied up in falling down pants; poses and attitudes that have nothing to do with the progress of understanding; sex and drugs because that is what other kids are experimenting with.
The liabilities of socialized education also are largely responsible for what cruelty and harassment does occur at school. Private schools can require manners and they can impose discipline. Kids who persist in mean-spirited or disruptive behavior can be kicked out. Other schools, designed to deal with problem students, will be glad to take them.
Kids need guidance. They need to live within an adult culture that teaches them how to grow up, passing on hard won wisdom about where permanent value lies. Instead of offering guidance our society has largely abandoned its teenagers to their thin-skinned dementia, depositing them in socialist warehouses dominated by kid culture. Adult culture needs to step up but it seems to be lost too. There is absolutely nothing more illiberal than socialized education. It ought to be unconstitutional. Imagine giving your own children to the government, and forcing others to do the same! The profound evil of it absolutely sickens me. Yet the people who defend the socialist monopoly on education call themselves liberal and presume that anyone who favors parental choice is either a religious fanatic or some kind of bigot. It is a blind dementia not unlike kid culture itself, as if these people never grew up, never learned to ground their outlook in understanding. But what else should we expect from the generation that, as teenagers, were the ones who overthrew adult culture to begin with?