Sad But True

I know I tend to repeat myself about the sad demise of education in what was once one of the the more literate countries on earth (?), but the evidence is “out there.” Our schools are simply not getting the job done, and cutting off funding is not the answer. On the contrary. But this brief note in a recent New York Times story pretty much puts the icing on the cake:

“Just how bad is our reading problem? The last National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003 is a bit dated, but it offers a picture of Americans’ ability to read in everyday situations: using an almanac to find a particular fact, for example, or explaining the meaning of a metaphor used in a story. Of those who finished high school but did not continue their education, 13 percent could not perform simple tasks like these. When things got more complex — in comparing two newspaper editorials with different interpretations of scientific evidence or examining a table to evaluate credit card offers — 95 percent failed.” 

I saw this in my college classrooms on a day-to-day level and started to do some research years ago to see if it was just in my experience. But it is not. It is a problem that is endemic in a culture that is increasingly disinclined to read and write and, of late, addicted to electronic toys. And it helps explain why our recent presidential election went the way it did. The only way out is to make a genuine commitment to education, including full funding; and one would like to see the Blob dismembered — the Blob being the huge bureaucracy that controls public education at all levels. If tiny Finland can get it right, we certainly can — if we want to!

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Gruesome Prospect

In an extremely interesting, if at times gruesome, article in the New York Times, we read about cannibalism in various animal species — including among human animals. Apparently it is not that uncommon, even though in humans recently  it has become less common since our “civilized” tendencies would rule it out as unthinkable. Still, we have read about crises and so-called “life-boat” situations in which humans have drawn straws to see who shall be sacrificed to save the rest. Our skin crawls at the very thought. None the less, as the article concludes,

As scientists have come to understand, factors like overpopulation and a lack of alternative forms of nutrition lead to cannibalism among animals, and it is clear that even modern humans have been driven to the behavior on many occasions. What, then, of the future?

Populations are growing. Resources are dwindling. Deserts are spreading. And the societal rules that bind us together are proving more fragile than we ever imagined they could be. Maybe it is wise to remember that human cannibalism, so unthinkable now, was not uncommon not so long ago

In a word, as humans continue to populate the earth and food becomes increasingly scarce — especially with global warming making food production more and more difficult and major storms destroying food supplies– this unthinkable possibility looms large.

I recall reading many years ago a novel by the prolific British novelist Anthony Burgess entitled The Wanting Seed. It is a dystopia, as those novels are called, about a possible future in which there are far too many people and food is scarce. This is fiction, of course, and we all know it is at best an “alternative fact.” In the real world this could not possibly happen. Right.

In any event, in Burgess’ novel, the powers that be conjured up a bogus war in which thousands of young lives are taken; the dead are then chopped up and placed into cans to feed the remainder of the population — which knows not wherefrom the food they eat has come. Now, again, this is fiction (gruesome fiction at that), but it is not beyond the realm of possibility given the state of things as they appear on the horizon. Needless to say if the powers that be resemble in any way, shape, or form the powers that are at present sitting in Washington this possibility seems even less remote. Those folks seem to lack any moral sensibility and are willing to do whatever might advance their own particular agendas. And, clearly, survival would be among those agendas.

The point of this strange post is that we really need to recognize the elephant in the room in the form of a human population that increases daily — a problem which may well be at the root of all the other problems we face at this time. We also need to stop and think about what we are doing to the planet — and also think the unthinkable. What if food production falls off precipitously and there simply isn’t enough to go around? Who makes the decisions about which mouths to feed and who should go hungry? And is it totally beyond imagining that humans might indeed start to eat one another — as they did in 1846 at the Donner Pass when desperate times demanded desperate measures? If we continue to ignore the so-called “population explosion” and continue to turn a blind eye to the fate of the planet earth on which we all depend we may face desperate measures before we know it.

I Hate Lucy

Don’t get me wrong. I used to laugh my head off at Lucy Ricardo’s shenanigans on the “I Love Lucy” show. But, let’s face it, that show may be at the roots of the culture of lying that has emerged in this country, especially off late. The humor on that show was based, almost without exception, on the deception and lies that Lucy perpetrated against Ricky. As a result of those lies she had her hilarious comeuppance, and all was well in the end. In any event, so many sit-come that have followed have adopted the same template: tell lies that generate embarrassing, funny situations and make sure the hero or heroine learns a lesson or two but all comes out in the wash at the end.

So what? Well, think about it. The entertainment industry has taken over this country and folks spend the better part of their day and night watching the tube. Sit-coms are extremely popular. If we put two and two together and make sure we don’t come up with five, we might infer that those shows permeate the tiny cells in our brains and plant seeds (if television waves can plant seeds). And those seeds give us the deep impression that lying is OK. We see it time after time on the tube. We know that the used car salesman lies to us. It’s a given. We know that going in and brace ourselves for the tall tales about the car we like driven by an old women and never over 30 miles an hour. And we know the man selling his house will simply not mention that the basement leaks every time it rains.

Politicians lie to us and we know it as well. It’s a given, just like the used car salesman, the house-seller, and whoever else has an item to sell. The politicians in particular are selling themselves and they will tell us what we want to hear in order to get our vote. We say we hate politics; perhaps it is because we all know that it invariably involves lying. One of the two candidates for president in the current race is the Champion of Liars. A recent count by the folks at the New York Times reveals that in a given week he told 87 lies to his opponent’s 8. Clearly, he is the Champion! But the fact remains that his opponent lies on occasion as well. Perhaps it is best to take what they all say with a grain of salt, as they say, and assume that we are being lied to all over the place.

The problem is that we need to know where those folks stand. We need to now if the car we buy will hold up after the warranty runs out and whether or not the leak in the basement can be stopped. We need to know these things and when we are told lies and we believe those lies we are the victims. How do we avoid that trap? Surely, we have some responsibility to learn the truth and separate that from the rest of the verbal detritus that spews forth from the mouths of those we would like to believe.

As I have noted in a previous post, when lies become the norm there is no longer any truth. Truth becomes whatever we choose to believe. I do think we have arrived at that point as a society. How else to explain the thousands of people who buy the swill that is being sold by the Champion of Liars? So many of us have become like the naive fools who bought snake oil from the man on the wagon at the fair years ago. There’s a fool born every day. Sometimes dozens of fools. How do we make sure we are not among them?

To begin with, we need to be suspicious about anything a politician tells us. We need to insist on corroboration from another source when a claim is made, a reliable source. We need to ask ourselves whether what he or she says is plausible? Does it make sense? Can the president, for example, have the power to accomplish all the things this particular candidate is claiming he or she will accomplish when in office? What evidence do we have that what this person says is true or that they are competent to hold that office?

The rule of thumb in critical thinking is that truth is a residue. If we can find a weakness in a claim, if we can find counter-evidence, that claim is almost certainly not true. A claim is true if, and only if, we cannot find reasons to reject it. This was the Socratic method and it has stood the test of time. But it takes work. It requires that we be suspicious. It takes careful attention to the claims themselves and a willingness to think through what the person says and reject those claims that are clearly false — even if they fit in nicely with our preconceived ideas. And that is tough. We do want to think that those claims are true that make us feel good about ourselves. But a claim is not true simply because we want to believe it. It is only true if it cannot possibly be false.

Ricky believed Lucy because he loved her and he wanted to believe what she said was true. He should have given it a bit more thought. But it wouldn’t have been half as funny. On the political stage these days, however, it is not the least bit funny and we have our work cut out for us.

Lies and More Lies

In light of the fact that the New York Times recently reported that Trump was guilty of 87 “misstatements, exaggerations, and falsehoods in a week” I thought this post from a while back worth repeating, though, as I say, those who follow this man are convinced that every criticism that is leveled against him is a lie by “those damned liberals.” As I also say, we have lost sight of just what lies are — they are not just those statements we dislike, they are those statements that seek to alter the truth and tend to mislead.

In one of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” George is giving advice to Jerry who has been asked to take a lie detector test to determine whether he does or does not watch a soap opera every day. He is seeking to impress a cute policewoman and is afraid the truth will put her off. George is giving him advice because George is so good at lying; it has become a habit with him. He tells Jerry, “it’s not a lie, Jerry, if you really believe it.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work, because Jerry simply cannot keep up the ruse. But it seems to be working in today’s political scene as the Republican candidate (who shall remain nameless if not blameless) seems to be very good at lying. I suspect he has had a great deal of practice — after all he claims to be a successful business person when, in fact, his businesses have a habit of failing. But I also suspect that he really believes what he says. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t know what he says because he doesn’t listen to himself. His mouth seems to open when his brain is engaged elsewhere — heaven only knows where.

The problem is that his mindless minions who hang on his every word and grammatically incorrect sentence seem to believe whatever he says. One thinks of a cult where the followers blindly follow where the leader leads — or points. And this is a problem because when the lie becomes the norm, then facts are useless, even meaningless. Lying becomes merely a word that is used by the minions to discredit criticism of their leader who can do no wrong. Those “Fact-checkers” who claim to be neutral and only interested in setting the record straight are dismissed as biased and perhaps even in the pocket of the opposition.

Freud talks about the “reality principle” that operates as one grows older, separating fact from fiction, truth from myth. This principle is central to maturity in the human animal. Without it, he or she remains a child living in a make-believe world in which everything goes as planned and there is no pain or suffering. This, of course, is the world of those who continue to insist that there is no Truth (except what comes from one man’s mouth) and where lies are otherwise the norm. Reality is displaced by myth and the leader standing before you is larger than life and beyond reckoning. What others say about him are all lies. Everything he says is solid gold.

What happens in this case — and it is this case which is of major interest since so many seem to be living in this mythical world where one man has all the truth there is and everyone else is an inveterate liar — is that ears are closed to the truth as it relates to the real world: the real world has ceased to exist. The only world is the world in which the man standing before you says whatever comes into his head and it is taken for the truth, the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie, the only lies there are.

Philosophers will tell you that truth is attached to statements that correspond with facts in the real world. Thus, if I say the cat is on the mat, this is true if, and only if, the cat is, in fact, lying on the mat. But when the “successful businessman” standing before us tells us that the truth is what he says, and what he alone says, then the cat disappears and the only reality is the reality created by this man’s words — such as they are. We hear what he wants us to hear and nothing else. Our minds become closed to the fact-checkers because we are told they are biased. The word “lies” attaches only to those things said by those who oppose this man. The paradox is that he lies when he says that others lie. But we are no longer able to distinguish between the lies and the truth — except when it is pointed out to us by our Infallible Leader.

Poetic Justice?

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a coalition of reluctant countries led by a delusional United States chasing fictional WMD’s, you may recall that there were international sanctions against Iraq that were apparently crippling their economy — especially the export of oil from that oil-rich country. A cynic might suggest that the invasion was the brain child of Big Oil, since they were having difficulties getting their hands on that oil due to the sanctions, but I am not willing to make such an assertion. I say this even though I am aware that the first thing secured by the United States forces were the oil fields — not the museums where millions of dollars in treasures were pilfered and never found again. But, as I say, I am not cynical enough to suggest that Big Oil was behind the invasion — again, in spite of the fact that Bush and Cheney had (and still have) connections with Big Oil. I’m not sayin’ . . . .

In any event, as it happens, now that that abortive war is over and Iraq has been restored to relative calm and the oil fields are up and running America’s Big Oil maggots  magnates are now fuming because they still can’t get their greedy hands on all of that oil. In fact, the Iraqis are selling the bulk of it to China which had nothing whatever to do with the invasion of the country. But the Chinese are willing to pay top dollar for the oil because China is not being run by the oil maggots magnates; it is run by a government that is more concerned about getting hold of the oil than they are about the profits. Chinese oil companies are not privately owned by companies like Exxon/Mobil, which owns the lion’s share in one of the largest oil fields in Iraq; they are state-owned and the country needs the energy.  These companies do not have to answer to their shareholders, pay dividends, or even generate profits. The American oil maggots magnates want to buy the oil cheap and sell it high whereas the Chinese are willing to pay the Iraqis what they demand. Guess where the oil increasingly ends up? In China, of course — not the United States.

Not only are the Chinese buying the Iraqi oil at relatively high prices, they are pouring people and billions of dollars into Iraq to make sure the supply of oil continues for as long as possible and that they get a larger and larger percentage of the oil that is exported. As we are told in an article first published in the New York Times and written by Tim Arango and Clifford Krauss, former Defense Department official Michael Makovsky, who worked for the Bush administration, complains that “We lost out. The Chinese had nothing whatever to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply.”

It’s enough to restore one’s faith in the ancient notion of cosmic harmony — until you stop to think of all the killed, wounded, and displaced people that war cost.

One Mississippi

The following news story from HuffPost warrants a comment or two:

Convicted double murderer Willie Jerome Manning, who has been on death row for nearly two decades, is set to be executed Tuesday, after being denied a DNA test that could save him from the execution chamber, the New York Times reports.

In a 5-to-4 decision in April, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that there was “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt” and that DNA tests would not “preclude his participation in the crimes,” according to the Times.

But in a dissenting opinion Justice James W. Kitchens argued that “whatever potential harm the denial seeks to avert is surely outweighed by the benefits of ensuring justice by the scientific analysis of all the trace evidence.”

Dov Fox of the Georgetown University Law Center says that “no physical evidence has ever linked Manning to the crime,” in a Huffpost blog.

Readers of these blogs who have followed closely over the past months (!) know I am opposed to the death penalty. This story simply highlights the reasons. I do realize that there are cases in which the evidence is “overwhelming,” but there are too many cases like those of Willie Manning: people (especially black people) who have been misidentified and linked by a web of circumstantial evidence to a crime he may or may not have committed. It has always seemed to me that the possibility of human error — which is at its highest when people are excited or nervous — trumps whatever evidence has been brought forward. In a word, I have always thought that as a caring people we should err on the side of compassion and even possible error. I would prefer to see a guilty man go free than to see an innocent man die a gruesome death at the hands of an executioner. I cannot get around the notion that much of our desire to execute people is nothing more or less than a remnant of our primitive blood lust — the sort of thing that surfaces in the outcries of angry protesters at the funeral parlor where the remains of the Tamerian Tsarnaev were recently claimed by his uncle who wants to give him a decent burial.

But in Manning’s case the conclusion that the court is simply blind seems obvious even to those of us who may not know all the details. If Dov Fox is right and there is “no physical evidence” linking Manning to the crime of which he was convicted, and, further, if a DNA test could provide convincing evidence one way or the other, then it seems a no-brainer that the test be done and the man be given every opportunity to prove his innocence. The thought of executing a man after two decades on death row on the basis of the decision of a seemingly biased court must disturb the most tranquil of minds. Whether or not a person is opposed to the death penalty on principle, as I am, one must admit that Manning’s case deserves a stay of execution until the DNA test is done. This decision was simply wrong.

R.I.P. Michelle

Can we please have a moment of silence for the diseased political life of Michelle Bachmann? Well, as it happens the political life of this Representative is still alive, but it is on life support. As a recent story on “Policymic” points out:

This been a very, very bad year for Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). Her 2012 presidential ambitions ran into the squall of a sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, a large drop from a height peaking at her campaign winning the influential Ames Straw Poll. And now she finds herself mired in an ethics investigation, with her former chief of staff expected to tell an ethics panel that she made illegal payments during her 2012 presidential campaign.

Michelle’s fall from great heights began during the last presidential campaign when she finished sixth in Iowa and allegations about campaign finance violations started to surface. Soon her staff was deserting her and she withdrew from the race; last Fall she barely won re-election to the House of Representatives, narrowly squeaking out a victory in a heavily Republican district against an unknown Democrat who hardly made an effort against her. The handwriting is on the wall, though politicians seem to have a problem reading it when it is there: they suffer from myopia.  As noted, the problem started during her run for the presidential nomination when Peter Waldron, her national field coordinator, filed a complaint of alleged campaign finance violations. He later resigned from her campaign, as did a number of other staffers.  More recently is has been alleged that she was using campaign funds to pay members of her staff to help her promote and sell her autobiography, Core of Conviction, which has sold a total of 3,000 copies to date. (Not on the New York Times Best Seller list!)  Now the House Ethics Committee is investigating her — though I admit this seems a bit like letting the fox guard the chicken house — and her political career seems to be in the toilet. What a shame!

About To Be Flushed?

About To Be Flushed?

But like so many who have been in her shoes, and who will be in the future, no doubt, Michelle has played the denial card. As the story goes on to point out:

Congresswoman Bachmann has denied all of the allegations, claiming that they are politically motivated, despite nearly all of the allegations coming from both former staff members and fellow Republicans. As the investigation rolls forward this story can only get more convoluted as new details come to light.

You’ve got to love it! She cries foul and claims that the plot against her is “politically motivated” in spite of the fact that it is her own people, including her former Chief of Staff, Andy Parrish, who are going to testify against her. But, come to think of it, that it IS political motivation: getting rid of at least one unqualified and incompetent Representative. Now, where is that broom that we are told we can use to sweep clean the houses of so many other corrupt politicians?

Leaders Who Follow

An interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times recently made the case for more aggressive leadership in Congress. It concluded with the following paragraph:

Politicians play in a rugged arena and are understandably obsessed about losing power. But that power needs to be used for something other than perpetual re-election. The next two years will challenge lawmakers of both parties to demonstrate that they came to Washington for a purpose.

The article generally faults a number of Senators for failure of nerve and the Democrats generally for their lack of cohesion, sense of purpose, and their timidity. They are in a position of power and influence after the recent election yet they hesitate to take charge and lead the country. Instead they wait to see which way the wind is blowing and adjust their sails accordingly.

This is a most interesting point. I have referred in previous blogs to Joseph Schumpeter’s claims in the 1940s that the only real job professional politicians have any more is to get re-elected. This is certainly one of the author’s points above when he refers to “perpetual reelection.” But his point that those in Congress need to step up to the plate and take a healthy cut — to assume the mantle of leadership and show a bit of courage — is well taken. Even in a political climate where those with large purses call the shots, there is room for an occasional Congressman to play a leadership role, though I recognize that it takes courage. Rather than simply holding up a wet finger to see which way the political wind blows, or transferring allegiance to the lobbyists who wait in the outer office to take them to dinner and fatten their campaign war chests, one wonders whether a courageous man or woman might not appear on the horizon who is willing to take a risk in order to do the right thing. Imagine the groundswell of popular support for such a person!

The article focuses attention on several possible candidates, among whom one of the more interesting is the Senator from West Virginia who won re-election by a large margin and is in a position to take a decisive stand on the issue of gun control. Instead, we are told:

. . . senators have an obligation to lead public opinion, not to follow it blindly. Hunters in red states know full well that a semiautomatic weapon bristling with military features is unnecessary to bring down a deer or a duck. If Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who just won re-election comfortably, were to make that case, he might change a few minds, given his unquestionable support for Second Amendment rights.

If Mr. Manchin explained that such a ban was anything but a “gun grab,” people would pay attention. Instead, though he supports background checks, he will not endorse anything further.

Whether Joe Manchin hears the call to leadership remains to be seen. One does begin to doubt. The siren call of reelection seems so much more alluring where a high-paying job is assured and little is demanded but continued efforts to please those who slip them money under the table. It is sad to admit that Schumpeter may well be right: the only thing on the minds of a majority of those in Washington is hanging on to the soft job that offers them a public spotlight when they want it and job security as long as they don’t rock the boat.

The Ugly American Award

Years ago I read a book titled The Ugly American. The title’s reference was to the U.S. government and its unwillingness to understand another culture — in this case Viet Nam. Also, it referred to the central character, Homer Atkins, who was the “typical” American abroad: brash, loud, rude, and always calling attention to himself. As I say, the recollection is fuzzy.  But this stereotype may well fit a great many Americans abroad, though not all certainly. However, the characterization of this country as smug and ignorant of other cultures is spot on.

In any event, I think we should have a contest with an award for the ugliest American each year. My nomination for this year’s award is Rick Santorum. You remember Rick? He ran for President recently and his name is in the news again because he led the battle in the Senate against ratification of a United Nations treaty called “The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.”A well-written op-ed piece by Gail Collins in the New York Times tells us about the recent vote in the Senate on that item:

Santorum is still in there swinging. Lately, he’s been on a crusade against a dangerous attempt by the United Nations to help disabled people around the world. This week, he won! The Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty on the subject. The vote, which fell five short of the necessary two-thirds majority, came right after 89-year-old Bob Dole, the former Republican leader and disabled war veteran, was wheeled into the chamber to urge passage.

“We did it,” Santorum tweeted in triumph.

One does wonder where Santorum is coming from. He railed against the bill because he regarded it as “an assault on the family.” Apparently he is convinced that since the bill notes that “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” this translates into an assault on the (American) family. I must confess I fail to connect the dots. He is worried about home schooling and the right of parents to keep their kids out of schools where they might be taught sex education (horrors!) and what science really is. Santorum is famous for his support of the “intelligent design” theory of creationism which he has said is “a legitimate scientific theory” and ought to be taught in the schools. But none of this explains his actions on the U.N. treaty. I simply wonder: it is hard to get inside a deranged head. But it is no surprise to discover that the billions of dollars that support the Tea Party are pushing this agenda. As Collins notes at the close of her piece:

The big worry was, of course, offending the Tea Party. The same Tea Party that pounded Mitt Romney into the presidential candidate we came to know and reject over the past election season. The same Tea Party that keeps threatening to wage primaries against incumbents who don’t do what they’re told. The Tea Party who made those threats work so well in the last election that Indiana now has a totally unforeseen Democratic senator.

In any event, the treaty was not ratified, sending a message to the rest of the world that this country doesn’t care about persons with disabilities. This message coupled with our armed presence around the world, coupled (again) with those vacationing Americans who do behave like Homer Atkins — all of these things combine, I say, to further the image of Americans as unfeeling, militant, small-minded, self-absorbed idiots.

However, I want to post a disclaimer: while the majority of the Senate apparently fits that mold and a growing number of Americans do so as well (as mounting evidence seems to suggest), none of my blog readers are in that mold. I sincerely hope I am not, and most of my friends are not — to my knowledge. Indeed, I would hope that most Americans don’t fit such an ugly mold. But there it is thanks to people like Rick Santorum, my nominee for Ugly American of the Year.

Easy Peasy

Any pretense that this country values academics more than sports was exposed by the closing of University High School in Florida not long ago. The on-line school charged $399.00 to high school athletes who were in academic difficulty to help them graduate. As it happened at University High School there were no classes or instructors, tests were open-book, and A’s and B’s flowed like water over a dam. But the athletes graduated and many went on to college: the colleges and the NCAA accepted those grades without question until the scam was blown open and became public knowledge.  As the New York Times reported on the Florida debacle:

Twenty-eight high school athletes sent University High School transcripts to the N.C.A.A. eligibility clearinghouse in the past few years, according to a University of Tennessee report. The New York Times identified 14 who had signed with 11 Division I football programs: Auburn, Central Florida, Colorado State, Florida, Florida State, Florida International, Rutgers, South Carolina State, South Florida, Tennessee and Temple.

Photo: Kate Gardiner/Medill

This is only one of numerous instances of skewed priorities. For example, the Chicago public schools recently discovered that one of the schools in their district (which shall go unnamed) was doctoring the grades of high school basketball players in order to help them get into the colleges of their choice — to play basketball. Then there’s the suspension of the “no pass, no play” rule in Fairfield, Alabama recently where we are told that “The Fairfield Board of Education, at the urging of its new acting superintendent, voted [4 to 1] this morning to formally suspend a controversial no-pass, no-play policy for athletes and other students in extracurricular activities.” This suspension allows students to participate in extra-curricular activities whether or not they are passing their courses. The suspension was demanded by parents who thought their kids were being denied a chance to participate in sports.  (I thought this was a joke since it has been the subject of several panels of the comic “Tank McNamara” recently. Sad to say, it’s not.)

But the problem goes deeper than a determination to look the other way in order to let the kids play sports. It begins in the home: I trace the basic problem to parents and teachers at all levels kowtowing to the whims of the kids themselves, most of whom don’t have any idea about what they need to be successful in a complex and changing world. The idea is to grease the skids, to make things as easy and painless as possible for kids who would really rather be playing video games. The undue emphasis we place on sports in the schools is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is generally known that there are troubling problems in the schools — at all levels; it is especially disturbing to realize that there are folks out there in the schools who have decided that academics really aren’t all that important (or they bow to parental pressure). I am not dissing sports. On the contrary, I feel that sports are one of the few places in this culture where young people learn discipline by being asked to do things they don’t want to do, where failure is part of the deal (just like life), and young people are actually encouraged to place something ahead of themselves — at least when sports are properly conducted. But the exceptions to the rules are disquieting as are the deeper problems in the schools where coherence seems to be lacking and rigor and excellence in the classroom have been replaced by a dumbed-down curriculum that allows no child to be left behind — and athletes to slide by.

If we are ever to right the ship and get education back into its proper place in this culture, we must expose such violations of principle whenever they occur and we must make a determined effort to place education at the top of our list or priorities instead of near the bottom where it sits at present. That means paying the teachers what they are worth, ridding the public schools of bogus certification requirements from outside agencies, and turning able teachers loose to teach as they see fit while asking them to demand that their students deliver their best performance — as we do our athletes. In a word, sports can provide a paradigm for excellence but they cannot be allowed to displace the things young people need to know in order to succeed in life.