Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Common sense?"

Last night on The Daily Show the guest was a woman named Christina Hoff Sommers, pimping her book One Nation Under Therapy (dig the reviews), which is apparently about how children are becoming...less self-reliant. Less competitive. Like that. Ya know...even if you're willing to grant the *possibility* that kids are being mollycoddled (you don't get the chance to use that word every day)...well, I'd rather that than the alternative. What can I say; I'm a fucking hippie. I don't buy all this "survival of the fittest" crap, which was essentially what she was selling. To his credit, Stewart was unusually skeptical; as noted below, he's never confrontational, exactly, but it was obvious he wasn't really buying it. She would present some OUTRAGEOUS! anecdote, like how kids at some schools aren't allowed to play tag anymore because it's too competitive, and Stewart would ask something like, okay, but how prevalent IS that, really? And she would sort of hem and haw and then move on to the next OUTRAGEOUS! anecdote to change the subject. You know, okay, so these kind of limitations may be stupid (although they very well may not--it's impossible to judge without context; kids can be vicious, and it's quite possible that the "weaker" ones were really suffering)--but you know what? Give it a fucking break. We have public schools that are virtually post-apocalyptic wastelands (read Savage Inequalities sometime), de facto segregation is the norm--and THIS is what you're kvetching about? Gee. Um. Priorities? Inevitably, one of her things was about how kids can't play dodgeball in gym classes anymore...this always enrages me whenever I hear it. Let me tell you something, lady: I never had to play dodgeball in high school. But I did have to play tennis one term. And...if the dickheads who decided for whatever ineffable reason that I was the designated victim were hitting me with tennis balls (which, let me tell you, HURT when thrown with sufficient velocity)...well, dodgeball would not have been such a brilliant idea. Stewart asked her: but what about all the really motivated, high-powered 18-25-year-olds you see. They were brought up on this stuff, so...? These are the ones who ignored the "don't be competitive stuff in school," she replied, citing no evidence to back up this claim. It seemed pretty obvious to me that she was full of it, cherry-picking isolated incidents of minor excess on the part of school districts and making a federal case out of it. But what really got my hackles up (darned hackles!) was when she intoned that what we need are "common sense" solutions. You know...Thomas Paine is all right with me, but in the current day and age, whenever I hear the phrase "common sense"...well, that's when I reach for my revolver. Or would if I had one. Not saying that there aren't some perfectly decent people who use it to describe their aims. But it's hard to deny that there's a strong whiff of authoritarianism about it. "Common" to whom, exactly? The most oft-heard phrase where I hear it is "common-sense parenting," which seems to mainly entail beating the shit out of kids. And when George W. Bush says it, you know a whole fuckload of people are gonna be dying in the near future.

So no, I don't really recommend this book.


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