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Monday, December 20, 2010

Parental Failure

Columnist Jay Matthews of The Washington Post wrote a recent article about the challenges of leadership at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, D.C. He applauds the move by interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to return former Dunbar principal, Stephen Jackson, back on the job. He was terminated at the end of the last school year by the management firm in charge of the school, Friends of Bedford, for not pushing improvements in teaching.

Friends of Bedford produced a higher rate of reading proficiency at Dunbar than was achieved at any other high school in the District. However, notwithstanding the improvement in reading skills, Friends of Bedford was unable to get a grip on the high level of student disruptions at the D.C. school. Consequently, Henderson, with backing of Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, decided to terminate its Dunbar contract with the School System.

Matthews believes that the odds are stacked against Jackson, who had plenty of community support. However, the one ingredient missing in the School System’s effort to reform Dunbar and to create a fertile learning environment for the students is the involvement of the parent(s) of these unruly kids? While it is reasonable to expect our public school systems to produce a quality education, it must be understood that we cannot hold institutions of learning solely responsible for poor results when some parents have so woefully FAILED in their responsibility as the custodian of their child’s upbringing. And then those uncontrollable children are unleashed on society through the school system.

There are adverse consequences in a civilized society for failure: failing to pay taxes; failing to perform adequately on the job; failing to preserve fidelity in a marriage; yet those parents who have so utterly fallen short in what could be argued is the most important duty as a responsible citizen, are exonerated and often defended as assiduous members of society. We hypocritically use catch-phrases like, “It takes a village,” when in reality, the surrogate parents of today are too often entertainers who reinforce insubordinate behavior.

I was raised in a village, where if one of the neighbors disapproved of my actions in public, they had the unspoken obligation to grab me by the ear or arm and drag me to my parents. Once they explained my irresponsible behavior, either my father or mother would finish the task of disciplining. Today, if one of our neighbors snatched our child and dragged him/her home, many parents would be ready to file an assault charge, or worse yet, it would be the prelude to a fistfight.

I have argued that childhood delinquency is less a student problem than it is a leadership problem: leadership in the home and in the school system. Why don’t our school administrators have the courage to remove disruptive students from the class room and place them in alternative learning environments and then hold the parent responsible for aiding in rehabilitating that student for re-admittance back into the classroom? This type of remedy has a two-pronged benefit: it requires the attention of the parent(s); and it preserves a positive academic environment for our children who want to learn.

Do we really expect a fertile learning atmosphere when our educators are doubling, tripling, quadrupling, and quintupling as teachers, judges, wardens, police, and sadly…parents?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Failed National Security Strategy

In response to Jeffrey Rosen’s editorial on the TSA recently published in the Washington Post, the full body scans and intrusive pat downs are beyond his descriptions of invasive, annoying, and unconstitutional. By using these tools to thwart another terrorist attack on our nation’s airlines, the TSA fails the final exam in The Art of War 101, by not giving a modicum of credit to terrorist organizations’ war-fighting capability. Every war-hardened general would warn against underestimating one’s enemies; give them credit for their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses.

We are still at war with a terrorist enemy; aren’t we? If so, then at least give them credit for understanding that attempting another sabotage of the U.S. airline system is not a successful strategy. It certainly should not take Sun Tzu to realize that our bridges are more susceptible to terrorist attacks, as are our trains and subway systems, as are our tunnels, as are our shopping malls and restaurants, and God forbid, so are our schools and houses of worship.

What seems to be more chilling than the government’s willingness to violate our Constitutional right of protection from unreasonable searches or seizures is the fact that few citizens seem to have a problem with it. According to a Gallop Poll, conducted days after the failed 2009 Christmas Day attack on an airliner bound for Detroit, 75 percent of Americans approve of the full-body scans. My blood curdles to consider the possibility of a dozen synchronized attacks on bridges and tunnels while our security apparatus is preoccupied with toothpaste, shampoo, shoes and underwear at the nation's airline terminals.

When the Federal government can violate the Constitution – in this case the 4th Amendment – with impunity, then I must ask, “How far are we away from waking up one morning to a police state.” I mean, for Pete sake, even the Southern landowners fought a war before they embraced the Emancipation Proclamation. Now, I’m not suggesting an armed uprising…but then, on second thought, perhaps that is what the founders of this country urged when the government becomes destructive:

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government (emphasis mine)…

Do you really think that the alter or abolish clause of the Declaration of Independence was referring to a well organized campaign to vote the perpetrators out of office; considering that the authors of that document were embroiled in an armed revolution of their own as a result of its succession from England? Anyway, I’ll leave that argument to the scholars. However, to be clear, in the day when the Federal government possessed little more than muskets in the national arsenal, an armed uprising from the citizens probably would have had a possibility of success. But in the day of the Cruz missile that can be targeted to hit the coordinates on one’s cell phone, an armed effort to unseat this intrusive government would be akin to suicide.

Unfortunately, and to our peril, unless the American citizen awakes from its deep sleep, this country will continue its somnambulist trek into a future with significantly limited rights.

Back to the indignity of full body scans and intrusive pat downs: here is a lesson from the third grade that I never forgot – lightening does not strike twice in the same place. And anyone who thinks that it does should be given a dunce cap and not control of our nation’s domestic security.