Sunday, November 22, 2009

Half Full? Half Empty? You Decide!

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department, a 12-year-old middle school student in Calabasas (an up-scale community) was kicked and hit by as many as 14 classmates about a week ago, possibly motivated by a Facebook group urging violence against redheads. (See Los Angeles Times, 11/22/09, p. A43.)

What are we to think? Is it possible to generalize from the viciousness and immaturity of pre-adolescents?

One thing we can be thankful for -- among the school's responses was a teacher-led effort to discuss discrimination in their classrooms. Hooray for the American tradition of taking action immediately following disasters. With "risk management" so well incorporated into the lexicon of every organization (much to the delight of insurance companies), is there some reason we can't extent the concept to the prevention of social stupidity?

I can hear the objections already. It's not the job of the school to inculcate values. We don't have time -- we're too busy teaching the required academic subjects and ensuring that our kids do well on standardized tests. Well, I for one am not happy about the fact that a vulnerable child who happened to have freckles was "left behind."

Sometimes I really don't know whether the glass is half full or half empty. There are millions of generous, kind-hearted people in this country. There are millions more who would cheat their grandmother if they thought it would benefit them personally. (Well, maybe not their own grandmother -- but somebody else's grandmother would probably be fair game.)

I guess it reminds us that human beings are exceptionally complex creatures, with conflicting genetic and environmental forces assaulting us from all directions.

Best Thanksgiving wishes to all my readers, and many thanks for your comments and encouragement, both on- and off-screen.

1 comment:

  1. I think the issue of teaching values in school is the immediately prescient question of which values? Even among people who study ethics for a living, determining what constitutes a value is very dicey stuff.

    The sort of things we all seem to agree on (as detailed in your last post), are in fact platitudes. Equal justice under law is embodied in the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, which is in fact to this day controversial. Free speech is ludicrously controversial, with activists both on the left and right consistently opposing various exercises of the right (hate speech, anti-religious speech, et cetera).

    Even teaching values with explicit goals in mind gets tricky. Should you say the kids should not do what they did because it is a violation of the law and social norms, or because it is an assault on the value of diversity?