04 February 2015

Republicans are Big, Dumb Racists! Or are they?

Hello, PC.  It's been a while since I took the time to post a blog entry, but as some of my closer friends know I have an addiction to Internet comment sections.  I really enjoy reading people's posts, and I enjoy the opportunity to research positions and have discussions with different people from different backgrounds.

On this particular occasion, I skimmed through an article at Western Free Press, and scrolled down to the comment section to see what people were saying.  I came across an old accusation, which I'm certain everyone who has ever argued with a Liberal has encountered:

"Research shows that low intelligence adults gravitate towards racism, prejudice, and conservative ideologies."

I see this thrown around a lot—often enough to recognize it, but not often enough to have ever taken the time to evaluate it.  I had a few minutes, and decided to scour the Internet for this so-called research and see for myself.  After all, this wouldn't be the first time some lousy study was whipped together and passed off as science.  Well, six hours later, and I'm just barely finishing up why I think this point is complete, and utter garbage.
Alfonzo Rachel: Conservative
& Big, Dumb Racist

Bottom Line: At its most benign, the statement "conservatism is linked to racism and a low-IQ" is just an on-demand excuse for some self-congratulatory narcissistic (albeit unearned) back-patting.  Just a quick celebration for managing to type some letters on the Internet.  At its worst, however, it's a weapon to be wielded with wild abandon, so that you can generalize and demonize anyone who disagrees with you.  As a bonus, you get to lob a cheap ad hominem their way, while hiding behind a bulwark of science—"I didn't call you a racist.  Science did."  You even get to claim the moral high-ground, and avoid the pesky task of actually addressing the other person your enemy as an individual.  It's even a convenient and effortless way to deflect any criticism; and if that fails, just remind them that "there's always exceptions to the rule."

Are Republicans Really More Racist Than Democrats?

FiveThirtyEight took the time to analyze the results of the General Social Survey over the past decade, and compiled the results in a nice and easy format.  Specifically, they set out to ask the question, "how do attitudes toward race correlate to political ideology?" The short answer is "they don't."  At least, not in any significant way.  FiveThirtyEight admits to specifically looking for White-on-Black prejudice, and this does bear relevance on the results.  However, when all is said and done, less than 30% of respondents indicated attitudes that FiveThirtyEight considered to be racially prejudiced.  This gets even lower if I ignore questions that do not inherently imply racial inferiority.  Questions like "how close do you feel to blacks?"

As it turns out, Republicans aren't actually more likely to deny someone a vote specifically because of their race.  In fact, voters on both sides of the aisle have been pretty indistinguishable when it comes to how they feel about the president's skin color.  The only significant difference in the charts were extrapolations to cover missing data from 1996 to 2008... which, ironically, flies in the face of the allegations that Republicans just hate the idea of a black president, since they had the lead.

From 1990 to 2008, white Republicans were slightly more likely to say that blacks were generally "unintelligent"; a correlation that was erased in 2010, with Republicans actually overtaking Democrats in 2012 by a small margin.

The other two questions of note were whether or not whites would oppose living in half-black neighborhoods, and whether they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person.  Both questions are closely matched by Republicans and Democrats, and both sets of results indicate a downward trend in prejudice.  Again, the results are pretty indistinguishable; and what gaps do exist are negligible.

But What About That Study?

The original study, Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes, is actually full of assumptions, premature conclusions, and terrible science.  Seriously.  This section was a bear to wade through... but I'm determined to not let this go to waste!

First of all, this farce of a study is actually strongly based on a cross-section of the British population.  Take a group of kids, give them some tests, then come back and test them again when they get older.  It's pretty standard stuff, involving lots of boring math, and is actually a method generally accepted in the scientific community.  It's also not the part of the study that people are referencing when they talk about how conservatives are racist and stupid.  At least, not directly.

Hodson and Busseri, authors of Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes, dug up some old survey questions so they could Frankenstein together some mega-poll that would answer the age-old question: "are conservatives big, dumb racists?"  They accomplished this by polling a grand total of 254 undergraduate students from a single, undisclosed American university; though this is only mentioned in passing, of course.  These college freshmen and sophomores then answer questions designed to look for "prejudice against homosexuals".  Those results are indexed against questions looking for "right-wing authoritarianism" and another set for "abstract reasoning skills."  Finally, they performed some mental gymnastics to declare that "homophobia" is now "racism", and declare that conservatives are racist.

Yes, you read that right.  Conservatives are racist because of homosexuality.  Or something.  They don't go into a lot of detail on this point.  But let's get back to this deconstruction!

There's several issues I take with their study.
  1. The American sample was absurdly small.  Each person in this study represents over 1 million American citizens.  You know... because you can generalize the entire US population by filling an auditorium with students from the same university and asking them some questions.  Science!
  2. They ignored the demographic differences between Americans and Britons.  In particular, Britain has a significantly smaller black population; laws that make racially prejudiced speech a crime; and our friends across the pond tend to be prejudice based on social class in lieu of race.
  3. They never actually tested Americans for racism... but they still reported results.
  4. The study specifically looked for prejudice in conservatives, and implicitly discounted the possibility of prejudice among social liberals.  This study may as well have used a notepad with two check boxes: "racist" or "liberal".
With this many obvious errors, I don't understand how this study has not come under more scrutiny.  But don't worry, it gets better.  And by "better", I mean "terrible".

That quiz they used to characterize anti-homosexual attitudes?  The assumption that conservatives are homophobic is visible the way the questions were worded.  Valid indicators, such as "I would not mind having a homosexual friend" or "I won't associate with known homosexuals if I can help it" are quickly outweighed by the rest.
  1. Do you believe homosexuality is a mental illness?  When this poll was first designed, homosexuality was actually in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R).  Either the people who wrote this poll didn't know that, in which case "why are they writing this poll?"  Or they did know, in which case "why did they ask a question where the official answer is homophobic?"
Some generally poorly worded questions included...
  1. Do gays dislike members of the opposite sex?  Is this supposed to measure how much I know about homosexuality, or whether or not I hate gays?  Compare to "Do gays avoid..."
  2. Do you find the thought of homosexual acts disgusting?  As it turns out, I find mayo disgusting... but I don't think people who eat it are disgusting or socially inferior.
  3. Would you vote for a homosexual in an election for public office?  Are you asking if I would vote for them because they are gay, or despite them being gay?
Some of the more pointed gems included...
  1. Homosexuality, as far as I'm concerned, is not sinful.  I wonder who the target audience, here, is.  Hmmmm.  If only people were able to accept someone without liking everything they do...
  2. The increasing acceptance of homosexuality ... is aiding in the deterioration of morals.  I especially liked this one, and I'll tell you why.  While this "study" was being conducted, the pro-pedophile organization B4U-Act had already been using the homosexual civil rights movement as a road map to promote and normalize pedophilia... *ahem* "Minor-Attracted Persons"... in American society.  Suddenly, it becomes a lot harder to answer "no"... not because of a hatred of homosexuals, but because a group of pedophiles have publicly stated an intent to piggy-back on the "the increasing acceptance of homosexuality" in order to further their own agenda.
And I didn't even mention the fact that a full 50% of the IQ test was based on vocabulary.  Yes: the test that is often regarded as biased and a poor metric for intelligence... was heavily weighted by the part of the test that measures how many words you have been exposed to in your life... as an indicator of abstract reasoning skills.

Oh, did I mention that all of these issues exist in a single paragraph?  That's when I got tired of reading this study.  I only have so many brain cells.

But Who Cares About Some Quiz? 

"White Supremacist Hair"
The notion that racial prejudice exists independently of political affiliation is pretty in-line with my life experiences.  As a male of mixed black/white descent, I have received a lot of racially charged remarks from liberals commenting on how I don't "talk like I'm black" or "act like a black guy."  This stereotype that blacks have to act a specific way has been drilled into our collective psyche for decades.  Who do you think of when I say "the whitest black guy you know"?  That one black guy you hang out with on Thursdays?  Carlton?  Me?  This is pretty benign, but it can also get pretty nasty pretty quickly.

A strong example is how the political left reacted to Mia Love: a republican who happened to be both black and a female.  Talk about challenging the narrative.  Aside from the (R) after her name, she should be a liberal wet-dream, right?  Well...

"[Mia Love] might look black, but she ain't like 'us'," Darron Smith writes.  According to Darron, in order to be African American, your ancestors must have been enslaved in Africa and transported to the Eastern Coast of the Continental United States.  Haitians don't count, because they were African Slaves under the French instead of the British... and on an island, instead of on the mainland.  Apparently, which slaves you were related to is serious business... because American slaves overcame tribalism to form a unified identity.  Or that's what Darron says, at least.  I'm not really black, so what do I know?  But then Darron gets down to business and explains why Mrs. Love really doesn't count as black:

"Mia's hair style, diction, cultural orientation, friendships, mannerisms, and habits ... are an extension of her degree of acceptance of white supremacist norms and values."

Well, Mia, looks like it's time to dress up in a white sheet and start burning crosses.  According to Darron Smith, you have the hair of a white supremacist.  Plus you're way too articulate, and you have way too many white friends.  You don't fit neatly into the "black person box", so you may as well shave your head and organize a lynch mob.  There is no gray area, and no room for compromise... because Conservatives are Racist (obviously).  For more of this sort of nonsense, head on over to YouTube and read the comments under any video by Colion Noire or Alfonzo Rachel.

All in all, this is pretty tame.  At least people don't throw around needless racial references, like "sell-out" or "Uncle Tom".

Crap.  Well, at least they kept it on twitter, right?  Nobody really cares about Twitter.  Not like they do about Wikipedia.

Crap.  Looks like it bled over onto her Wikipedia entry.  Obviously the GOP and "right-wing hate machine" is just so angry that a black woman dared get all uppity and make her own decisions, so they took to the Internet to call her an Uncle Tom, Sell-Out, and House Nigger.  Then again, the level of cognitive dissonance it must take to call someone else a racist while dropping the "N-bomb" is really mind-blowing... especially when you follow it up by saying that conservatives are racist and have low IQ's.

I have never seen as much overt, vitriolic racism directed at blacks for the crime of making our own decisions.  Apparently, if you have all black friends, wear a hoodie, and speak like you've never picked up a book... you're true to the cause.  Otherwise, you're worthless.  The Internet can be faked, though... so, let's look at something a little harder to smear: social policy.

What Do Democrats and Republicans Really Think of Minorities?

I have not seen a lot of evidence to suggest that the conservative ideology really puts a lot of effort into talking about race.  This is part of the reason I'm more drawn to conservatism than liberalism.  I have seen a lot of allegations from the political left—often with some convoluted, offensive argument like "voter ID laws discriminate against blacks because blacks aren't as capable of getting IDs as whites".  Apparently, it's a miracle that I managed to find a DMV, let alone get inside and apply for an ID without getting shot.  I must have accidentally stumbled inside thinking I could reload my EBT card inside.  Won't make that mistake again!

Frankly, the assertion that the Conservative and Republican ideologies are inherently racist while Liberal and Democratic ideologies are inherently accepting and supportive laughable.  Are there racists on the political right?  Definitely yes.  But at least they don't make race central to their philosophy, and use stereotypes and overt racism to systematically objectify and dehumanize any blacks who don't drink their particular brand of Kool-Aid (see what I did there?)... which is exactly what I've seen from every level of leadership within the political left.

Does this mean that Liberals are the racist ones?  That's not what I'm saying.  The world isn't black-and-white ha!.  I'm saying that Conservatives aren't inherently racist.  Sorry, guys... looks like you're going to have to evaluate arguments by their merit.  Turns out that honest, open conversation is more sophisticated and nuanced than just verbally assaulting people, so you look cool on the Internet.  But, on the bright side: now you know that, just because you aren't a liberal, doesn't mean you're a big, dumb racist.

05 November 2013

Telling the Difference: Assault Weapons, Assault Rifles, and Machine Guns

On November 1, 2013, Paul Ciancia walked into the Los Angeles International Airport and opened fire with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, killing one TSA agent (Gerardo Hernandez), and wounding 3 other people.  Within minutes, media outlets were throwing caution and integrity to the wind as they scrambled to secure ratings as the first outlet to cover this new atrocity.  And, as has become all too common in today's American Media, the reporting was riddled with errors, assumptions, and mistaken information.

One such piece of mistaken information, proliferated by the Huffington Post (link), was that the gunman was using an "assault rifle".  I read this, and I found it particularly distressing—largely because I understand what that means.  Many people hear "assault rifle" and think "assault weapon", and so I set out to clarify.  I posed the question: Was it an "Assault Rifle", or was it a gun that had cosmetic features to make it LOOK like an Assault Rifle?

In under 5 minutes, I was confronted with the following response:
I know, I know. Because it isn't fully automatic, it isn't really an assault rifle. Says you.
After a rather lengthy conversation, and being accused of thinking that I was the "sole arbiter of gun definitions", with a brief lecture on assault weapons being defined by law ca. 1996, it occurred to me that, while he was obviously not a dumb guy, my conversational partner had fallen into what is probably the most common trap in today's gun debate: Conflation, complete with the statement: "it's a distinction without a difference."

To a casual observer, the difference between an assault rifle and an assault weapon may seem trivial.  They're both guns, they both have "assault" in the name… in general, people don't like being assaulted with weapons, and especially not with guns.  Maybe assault rifles are just a sub-category of assault weapons, which includes handguns and shotguns, right?  Well, as it turns out: No.

Machine Guns are weapons capable of firing, automatically, two or more rounds with one function of the trigger. (ATF.gov, National Firearms Act Definitions)

Assault Rifles are weapons capable of selective-fire; meaning that they are capable of selecting two or more of semi-automatic, burst, and automatic fire.  (DOD's Defense Intelligence Agency, Small Arms Identification & Operation Guide, Page 105).  Since any combination of those options involves either burst or automatic fire, this means that all assault rifles are also machine guns.

Why does that matter?  It means that the weapon that people think they are trying to ban is, effectively, already banned.  Machine guns comprise a negligible amount of crime in the US.  So small, in fact, that the government doesn't waste its time quantifying it.  To put that in perspective: the FBI quantifies "drowning" separately from "asphyxiation" and "strangulation", despite it being less than one drowning-murder per month.

If you've fallen into this trap, correct it, but don't feel bad about it.  It's not something to be ashamed of, because the confusion is deliberate.  Josh Sugarmann, the man who popularized the term assault weapon, did so to intentionally take advantage of people's confusion and fear in order to advance gun control legislation.

Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
Personally, I cannot place trust in an organization or individual who has a stated goal of using people's ignorance to pursue their agenda.  But if that doesn't bother you, at least have the decency to call the weapons by their real names.  Otherwise, you just look like you don't know what you're talking about.  When you call an AR-15 an "assault rifle", you may as well try to pass it off as a Gatling Gun... and with such a ridiculous comparison, it's no wonder gun advocates and gun-control advocates have such a terrible time communicating.

10 April 2013

Who Owns Your Children?

In response to my previous article, Edu-ganda, a friend directed my attention towards a comment made by Melissa Harris-Perry during an MSNBC advertisement, that we need to "break through our private idea that 'kids belong to their parents,' or 'kids belong to their families', and recognize that kids belong to whole communities."  Conservative Glenn Beck expressed that this is "so far beyond what we have ever thought as a nation, it is remarkable."  Rush Limbaugh followed suit, stating that "the nuclear family has always been under attack by communists, leftists."

When taken out of context, Melissa's statement sounds a lot more diabolical than I believe was intended.  In the video, she goes on to explain that raising a child is "everyone's responsibility", and that "once we recognize that" we can "start making better investments."

In reply to what she called "vitriolic responses from the right", Melissa said that her first reaction was "relief."
"I had spent the entire day grading papers and was relieved that since these children were not my responsibility, I could simply mail the students' papers to their moms and dads to grade!  But of course, that is a ridiculous notion.  As a teacher, I have unique responsibilities to the students in my classroom..."
Now, as I read this, I see a problem with her argument: a child is not the same thing as their homework.  If you send a child to their parents without homework, it's a slow night.  If you send homework home without their child, it's an Amber Alert.  The "moms and dads" still bear the responsibility for rearing their children, and the teacher still bears responsibility for grading those papers; the two are definitively separate from one another.  To treat the two as interchangeable makes for a childish argument (no pun intended).

One of the things that struck me as odd about her blog post, however, is that she self-identifies as being pro-choice while writing about the inherent value of children to everyone.  I find it odd that a presumably intelligent person could make the argument that children belong to the community, and that the value of a child to their community is on-par with the value of a child to their parents; but then turn around and say that a woman has the right to end the "potential life inherent with every fetus."

What I found to be somewhat distressing, however, is this concept of ownership over children.  She was correct that parents don't own their children.  But neither does the community.  My dog belongs to me.  If I were so inclined, I could take my dog out into the woods and shoot him, and it wouldn't matter because I own him.  The phrase "my children" expresses a relationship, but does not imply any kind of ownership over them, because they are sovereign human beings.

And so, we ask the question: what does the parent-child relationship have that the community-child relationship does not?  Simple.  Actual responsibility and authority.  If my son throws a baseball through my neighbors window, my neighbor is not at fault for simply being a part of the community.  If I choose to relocate, my community has no legal authority over my children.  If my daughter comes home pregnant, it's not the community who has to find a way to deal with it.  As a parent, the sole responsibility for my children falls on myself, because I am ultimately responsible for everything that happens to, or because of, my children.

While I understand the sentiment that communities should provide a safe and secure place for us to raise our children, the safety of a neighborhood should not be dependent on the presence of children.  An unsafe neighborhood is an unsafe neighborhood, and efforts should still be made to improve the quality of those neighborhoods.


Armed with the belief that effort is more important than success or results, we have stripped children of the motivation to be more than mediocre.  We teach them to be lazy and complacent, and fail to prepare them for life outside of academia.  We have taught our children to accept information as fact, solely on the basis that it came from an authority figure; we discourage our children from thinking critically; and we discourage our children from questioning information or the authority providing it.  This places a huge amount of responsibility on those authority figures to which we expose our children.
So... what happens when they abuse it? 


I can already hear people calling me "paranoid".  I just don't empathize with children, people don't abuse their authority, blah blah blah.  If you're still reading, I'm assuming you've gotten over the fact that I'm a terrible person who doesn't trust authority and eats baby seals alive.

Attached to this article is a photocopy of a homework assignment sent home with students from a Connecticut elementary school.

The assignment sounds reasonable enough.  It's relevant to issues we are dealing with today, both locally in CT and nationally. The tone comes across as very moderate and "matter of fact"; it challenges the views of people who believe in gun-control, and of people who believe in gun-rights... or at least, it does a very good job of pretending to do that.

If you take a step back, and take a look at the reading, one sentence stands out as being obvious propaganda.

"... a person has no right to complain about a Second Amendment violation by state laws."
Any American has a Constitutional right to complain to their government about literally anything.  In fact, the White House recently wrote a formal declination to a petition to build a Death Star.  The idea that any US Citizen may petition the government for a redress of grievances, and that Congress shall make no law preventing the free exercise of political speech, is directly written into the First Amendment to the Constitution.

I started to look closer at the assignment, and I noticed something even more unsettling... the entire argument is a lie.  

"The courts have consistently determined that the Second Amendment does not ensure each individual the right to bear arms.  Instead, the amendment provides the right for the states to arm a militia such as the National Guard.  The courts have never found a law regulating the private ownership of weapons unconstitutional.  The courts have also said that the Second Amendment is not incorporated against the states.  This means that the rights of this amendment are not extended to the individual citizens of the states.  So a person has no right to complain about a Second Amendment violation by state laws.  According to the courts, the Second Amendment only provides the right of a state to keep an armed National Guard."

Here's where I'm going to throw some legal speak at you.  Title 10 United States Code, Section 311 definitively outlines what constitutes a militia in the United States.  In fact, it defines two different and distinct militias: the organized militia, and the unorganized militia.

The Militia and an Individual Right

The organized militia essentially amounts to the sum of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps National Guard.  They are the uniformed, national defense force.  For the unorganized militia, if you are an able-bodied male between the ages of 17 and 45, you are a citizen (or have made a declaration of intention to become a citizen), and you are not currently serving in the organized militia or the active duty military... then you are part of the unorganized militia.  As you can probably guess, this broad definition of "militia" is not something that gun-owners try to keep hidden away in some box nobody talks about.

It's not even really uncommon for a gun-owner to self-identify as being a part of the unorganized militia; but it's also not uncommon for those individuals who claim that they are part of a militia to be ridiculed and dismissed as being "right-wing extremists."

However, that didn't stop the District of Columbia, et al. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 1 (2008) ruling that "... the militia consists of all able-bodied men ..." and that "... the adjective 'well regulated' implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training."

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the Supreme Court struck down provisions of Washington D.C.'s "Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975", on the basis that handguns were included in the definition of "arms", and that an outright ban on handguns was therefore unconstitutional.

"The handgun ban ... [violates] the Second Amendment.  The District's total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of 'arms' that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.  ... Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional." (D.C. v. Heller, 2008)

The Court also ruled that "... the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."

The Justices explained that the prefatory clause ("a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state") announces a purpose for the right to bear arms, but does not imply that it is the only purpose; that the operative clause's text ("the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed") and history demonstrate an individual right to keep and bear arms.

State Preemption

The idea that the States can ignore Federal laws and restrictions has been met with mixed reactions.  Liberals applaud "sanctuary cities", where illegal immigrants are protected from federal immigration laws, as well as the relatively recent moves by several states to legalize the non-medical use of marijuana.  Similarly, Conservatives celebrate the decisions by local sheriffs not to enforce federal gun-control laws which they believe to be in direct opposition to the spirit of the Second Amendment.  

I hold deep respect for people who are willing to stand up for what they believe is right, despite strong opposition from people with even more authority than themselves.  As a libertarian, I am strongly in favor of just about any individual right which does not inherently interfere with the rights of another person.  When petitions, voting, and protest don't work, civil disobedience is the only peaceful tool that Americans have left.  

The big difference between tyrannical tenancies and civil disobedience, is in who is breaking the law.  Our Constitution is founded on the idea that a government exists to serve and protect the freedoms of the governed.  The idea that State governments may undermine those rights which have been specifically enumerated in the Constitution, simply because they are individual States, is completely unfounded.  Fortunately, it has been tried, and it has been found to be unconstitutional.

In McDonald v. City of Chicago, Illinois (2010), the city of Chicago had a ban that was described as "effectively banning handgun possession by almost all private citizens."  The Seventh Circuit court had previously determined that District of Columbia v. Heller specifically avoided determining whether the Second Amendment applied to the individual states, and that therefore the states had an implied right to individually limit the Second Amendment.  Prior to the Civil War, they would have been correct.

The Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights against the individual States, and forced all states to observe the Right to Bear Arms as understood by the Federal Government.  This is also a direct example of a citizen "complaining about a Second Amendment violation by state laws," and being correct.


I am not inclined to believe that the person who wrote this piece into an elementary school curriculum "accidentally" constructed an entirely false argument.  Despite the moderate tone that the assignment tries to portray, the amount of outright incorrect information speaks to an agenda.  By telling children that they "have no right to complain" that their rights are being violated, and that the Right to Bear Arms "only applies to the National Guard", their teachers are abusing their positions and power to push a morally and legally unfounded ideal on those who are trained to believe anything they are told.

The only alternative is that the educators, themselves, are completely ignorant that their curriculum is false, and that they are accidentally pushing that information on unsuspecting minds.  If this is the case, then it begs the question: if they can't be bothered to fact-check their information, then why are we letting them educate our children?

Sponges to Zombies

It is sometimes difficult to explain to people why I am wholly dissatisfied with the American education system.  To be entirely honest, our education system frightens me.  There was a time when teachers, tutors, parents, siblings, and friends helped those few struggling children to get by, academically.  They were there to with encouragement and positive reinforcement, and took pride in being involved in someone's academic success.  

When report cards came around, you expected the kid to earn "average" marks... maybe even "below average" marks... but they were doing their best, and maybe "math" just wasn't their strongest area.  The "gifted" children, as they were often called, were often given the opportunity to progress into more challenging classrooms, with more challenging content which often required a more analytic approach to problems.  Teachers in the gifted classrooms often also taught the more "vanilla" variety, and you could expect any student graduating from the less challenging classrooms to receive an education worth your tax dollars.  They probably weren't going to grow up to be an astronaut, but they also weren't "stupid."

Today, however, the education system has changed.  I was lucky (or, maybe I was unlucky) enough to see part of this transition as it happened.  We have adopted the idea that every student is academically equal to their peers, and that in order to facilitate their learning, we need to foster their self-esteem.  While self-esteem is important, to a point, we have overestimated it's value to success.  Instead of using a student's understanding that they are below-par in a given area to motivate them, and using that motivation to fuel their education, we have reversed the process.

When I was in High School, I remember taking "Honors" Biology-- essentially one step up from "Vanilla Biology", and one step down from "College Level Biology".  Though I cannot remember the year I took it, my teacher's name, nor just about anything I learned there, one event stands out in my mind.  Instead of a mid-term test, the class was assigned an individual project to test our understanding of what we had learned.  We were to demonstrate that we understood the principles of life, ecology, etc. and write up a package for a hypothetical plant or animal as if we were submitting it to the scientific community.

Taking the class for what it was, and understanding that the assignment would be worth nearly a third of my grade, I immediately went to work.  I dreamed up an insect, which I named the "swamp flea".  I remember taking the time to explain everything from it's parasitic dietary habits to it's environmental needs, a symbiotic relationship with a host, and it's reproductive/life cycle.  In painstaking detail, I illustrated (as the assignment required) the project, and was barely able to complete my project before the due date.  It wasn't glamorous, but I was confident that it satisfied the teacher's expectations.

On the due-date, we were expected to present our projects to the class.  I hadn't had a whole lot of experience in public speaking, and so I nervously presented my project to my classmates.  After a decent reception, I returned to my seat before the girl sitting next to me was called up to the front of the room.  She reached into her backpack, pulling out the manila envelope we were provided.  On the front, literally drawn in blue crayon, was a sea-lion in a cartoon pose with butterfly wings superimposed on it's back, with the caption "Rupert the Flying Sea Lion" centered below it.  Inside the folder was a paragraph blurb detailing Rupert's diet of fairy dust and how he sleeps on rainbows.  We both received an "A" on the project.

Armed with the belief that effort is more important that success or results, we have stripped children of the motivation to be more than mediocre.  After all, if they get an "A" regardless of the content of their work, why should they strive to perform well?  Worse yet, if the student who is striving to perform sees his peers receiving equal commendation for their obviously lesser work, then why bother making the effort at all?  This teaches students laziness and complacency, and obviously does not prepare them for life outside of academia.

However, the immediate impact this has is on the academic environment.  By teaching children that they don't need to work in order to succeed, their grades will obviously slip.  Couple this with the demands of "No Child Left Behind", that each batch of students perform better than the one that preceded them, and we are left with a recipe for disaster.

In order to meet a student quota, we have adopted a system of teaching which prefers and rewards repetition over thought.  What started out as a program with good intentions, to revolutionize the way we teach our children, became what amounts to a propaganda factory.  Whether the information is true or not is irrelevant; we have resorted to teaching our children to accept information as factual, solely on the basis that came from an authority figure.  What's worse is that we actively discourage children from thinking critically, and questioning that information (and, by extension, the teacher's authority).  What should be an exercise in analytic thought and an opportunity for learning can sometimes be punished or condemned as a student "being difficult."

After all, when's the last time you saw an 8th grade algebra teacher try to explain the calculus behind finding the line of symmetry to their class?  When's the last time you heard of a student asking the question, "where are these equations coming from?"  In fact, I ran into a college algebra teacher who refused to grade my homework on the basis that I was "working down" from calculus to solve problems instead of just using the "tricks" he expected us to memorize; so unfortunately this problem is not exclusive to our compulsory education.

And so here we have the problem.  We have a system that teaches children that success does not rely on work, and that they need to obediently accept any information that an authority gives them.  This places a huge responsibility on those authority figures to ensure that the information they are providing is factually correct.  So... what happens when people start abusing that authority?