Best of You - Foo Fighters (mp3)
Welcome to the Factory - Backyard Tire Fire (mp3)
"They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional..." These are the words of Mr. Incredible in one of the many scenes that make "The Incredibles" my favorite animated film of all time. If you want the entire marital spat, it can be found at the 5:00 mark of the clip below. If you don't wanna, and if you haven't seen the film, then just trust me that it's a great film about how our society doesn't particularly cotten very nicely to what is exceptional or special.
Oh, sure, America loves someone who is preternaturally gifted at throwing a round orange ball through a hoop. We love our athletes, with their gifts that serve to entertain us and earn them wild amounts of money, money they manage quite poorly (NPR). But when it comes to skills and talents that truly matter to our society as a whole, that could advance us or help us improve, we don't seem to give much of a shit about those folks.
When it comes to our children, America fights for mediocrity by calling it "equality."
My Turn essay in Newsweek on the very subject. While her autistic son receives reams of additional assistance from taxpayer-funded initiatives and independent grants -- all so he is included with other children and provided "equal" exposure to the educational system -- her gifted daughter gets nothing. No arranging for advanced classes. No tutors to push her to what she is capable of if she surpasses her classmates. No funding for harder work, extra supervision, nada.
My wife and I had a similar experience with our oldest daughter in the fall. [Please note: This is not a "My daughter is the next Stephen Hawking" essay.]
All third-graders at her school took a test to determine where they fell on a series of academic skills. The test was to serve as a baseline. At the end of the school year, they would take the test again, allowing parents to see how far their child had progressed during the year. But here was the rub: on all but one of the criteria, our daughter rated at the top of the scale, and on that one she was a point away from it.
"So," I asked, "How will we be able to judge how much Carolyn has learned, since the only thing she can do with this test is go down?" The teacher kinda shrugged. She said there were a good half-dozen kids in Carolyn's class who had already exceeded expectations of this magnitude before the year began. For them, it was mostly about filling in some possible gaps, but otherwise, the end-of-year test would show us nothing.
We asked if she could be assigned harder work, or if additional work sheets could be offered, or if the teacher could suggest some books or other items. In no uncertain terms, the teachers answers were (1) No; (2) No; and (3) No. Not that the teacher didn't want to help, but rather, she was afraid for her job. Providing or encouraging additional work suggested that some students were more gifted than others, and someone in charge of her -- either from the county or the specific school -- had threatened people's jobs in matters such as these.
Part of me was suspicious of her honesty. Part of me suspected this teacher just didn't want to have to be responsible for arranging and doling out extra and different work for different kids. But either way, it's a damning moment for our public system of education. Either too many teachers are too lazy or uninterested in pushing all of their students to achieve at their highest levels, or the system itself aggressively discourages it. Either is shameful and without excuse.
Meanwhile, bigwigs in our local school system hold tremendous animosity toward schools like mine. We steal their smart kids. Public test scores suffer because so many of the smart kids go to the independent schools. While the Obamas were being excoriated for hypocrisy from pundits on the right for opposing vouchers, they were also being taken to task by pro-public school parents. How can Barack truly care about improving the public schools if he won't even entrust his daughters to it?
That's like suggesting I can't support regime change in Rwanda because I won't send my children there. Or maybe we can't truly support the military unless we make our children serve in it. That's some twisted, dangerous logic.
If you're below average, our society wants to help you get better. If you're above average, you're on your own. And if you won't feed your exceptional child to a system that has neither the time nor inclination to do right by them,then you're doubly damned.
In most ways, I consider myself a liberal. I believe we have a societal and, when necessary, governmental responsibility to those less fortunate or in need. However, when it comes to the nation's children, our obligation should be to all of them, to encourage and support all of them to go as far as they can reasonably go academically.
America doesn't want an iceberg. We want a long, flat, paved slab off ice that barely inches past the surface of the water and never goes much of anywhere.
"Best of You" is from In Your Honor, and "Welcome to the Factory" is from the exceptionally enjoyable album The Places We Lived. Both can be found online and purchased at a reasonable price.