Friday, January 16, 2009

It's All for the Children

Two articles in last Friday's Chronicle show just how subjective, arbitrary, and dishonest most laws are. The first story deals with a ruling from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that exempts thrift stores from testing children's products for lead. The article states:
As initially interpreted before CPSC's clarification, the law would have required thrift stores, shops selling handmade toys and small businesses to spend tens of thousands of dollars on testing.

In other words, the law could be interpreted a myriad of ways. And who knows if today's interpretation will be tomorrow's? The future of thousands of small businesses hangs in the balance, and even if they attempt to honestly comply with this dictate, a new interpretation could subject them to fines and/ or jail. Which means, they could be made criminals because of the changing whim of some bureaucrat. And those that do try to comply could be forced out of business. Sue Warfield, past chairwoman of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, said:
There are some of them that literally would not be able (to survive) if they had to pay whatever the fee is for testing. The only way they could is to raise their prices. And that would put them out of business, too, because many of them already have a little bit higher price because they are smaller companies.

Almost daily we hear of massive layoff and bankruptcies, and our government's solution is to pass arbitrary mandates that will wipe out more jobs. At least the children will be "safe", and that is important because they are going to need to work forever to pay off the massive debt that is being run up.

Such laws do more than force businesses to incur additional costs. They also breed a false sense of security. One customer in a local Goodwill store said:

Usually, products that come here have already been used. So my opinion is ... the people that bring it here have used it already. In other words, they are confident that the products that have been used are all right.

This parent has suspended all responsibility for judging himself. He acts on the basis of the judgment of others--others who are complete strangers to him. In the article he claims that he shops for child-safe products, but he is simply guessing as to what is safe and what is not. His criteria is the judgment of others, whether other parents or the government.

This law applies to some businesses but not to others, even though they sell the same products. Some businesses are forced to test products, but others are not. Which means, some businesses are arbitrarily exempt from an arbitrary law, while others are not. Any law that has exceptions is not an objective, or valid, law.

The law was supposedly intended to insure that toys are safe in order to protect children. But apparently children whose toys come from thrift shops don't need that "protection".

But there is more. The second story deals with a new policy from the Department of Education:

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings signed off on Texas' plan to give schools and districts credit for students who fail state exams in reading and math — if they are on track to pass in coming years. Texas is one of 15 states that have won permission to use a so-called student growth model when calculating their federal No Child Left Behind ratings.

The fascinating part of this is that, while educators can't teach students to read or write, they are apparently psychic. Apparently, even if a student can't pass a state exam today, educators can somehow tell if he will be able to do so at some time in the future and that is good enough.

This isn't really a surprising development. For years educators have argued that we shouldn't hold back students simply because they couldn't perform-- we wouldn't want to hurt poor Johnny's self-esteem. And now the government doesn't want to castigate failing schools-- we wouldn't want to hurt the administrator's self-esteem.
"Many people will perceive that this lowers standards, but the standards that were set were arbitrary anyway," said Jim Parsons, executive director of accountability for the Humble Independent School District.

The Texas Education Agency estimates that 136 more school districts and 411 more campuses would have met the No Child Left Behind standards in 2008 had a growth measure been used. That represents an 11 percent increase in districts and a 5 percent increase in schools making the grade. [emphasis added]

Granting exceptions will certainly make Texas schools look better and help them "meet" government mandates. But what about the children that this law is supposedly intended to help? They will get promoted to the next grade level, even though they can't perform the work. They won't learn how to read or write, but they will learn that political expediency is the path to "success".

First the government sets arbitrary standards under the pretense of helping children, and then arbitrarily makes exceptions to make the schools look good. The fact that the child can't perform the work is irrelevant.

Laws that allegedly protect children or promote their welfare are politically popular. Who could possibly be opposed to children? But these laws place shackles on adults, limit their freedom, and prohibit them from acting on their own judgment. If children are our future, what kind of future will they have when they become adults and have no freedom? The truth is, they will never be permitted to act as adults. They will never be permitted to exercise their own independent judgment. Instead, a paternalistic government will continue to treat them like children. And they will welcome it.

And what kind of aspirations will they have when they are taught that one's actual performance does not matter, that the facts are secondary considerations? They will expect mortgage companies to extend loans even if they are a poor credit risk. They will expect to be admitted to college on the basis of race and need. They will expect their failing business to be bailed out because of the "public interest". They will expect effects without enacting the cause. Indeed, they will expect to get results no matter what actions they take, even actions destructive to their stated goals.

This is no surprise in a culture that rejects principles. Laws are passed under the guise of protecting children. When it becomes clear that such laws are impractical, exceptions are made. Politicians and bureaucrats just tinker and tweak, trying to find something that "works". But the principle underlying the law is never questioned.

Invariably, such laws have an effect opposite the stated intention. In their rush to protect children, legislators inflict more harm than any toy with lead paint could ever cause.


Anonymous said...

I thought we were only supposed to judge people on their intentions. (That's what I was taught in public school anyway.)

Brian Phillips said...

Like Madoff "intended" to make his investors lots of money?

Today's educators were taught the same thing as you--only they believed it.