Monday, November 29, 2004

Babies, bathwater, and the nanny-state

Babble on.

One of my favourite rant-bloggers - you know, the type that make you hold your breath in anticipation while they roll up their sleeves and open up a big ol' can of whup-ass on some idiotarian - is Occam's Carbuncle. He's back from his sabbatical - thank heavens! - and has decided to...wait for it, this is a shocker!...take on the Liberal nanny-state, as it imposes itself upon a child's sexual education.

When my son wanted to know why people die, I answered. Not the nanny state. When he asked whether God and the Earth were one or separate, I answered (tried anyway). Not the nanny state. When he wants to know about sex and reproduction, if I do not answer, I will have failed as a parent. The nanny state is not welcome in the conversation, whenever it takes place.

Given some of the garbage that's force-fed to our kids every day under the guise of 'education', I understand OC's desire to have parenting take precedence. But as one of the commenters to the post said, what about those kids whose parents aren't up to the task? Because the state can't teach this subject in a way we can all agree upon, is the solution to stop teaching it at all?

I remember coming home from a grade nine history class one day talking about the 'Disaster at Dunkirk'. After asking what the hell I was talking about, my mom had me recite what I'd been taught, shook her head and muttered a few...colourful...phrases under her breath, and then educated me on the rest of the story. I was also informed that anything further I heard from a teacher who would put forth only his own ideologically-motivated slant on such a seminal event should be taken with more than a grain of salt.

In any sort of education system worth the name, there will always be points with which individual parents take issue. Sex-ed, history, economics (I was taught Keynes like it was written on stone tablets brought down from a mountain by a guy named Moses) - pretty much every subject not spelled M-A-T-H is open to biased interpretation. In a perfect world we'd all agree on what should be taught and how. But if we lived in a perfect world, I wouldn't have much to blog about.

My point is this: unless we dismantle public education entirely, they're going to have to teach something. And that 'something' isn't always going to be in agreement with our own personal views as parents (although some examples are more egregious than others). Most of us who blog understand that it's impossible to present information in a completely objective manner; most of us also understand that the best way to get the truth out is to have a variety of voices talk about any given issue.

From a sex-ed perspective, whether the school is involved or not, children will hear a variety of perspectives: from media, from their friends, from the kid who teases them in the lockerroom or at the sleepover. We can't stop our kids from hearing bad information. All we can do is try to give them the rest of the story. And for kids whose parents refuse to do their duty, sex-ed is a better place to start than the schoolyard.

It's not a great solution, it's just the best one we've got.

Babble off.

Update: From OC's comments: "Implied in your comments is the idea that the state must somehow take up the slack for bad parents and instill the commonly held values of the day in the unfortunate chldren of these people. The state is not a salve for the shortcomings of its citizens." There's an argument to be made that the state exists precisely because of the shortcomings of its citizens, because of the inability of individuals to perform some tasks as well as a state (e.g. self-defence). Whether sex-ed in a public school is one of those tasks is certainly open to debate.


At 10:52 PM, Blogger Mike Brock said...

"There's an argument to be made that the state exists precisely because of the shortcomings of its citizens"

Please try and make this argument, so I can rip it apart.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Why do we have laws? Firefighters? Water utilities? Sanitation? Etc. etc... case closed.

We'll know we live in a righteous society when every 6-year old can properly fit condoms on produce.

But as for math being free of bias - I'm not entirely convinced.
Teaching Math in 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." The set "C", the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set "M." Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in 1990: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? There are no wrong answers.

Teaching Math in 1995: By laying off 402 of its loggers, a company improves its stock price from $80 to $100. How much capital gain per share does the CEO make by exercising his stock options at $80. Assume capital gains are no longer taxed, because this encourages investment.

Teaching Math in 2000: A company outsources all of its loggers. They save on benefits and when demand for their product is down the logging work force can easily be cut back. The average logger employed by the company earned $50,000, had 3 weeks vacation, received a nice retirement plan and medical insurance. The contracted logger charges $50 an hour. Was outsourcing a good move?

Teaching Math in 2005: A logging company exports its wood-finishing jobs to its Indonesian subsidiary and lays off the corresponding half of its US workers (the higher-paid half). It clear-cuts 95% of the forest, leaving the rest for the spotted owl, and lays off all its remaining US workers. It tells the workers that the spotted owl is responsible for the absence of loggable trees and lobbies Congress for exemption from the Endangered Species Act. Congress instead exempts the company from all federal regulation. What is the return on investment of the lobbying costs?


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