SONNY SCOTT: Schools may be reaping important unintended negative consequences

By Sonny Scott

“You can’t make apple pie out of road apples.”
– A country proverb

Have you been reading the news and the op-ed punditry? Our children are learning less about just about everything than ever before. It is a crisis of monumental proportion. We have inferior schools!
Or do we?
Our thinking about schools seems to be: Johnny goes to school. Johnny isn’t learning. Therefore, Johnny has a crappy school.
Now wait. Didn’t freshman logic class mention something about post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy? Maybe the problem is Johnny, or Johnny’s parents, or his home life.
The schools of 19th and early 20th Century America produced the generations that gave us the modern marvels of technology, an abundance of great literature, and defeated the great totalitarian empires. Johnny’s school has vastly more resources, why isn’t it succeeding?
Let’s take a closer look at Johnny and his parents. Do you think it possible that we are reaping some unintended consequences?
First, there’s intelligence. I know, I know…it’s elitist, etc., but IQ is not evenly distributed. Johnny’s great-great grandparents came from a culture wherein the better sort selected for intelligence by discouraging illegitimacy, and by arranging marriages to “good prospects,” i.e., to those who demonstrated ambition, ability, and will to succeed. Johnny’s mom may have been enchanted with some swaggering, monosyllabic Lothario because she knew he irritated her folks – or maybe his shabby treatment of her filled a strange need. Does Johnny’s mom know his IQ?
And discipline… Dad didn’t hang around long. Fat mothers with stretch marks can’t contend with the lithe vixens who appreciate Lothario’s swagger. But Johnny was such a loveable little fellow; Mom just devoted her heart and soul to him. After all, the Single Mom is her generation’s folk heroine. With plenty of love and some AFDC, what could go wrong?
Well, adolescence, for one thing. School has always had to tame the wilder male impulse, and Dad (along with strong male authority figures at school) got the boy’s attention – often by methods that today’s Mom would heartedly disapprove. The schools lose a lot of kids with plenty of brains, but too much untamed testosterone.
To say that Mom loves Johnny is an understatement – worships him is more like it. He is so smart, so handsome, so like Lothario before the beer belly and thinning hair. Tell a lie? Impossible! Her Johnny wouldn’t lie – especially about what goes on at school. He doesn’t have to fight his battles, or straighten out the messes his mischief causes. Mom rides to the rescue with fire in her eye and flame on her tongue. Johnny enjoys the scene.
Mom isn’t the only one making choices with unintended consequences. Millions like her, married and unmarried, find that it just isn’t true that “you can have it all.” Priorities have to be established. Not every whim can be indulged. Employers expect regular and punctual attendance, but all the Johnnies and Susies can be trusted to go straight home after school, and to do homework and chores while Mom and/or Dad finish their work day, right? And to catch the bus and get to school on time…and to get a nutritious breakfast…and to put away cell phones and video games and go to bed on time…etc.
Society as a whole has made its choices. The intelligent and energetic boy who just can’t sit in a classroom cannot be allowed to enter the work force early. Union rules forbid it. Insurance underwriters won’t allow it. Governments have yielded to union pressure and outlawed it. So, they force him to stay in school, creating a would-be truant, a recalcitrant and resentful force willing and capable of disrupting the learning environment.
And choices … my how choices have proliferated! The youngster must not be told that he is part of something bigger than himself, and that he owes certain behaviors and forbearance to the group welfare. No, he must be able to “be himself” and express his feeling by his actions – unless, of course, his choices involve snuff, a pocket knife, and a picture of a Winchester on his tee shirt.
Long ago, Americans decided the schools would be agents of cultural consensus. Trouble is, the real consensus has fragmented …the center didn’t hold, as the saying goes. So the school rushes madly around trying to please the loudest interest groups, and appease the rest. Education is no longer its top priority.
Whose fault is that?

Columnist Sonny Scott lives in the Sparta community in Chickasaw County. Contact him at

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