NOW What? The Most Discouraging News Of All

From the Washington Post:

Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,” there has been no progress in how African-Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.

In some cases, African-Americans are worse off today than they were before the civil rights movement culminated in laws barring housing and voter discrimination, as well as racial segregation....

Among the study’s shattering findings…

…7.5 percent of African-Americans were unemployed in 2017, compared with 6.7 percent in 1968 — still roughly twice the white unemployment rate.

…The rate of home ownership, one of the most important ways for working- and middle-class families to build wealth, has remained virtually unchanged for African-Americans in the past 50 years. Black home ownership remains just over 40 percent, trailing 30 points behind the rate for whites, who have seen modest gains during that time.

…The share of incarcerated African-Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — one of the largest and most depressing developments in the past 50 years, especially for black men, researchers said. African-Americans are 6.4 times as likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned, compared with 5.4 times as likely in 1968.

…The wealth gap between white and black Americans has more than tripled in the past 50 years…The typical black family had zero wealth in 1968. Today the median net worth of white families — $171,000 — is 10 times that of black families.

After all the rhetoric, all the safety nets, The Great Society, the Civil Rights Act, nothing. After busing, 50 years of affirmative action and diversity training in employment and educational institution admissions, nothing. After an explosion in the numbers of African American House members, police commissioners, judges, lawyers, doctors, big city mayors, and governors; after home rule in the District of Columbia, after Barack Obama…no progress. After 50 years that saw attitudes on mixed race marriages, cultural representation in academia,  media and entertainment, broadcasting and sports; after Barbara Jordan, Michael Jordan, Bernie Shaw, “The Cosby Show,” Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Serena Williams, Flip Wilson, Johnnie Cochran, Spike Lee, Oprah, Michael Jackson, “Hamilton,” “Scandal,” “The Butler,” “Hallelujah Baby!”, Rhianna, Beyonce, Jay-Z…how can this be possible?

Naturally, the Post article on the report’s first answer is simple: it’s racism, that’s all:

“We have not seen progress because we still have not addressed the issue of racial inequality in this country,” said John Schmitt, an economist and vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, citing the racial wealth gap and continuing racial discrimination in the labor and housing markets. “One of the key issues is the disadvantages so many African-Americans face, right from the very beginning as children.”

If that’s going to be the reflex response to this disaster, then the next 50 years will bring minimal progress as well. There is more, much more, to this multi-level failure of policy, planning, education, leadership and culture. I have mentioned before that just about 50 years ago I took an excellent course on the problems facing African-Americans in the United States. The Professor was a renowned expert in the field, Thomas Pettigrew. It was also the most depressing course I ever took. We studied how poverty and the lack of leadership and positive role models led to crime and destructive cultural norms; how this led in turn to prison and single parent, female-headed families, which encouraged single women to have children, which fed the cycle. We studied various innovative policy initiatives, and why they seemed doomed to failure. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Life Competence, Social Media, And Crisis Situations”

Night commenter Zanshin—he is one of the participants whose commentary frequently greets me in the morning–delivered a fascinating exercise expanding on my post about students in crisis situations defaulting to texting and social media rather than actively considering survival and defense alternatives.  He was responding to yeoman commentator Chris, a teacher, who appeared to take deep offense at my suggestion that the texts of the Stoneman High School students reflected an unhealthy obsession with electronic devices rather than a healthy acculturation in self-reliance and fortitude in the face of danger.

I’ll mention here what I have said in the relevant comment thread: I know the issue flagged by commenter (and also a teacher)  Andrew Myette was not the one I wrote about based on the link he sent me, but my job is to get everyone thinking about values and ethics even when it hurts, and I knew this angle would be especially uncomfortable to explore.

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Life Competence, Social Media, And Crisis Situations:

I can’t speak for Jack, but I sure can come up with,

a specific action the students could have taken that had a strong likelihood of being a better alternative than staying where they were.

Disclaimer 1. The text below is a possible scenario for a fictitious class involved in a school shooting. This is in no way intended to criticize schools, teachers, students and others who have been confronted with real school shootings.

One specific action could be … Oh, this is so good; this one is for you Chris … Haven’t you seen MacGyver? I believe he was part of (y)our generation. He would be so proud of this fictitious class who by relying on their unconventional problem-solving skills saved not only theirs but also other lives.

The teacher and about 5 of the strongest kids, may be members of the wrestling club, and yes, someone like Mack Beggs, who was born female and is transitioning to male while taking steroids, can also participate.

The entrance, the closed door is the one spot where one can get very close to the shooter if he/she tries to get in. That’s his/her vulnerable spot.
So, the other kids hide in the safest spot. But the ‘welcoming committee’ stands on both sides of the door. With all the weapons and shields they can garner. Sticks and stones, a sharpened pencil, a can with hot water, pepper spray may be, certainly some chairs and tables. [I am here assuming the door opens to the outside.] On one side of the door you stack a few tables with one of the smaller kids on top with the can of hot water or a bag with the content of the waste bucket or what-ever one can throw on him from above (and that will not endanger the attackers on the ground).

On the other side of the entrance one of the kids has a broom. Continue reading

Cutting The Racial Gordian Knot: What Are The Ethical Implications Of The Terrible Economic Disparity Between Black And White In America?

Gordian Knot

The question raises the ethical implications to all American citizens and our shared obligation to our nation and its society of a disastrous, crippling problem that poisons our culture. and society: the persistent plight of Black America.

Back when I was a senior in college majoring in American Government and the U.S. Presidency, I took a course  from Professor Thomas Pettigrew, then as now one of the foremost scholars on race, prejudice and public policy. It was about the challenges facing blacks as they tried then to benefit from new legislation and opportunities created by the Civil Rights Act and other policies, such as school busing. I was very impressed by Pettigrew’s even-handed, objective and non-political approach, even though, at my college, political teaching was the rule, not the exception.

I have never left a course so discouraged. Pettigrew, himself a pretty optimistic man, led us into one dead-end after another: black families, education, neighborhoods, political behavior, crime and more, all dysfunctional or suffering. All areas of black society interfered with or blocked improvements, progress, remedies and policy initiatives that showed promise to address racial inequality in other areas.

Late in the course I asked him if he saw any hope that in 50 years, black America would be approaching parity with white America. “I have hope,” he said. “But I honestly don’t see how we get there from here. There is a path, but we haven’t found it.”

It appears that my discouragement then was an accurate reading of the problems ahead.

Last week, these charts from the Brookings Institution’s Social Mobility Memos blog were posted to the web by other sources. They show how deeply the problems I was warned about have failed to improve in 50 years. Here is what they show:

1. Upward mobility is much more unlikely  for black than white Americans. 51% of the black Americans born into the lowest fifth of the earnings distribution remain there at age 40:

Finalizing The Sadly Useful School Anti-Violence No-Tolerance Insanity Scale

Alas, the deadly pizza gun is only a #5 now...

Alas, the deadly pizza gun is only a #5 now…

In January 2013, I realized I had used “Now this is the worst example of insane no-tolerance school conduct that there can ever be!” multiple times, and that it was time to make some close calls. I asked readers to rank the following real examples of child abuse by schools, in which children of various ages were punished cruelly and excessively for harmless conduct that violated a poorly envisioned no-tolerance rule. This was the list:

1. Biting pizza into the shape of a gun.

2. Pointing a finger in the shape of a gun and saying “Bang!”

3. Threatening to shoot a student with a bubble gun.

4. A deaf child who makes the obvious sign-language symbol for gun,  to “say” his own name, because his first name is “Hunter”

5. Expelling a student and bringing charges of criminal assault for shooting another student with a spitball through a straw

6. Accidentally bringing a paring knife to school in a lunch box

7. Drawing a picture of your father holding a gun

8. Playing with a LEGO figure carrying a LEGO automatic weapon

9. Drawing a picture of a gun

10. Writing a poem about the Newtown shooting.

I  received a lot of responses on the blog, more off-site. I never published the final results, however, which also takes into consideration my own positions. Here, from most defensible to most insane, is the current order, and why each entry landed where it did: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Is It Time For A “Let’s Tweet Insults About Chip McGee Day”?

Meet Chip McGee!

Meet Chip McGee!

At Bedford (New Hampshire) High School, several students were not pleased with Superintendent Chip McGee’s announcement via his Twitter feed that classes would resume the day following the school’s cancellation for snow. They responded with tweets of their own, some that were not especially pleasant. McGee, as one would expect a mature adult to be, especially one overseeing the education of children, was philosophical. saying, “Kids said some very funny, clever things. And some kids stood up and said, ‘Hey, watch your manners.’ That was great. And some kids — a few — said some really inappropriate things.”

Yes, kids will be kids. McGee then suspended those latter students for up to four days.

“It’s been a really good exercise in issues of students’ right to speech, on the one hand, and students’ and teachers’ rights to an educational environment that’s conducive to learning,” McGee explained to the Constitutionally ignorant. “Kids have the right to say whatever they want about me [and] The First Amendment right means you can say what you want, (but) it doesn’t mean that you are free of repercussion. It can’t disrupt what we’re doing in school … If something disrupts school, and it (occurs) outside school, we not only can take action, we have to.”

McGee  hopes that the punished students will learn from this incident about “the line” of decent and appropriate commentary. “You only learn that by checking where it is, and having something happen when you cross it,” he said.

Good ol’, wise ol’ Chip McGee. He has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.

The students are absolutely guaranteed of speech without “repercussion,” if the speech is off school grounds and the repercussion is from a school official who takes offense. The school has no authority to punish students for what they post on Twitter, from their homes, none at all, unless it relates directly to action at school itself, such as organizing a school disruption. A student opinion of the superintendent or his decisions? That’s 100% protected speech. I can find that right to free speech Chip mentions right there in the Constitution, but search as I might, I can’t locate in the Bill of Rights the provision describing the “students’ and teachers’ rights to an educational environment that’s conducive to learning” that extends to what a student says and writes outside of school. Where is that “right,” Chip?

Chip speaks in the measured tones of a caring educator, but he acts like a petty tyrant who is eager to abuse his position and power to punish anyone who dares to displease him in what they say or think.

No merely insulting or uncivil tweet is going to disrupt school, and if that’s Chip’s claim, he has a rather tough burden of proof to demonstrate it. Nor does a public school—that’s the state, you know— have the right to effectively censor speech by punishing content. If the speech isn’t libelous or a credible threat, Chip McGee’s reasonable remedy consists of asking to speak with the Tweeter and express his hurt and disappointment, or perhaps consulting with the student’s parents, who do have a right to limit online speech when their children are the speakers.  As an educator, he might explain to the student that insulting authority figures who you must relate to by flaming them on mass social media is neither wise, civil, nor a good habit. He might even  suggest that an apology is in order. He may not, however, abuse his power and position to constrain the free speech of those students and others by inflicting punishment. Chip McGee, who has the young minds of children within his power to lead or mislead, needs to learn this basic civics lesson, as do other tin god educators, and I’m sure there are many, who similarly itch to punish students for exercising their speech rights in the privacy of their homes.

Thus this somewhat atypical Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question to ponders:

Should we declare a “Let’s Tweet Insults About Chip McGee Day”?

Continue reading

The Destructive, Useful, Unethical Presumption of Bigotry, Part I: California’s Anti-School Discipline Law

Last year, in September, California became the first state to prohibit by law the suspension of students for “willful defiance” unless the activities involved were certified by the school superintendent as meeting the specific standards enumerated in the law, all of them very serious, most of them already crimes. What was the rationale behind Assembly Bill 420? Well, it seems African American kids were being disproportionately suspended. They made up about 6 percent of total enrollment, but 19 percent of suspensions for defiance.

According to the Justice Department’s politically motivated embrace of the “disparate impact” approach, any policy that disproportionately affects a minority group adversely is presumptively racist. It couldn’t possibly be true that black students are, as a group, more likely to defy authority, especially the authority of white teachers, right? The fact that pundits, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, MSNBC, Al Sharpton and the President keep hammering on the idea that America is run by a racist cabal, and that the only reason we aren’t getting ready to replace Teddy Roosevelt with Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore is that his wonderful accomplishments have been denied and distorted by white racists, and that our police departments are hunting down and murdering unarmed young black men as the justice system looks the other way—none of this could possibly be feeding anger, frustration, and hate among  among young black students that is translated into willful defiance in class—why would anyone think that?

The law is lunacy. The California state government is endorsing the idea that the schools, especially white teachers, are bigots, and thus the government is reinforcing exactly the emotions and beliefs that feed African American classroom defiance in the first place. Now uncooperative minority students will be able to have their disruptive conduct validated (with disruptive conduct by non-minority students similarly encouraged), treated gently and with understanding, inevitably reducing the educational value of class by allowing more chaos and less discipline, undermining the education of well-behaved students black or white. Meanwhile, toxic behaviors, attitudes and conduct by students that will hamper their prospects of success after school will not attract trigger negative reinforcement.

And when the out-of-school defiant conduct occurs later in response to a lawful command by a police officer?

You might get Michael Brown.

This is such a good plan. Continue reading

KABOOM!* The Most Unethical Anti-Gun PSA Yet

[ If you are new to Ethics Alarms and don’t understand the significance of a Kaboom, go here.]

Should you need any further proof that anti-gun mania turns some people into clinical phobics, melting their ethics alarms and leaving all rationality behind, I give you this, a recent public service video out of San Francisco’s Sleeper 13 Productions:

Could such an ad be more irresponsible? It urges children to

  • Go looking for their parents guns (and why did is the gun in the video where a kid can have access to it?);
  • Pick them  up and handle them (Is the gun loaded?);
  • Steal the guns ( Any gun? Shotguns? Rifles? Semi-automatic weapons?)
  • Take the guns to school, breaking the law in the process;
  • Turn them over to their teachers, who also may have no business handling one.

In the process of this well-intentioned, hysterical brain rot, the PSA also encourages children to be terrified if their parents own a gun, though there is no context at all in the video. Is a parent a cop? An FBA agent? A gun collector? A hunter? A trained marksman? Clint Eastwood? James Bond? Never mind: steal the gun. This attitude is the tell-tale symptom of an anti-gun zealot: it’s the gun itself that is dangerous, and who owns or wields it is irrelevant. Continue reading

Comment of the Day #1: The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School

child-endangerment

One aspect of Ethics Alarms that provides me with both satisfaction and pride is that participants in the events that sparked particular ethics commentaries sometimes comment on the posts, providing fascinating and useful perspective. Such a comment arrived yesterday, a heart-felt and wrenching testimony by a former student who was one of the many abused by teacher Daniel Picca, in Montgomery County (Maryland) schools. My post had focused on the fact that his proclivities were well known by 1995, yet it took school administrators until 17 years later to fire him.

I also note, ruefully, that the original post concluded by pointing out that the tendency of those in positions of authority to postpone confronting reality, to avoid confrontation and to rationalize inaction even in the face of undeniable peril to others was mirrored in the U.S.’s irresponsible approach to the conduct of the leadership in Syria and Iran. It was written in 2012.

Here is Sergio Madrid’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School:

As a former student, this is all true. I was too young to know it back then, but this man is a calculating monster. Reading this story does not surprise me one bit.

Back in the day (early 90′s – Rachel Carson Elementary), he had kids from my neighborhood help him come clean his classroom and we did challenges for candy. He had a closet FULL of candy. I can reflect that his “Picca Magical Dollars” was an excellent motivator in the classroom – it was also my neighborhood’s downfall for young boys at the time. The magical bucks were used to buy candy on Fridays (if we chose to spend our money) and that candy was the bait for young boys. We were too young to even know. After school, we would clean his classroom and he would have me sit on his lap. He would have me flex and he squeezed my muscles. I do remember one incident where he squeezed and did not let go. I squirmed in agony and would back and head butt him – busted his lip and he got up and yelled at me to leave his room and go home.

Too bad I’m late. I really wish I would have stepped up on this man. He IS a monster and let me tell you …. he single-handedly destroyed all my African American and Latino friends in 5th grade with his malicious words and style. They were targets from day one and NEVER recovered to be successful students in school. I still remember all this some 20-25 years later.

Although I do not know where he currently is, keep this man away from ANY schools with young children. If one person reads this – please understand it’s very real and true. I didn’t hide my real name. He was my 5th grade teacher. Real shame and sad to read these articles.

Privacy, Facebook, And School Abuse of Power

Riley StrattonIt can a bit late to the party, in my view, but the ACLU just delivered a crucial blow to Big Brotherism in the schools. Addressing an issue that Ethics Alarms flagged in 2011, Minnewaska Area Schools (in Minnesota) agreed to pay $70,000 in damages to Riley Stratton, a 15-year-old high school student,

for violating her rights. It also agreed, as part of the federal court settlement, to rewrite its policies to limit how far a school can intrude on the privacy of students by examining e-mails and social media accounts created off school grounds.

In 2012, the ACLU Minnesota Chapter filed a lawsuit against the Minnewaska School District after it suspended Stratton for a Facebook post, written and published outside of school, in her home, in which she expressed hatred for a school hall monitor who she said was “mean.”  After the suspension, Stratton used Facebook to inquire which of her “friends” had blown a whistle on her. School officials brought the young teen into a room with a local sheriff and forced her to surrender her Facebook password. Officials used it to searched her page on the spot; her parents were not consulted.

“A lot of schools, like the folks at Minnewaska, think that just because it’s easier to know what kids are saying off campus through social media somehow means the rules have changed, and you can punish them for what they say off campus,” Minnesota ACLU attorney Wallace Hilke said. “They punished her for doing exactly what kids have done for 100 years — complaining to her friends about teachers and administrators. She wasn’t spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings.”

Not that it was any of the school’s business if she was spreading lies or inciting others to bad behavior. This phenomenon, where schools decide that they have a right to punish students for non-school activity, words and thoughts  was discussed on Ethics Alarms, and condemned as unethical, here, here, here, and here, and more recently here.

Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt protested (the school settled without admitting any wrongdoing) that the school only wants to make sure kids understand that actions outside of school can be “detrimental.” “The school’s intent wasn’t to be mean or bully this student, but to really remedy someone getting off track a little,” Schmidt said. Not your job, you officious, censorious, child abuser. This is the sole realm of parental authority. I have seen enough wretched judgement from your breed, Mr. Schmidt—like (I’m picking examples randomly) here, here, here, here and here—to convince me and anyone with a cerebral cortex that school administrators lack the training, wisdom and judgment to know what “going of track a little” is for a 13-year old.

Stay out of my kids’ life and my family’s life. You have enough trouble running schools properly…work on that.

________________________

Sources: Daily Caller, ACLU, Minnesota Star Tribune

Before Christmas Gets Away: A Brief Note On The Most Insidious Christmas Song Of All

Drummer Boy

In response to my post about the decline of Christmas which included some comments on  the dearth of new religion-themed Christmas songs over the last half-century, some readers, on and off site, have pointed me to the 1977  duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie from Bing’s last (and posthumously broadcast) TV Christmas special, where Bing sang “The Little Drummer Boy” (yechh) and Bowie sang some doggerel about world peace in counterpoint. Aesthetically, as one who yields to no one in admiration for the copious talents of Der Bingle,  I found the song atrocious when I saw it. Philosophically, politically and ethically, however, it is even worse.

Here are the lyrics of Bowie’s section: Continue reading