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Moral relativism -- a catastrophe for kids

National Post, Elizabeth Nickson, Friday, January 16, 2004

The smart young are, of course, already trending conservative -- they've grown up with the hash my generation has made of love and marriage, and they have soldiered their way through the nonsense we have made of education. But way-left boomers turning right in middle age? Come on. But it's true. A woman around my age, a stalwart, a pillar, a lodestone of the ultra left-wing literary world on Canada's West Coast told me last week, that this year she was going to embrace her Inner Republican. An adorable new friend, Howie Siegel who spent the '70s naked and stoned on Lasquiti Island owns Pagliacci's, the most successful restaurant in Victoria, the Roxy, an art house cinema, and treats the City of Victoria every summer to a free concert in the Park, this year we hope Diana Krall and maybe even Elvis. Classic barking radical, right? Nope. Early adopters of the tsunami wave to come, both. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing it wasn't studying the demand curve that changed them, it was their children.

Or rather, the catastrophe that has been visited upon children by moral relativism at home, and multiculturalism in the schools. Two books published just recently, were written by former '60s radicals, pushed right by the terrible plight of kids, and (spare me the invective from the union hate mail tree) by the sheer backwards idiocy that informs the teachers' unions. The Epidemic: the Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children did not hail from some right-wing think-tank, it is written by Robert Shaw, a psychiatrist who practices in Berkeley, Calif. Equally, Breaking Free, Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice was written by Sol Stern, like my pal Howie Siegel, a New York Jew, who first embraced with fervour the once great public school P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the spiritual home of American socialism, and found that he had to tutor his kids in four out of the five subjects that they were taking. Both books serve as object lessons in why conservatives own the future.

Dr. Shaw lays out what he has seen in his long and (trust me) glittering career, and the only way out, he says, is essentially to sheer off from contemporary culture, somewhat like religious conservatives, and make your family an island. Otherwise, your kids will not be fit for adult life. School massacres, he points out, almost invariably take place in middle or upper-middle class schools, like Columbine, as do lesser shames like last year's hazing incident that turned into an orgy of violence by upper-middle class girls in suburban Chicago. Not a function of poverty, he says, these homes are considered "ideal" where the child's every need is filled, and the attempted atmosphere, serene, totally self-expressive and free from frustration. Not only that, a whole list of educational leisure time activities is laid on, because everyone is going to Harvard. The parents are too busy making money to supervise anyone. Caregivers change repeatedly, leaving the kids in charge of their own psychological and moral development. The result? California, Texas, Michigan and Colorado are in the process of redefining standards to reduce, on paper, the number of student failures. The number of students being treated for depression or suicidal tendencies has doubled from 1989 to 2001. In the 2000 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, a study of preteens and adolescents, children had no hesitancy or shame when admitting that they stole, cheated on tests, and lied to their parents. Twenty-five per cent of sixth graders have had sexual contact. "The human soul," says Dr. Shaw, "prospers by sharing, caring, relating, understanding, fulfilling. ... many children today are inadvertently being raised to take and never give back, to accumulate but never share, to own but never value."

Consider "inadvertent" in the above sentence. And then consider the results, plausibly linked by Dr. Shaw, brought home by Enron, which required the complicity of thousands of professionals who held the values of power and money and benefit-to-self over any fiduciary responsibility or goodness.

How does this link up with teachers unions and school choice, I hear you asking. Easy. Experts. Sol Stern and Dr. Shaw believe that at home we defer to the "wisdom" published in thousands of books by self-styled "professionals" every year, and in the schools, we bow and scrape to pedagogical madness. Behind both sets of experts lies a grim ideology that is designed to change our culture, starting with the youngest among us. As Stern makes clear, good schooling is now focused on encouraging children to free themselves from capitalism's competitive mindset and false patriotism. In its place race- and gender-centred philosophy of teaching and development. Put in the plainest language possible, says Stern, children who learn about the plight of Indians and nothing about the American Revolution, come to believe that everyone is racist, even the hundreds of thousands of whites who gave their lives in the Civil War so that slavery would be eradicated; that all business is thievery; and all men oppress women. Students are starved of factual knowledge and basic skills. With such revisionist history, distinguishing between right and wrong is a useless skill, and in any case, not taught either at home or at school. Moral Darwinism has replaced the development of the soul. We are just beginning to reap those results: Enron, the Clintons, Martha Stewart, Global Crossing, 12-year-olds delivering blow jobs in school buses for cocaine.

All this grim pedagogy is enforced by unions or, more correctly gilded education bureaucracies which have political power undreamed of by Che Guevara or even Karl Marx. Union contracts hamstring any school principal trying to improve his school. And the dystopia needed to enshrine union power is perpetuated. Little wonder that Dr. Shaw finds children joyless and selfish. They are taught the world is just that. Boomers created this. They must fix it.

National Post 2004