November 7, 2007
Sometimes my teenage daughter reacts to my wise sayings with her own form of wisdom. She says, “You know, sometimes, you just say words.” Although I am not completely sure my translation is correct, I think she means that she didn’t really understand me or like what I said. Some newspaper columnists are like that. They just write words; some make sense and some do not. And they get paid for it.
Case in point: Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle. I am not a regular reader of Mr. Morford’s columns, and am not likely to become one. However, a friend passed along his most recent column to me with exasperation. Titled, “American kids, dumber than dirt,” I was prepared to read another column on the decline of American education. On that topic, Mr. Morford did not disappoint. Indeed, he described an ongoing conversation with a high-school teacher who is alarmed at the inferiority of today’s kids compared to past generations. What made my friend angry was this non sequitur:
We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.
As I read this, even now, I am not sure what he is implying. Is he saying “easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings” (ETMFECL) are responsible for the decline of public education? Or is he saying we all know this current ETMFECL horde is pretty bad for the nation, but this coming group of airheads is going to be even more dumb, more easily snookered, and consequently, really, really bad?
Either way, it is jarring to read this gratuitous swipe at conservative Christians in what is otherwise a mostly accurate rant regarding the failings of modern culture. Teens know tons about sexual bonds but almost nothing about chemical bonds. American education seems to be failing large groups of kids with more and more people opting for alternatives such as private and home schooling. Mr. Morford makes mention of this when he writes, “Most affluent parents in America—and many more who aren't—now put their kids in private schools from day one.” Does Mr. Morford not know that many of those private schools are Christian-based, full of parents and kids he calls lemmings?
If anything, teens with a religious orientation pull against the trends outlined by Mr. Morford. Religious teens are more likely to be involved in their communities and schools, less likely to abuse drugs, and less likely to bully peers. Speaking directly to Mr. Morford’s focus on education, religious teens are less likely to be truant, and demonstrate higher achievement in school, especially if those teens live in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Regarding Mr. Morford’s concern about our digital meltdown, research suggests that religious parents are more likely to discourage television viewing than non-religious parents.
Given these findings, one wonders why Mr Morford implicates evangelical Christians as in some way connected to our very real educational crisis. If anything, religious parents and teens, on average, are anything but mindless automatons following the herd. Rather, people of strong intrinsic faith champion the very values that could point the way out of the current morass.
Or we could just keep saying words.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College. He maintains an active blog at www.wthrockmorton.com.