Sunday, March 1, 2015

Are we sacrificing our progress to the altar of political correctness?

Let me describe a bit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It could perhaps be considered one of the most competitive and "cut-throat" universities in the world. Admission is extremely tough, and the schooling system is highly meritocratic. This means that if you don't show proficiency in your studies, if you don't advance, then you are kicked out. This university has some of the highest standards in the world.

MIT is also one of the most prestigious universities in the world. As of 2014, 81 Nobel laureates, 52 National Medal of Science recipients, 45 Rhodes Scholars, 38 MacArthur Fellows, and 2 Fields Medalists have been affiliated with MIT. MIT has a strong entrepreneurial culture and the aggregated revenues of companies founded by MIT alumni would rank as the eleventh-largest economy in the world.

The scientific and technological achievements produced directly within the university itself, not to talk about all such progress made directly by graduates of the university in their later career, can probably never be accurately measured, but is undeniably vast.

The elementary school system (and possibly to some extent the high school system) in the United States, however, is going more and more in the exact opposite direction.

Over the years any kind of competition has become more and more abhorred, and any activity that can be seen as competitive has been expunged from the schooling system. Standards have been lowered more and more over time.

Anything that's seen as competitive has been removed because they want to avoid students feeling bad. This includes lowering the standards for testing because, you know, if someone fails a test, they will feel bad. The important thing is not what they actually learn, or to test that they have learned it, but to not make them feel sad.

This abhorrence of anything competitive, anything where some students are shown to be "superior" and others as "inferior" encompasses everything, from the curriculum, to the tests, to school-sponsored activities... all the way to the interaction between students themselves within the school premises.

School bullying is a very bad problem that is in a desperate need for a solution. However, the "zero tolerance" policy adopted by many schools goes to utterly ridiculous levels.

Not a week goes by without news about some student having been suspended for some completely ridiculous reason. A girl was suspended because she had her hair completely cut, to emotionally support a friend going through chemotherapy. A boy was suspended because he ate a pop-tart in such a manner as to make the shape of a gun. Students have been suspended for simulating guns with their fingers. The list of such ridiculous suspensions is quite large.

In fact, and many have noticed this, most of these ridiculous "zero tolerance" suspensions happen to boys acting like typical young boys. Moreover, they often happen to girls acting like young boys.

This pattern has not gone unnoticed. The current "politically correct" elementary school system in the United States, with its zero tolerance policy and other such policies, punishes boys for their typical boyish behavior, and even girls who act in the same way, while typical girlish behavior is the standard.

The fact is that schoolboys (and schoolgirls) are required to act like girls, and anything that's typically boyish is shunned and punished.

In fact, a modern trend has been to remove recess from elementary school altogether (because, you know, it's harder to watch what students are doing in the schoolyard; they might engage in competitive play or even taunting each other, which may hurt feelings.)

I wouldn't be at all surprised if at some point someone will start suggesting getting rid of school grades altogether. Because, you know, students who get lower grades can feel bad about themselves.

In its quest to avoid bullying and students feeling bad about themselves, the schooling system is raising a generation of asocial flowers that have no experience about social interaction with the real world. A generation that has been risen in a societal bubble where, ideally, nobody is ever criticized of anything, nobody has ever engaged in any kind of competitive behavior and does not know what it feels to lose, or to be criticized, or to be verbally attacked, and where standards of learning have been lowered to ridiculous levels.

If students are "successfully" raised in such an environment, they will completely lack the experience with social interaction with the real world. They will be taken by surprise by the highly competitive nature of the workplace, higher education schools, and other aspects of society. They will not have the experience or knowledge to stand for themselves, or to simply ignore, when they get criticized, or bullied, or when they get into a highly competitive environment where only the best can succeed. In the worst case scenario, their education will have been so lax that they won't even have the basic knowledge to do their jobs properly.

A person who has grown in such a societal bubble (as these elementary schools envision) will have a very hard time adjusting to normal society, and it will take them years of struggle to "catch up" with what they didn't learn when they were young. Some may never catch up. Many may succumb into depression and desperation. Many of them needlessly so, if the schooling system had been more "traditional".

If this kind of non-competitive lowered-standards societal-bubble like schooling system gets prevalent, what does it mean for our scientific and technological progress? People will be more ignorant about science, will be less experienced in social interaction and competitive environments, and may be more easily demoralized by the real world, possibly up to a point where they will even stop trying to better themselves, to learn and to progress. Those with talent will have had their skills stifled during school because of lowered standards, rather than encouraged.

The problem with all this is that this kind of "politically correct" mentality tends to be very virulent. While currently mostly limited to the United States, it's exactly the kind of mentality that tends to spread to other countries as well.

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