Thursday, December 04, 2003

Looking For an Excuse

How many times do you hear white people complaining about being mistreated or "discriminated against?" I'm sure the answer isn't zero, but I'm sure it isn't anywhere near the number of times you could figure for similar claims from people of other races and/or ethnicities. The latest case here doesn't _really_ involve me, but it disturbs me nonetheless. One of our program coordinators got a call from the parent of a black student essentially calling him and everyone else in our program a racist. Since I am a teacher in the program and she referred to "your staff over there", I assume that it means that her blanket comment applies to me as well. I'm flattered and personally impressed by my skill when I can be involved in such a grand conspiracy to keep the non-whiteys down with as little effort as being employed and consuming oxygen.

Allow be to bore you with the details as I understand it. Part of our program involves a senior research experience where the students are given the opportunity to participate in an internship with local companies and universities that have agreed to mentor students. This is only our second year of developing this program, but it has gained quite a bit of steam indeed. Some of the kids are resourceful and ambitious and seek out mentors themselves with a little guidance while others rely on us to help them out a little, or in some cases, a lot. For perspective, we went from needing to place about 25 students over two semesters last year to having to place about 90 kids over two semesters this year, about half each semester. This should seem monumental to any observer and we have been able to manage with the diligent work of a few of the people in our program.

She placed limitations on her son's opportunities when she said he would not have permission to leave campus for his internship. I know some salaried employees are able to telecommute, but how many interns have you heard about doing the same? I thought part of the point was to experience the work environment during an internship. We still managed to find an internship where he would be developing a web page for some mentor. A suitable task considering the limitations. You don't have to be at a place of business to develop their web page as long as you use other forms of communication to get feedback, right? Besides, how many programmers are people you want to chat with by the water cooler? Ok, I apologize for the stereotype.

The problem is the kid doesn't have the best sense of self-motivation. Without that boss being over his shoulder, he dropped the ball and performed quite poorly, from what I hear at least. The work done for and via the internship is crucial to two courses taken to accommodate the internship, a methods of research class and the actual internship class. In short terms, he ended up putting himself in a double jeopardy situation from a grade perspective. Now that we're only two weeks away from the end of the semester, the mother finally gives a rat's ass about what is going to be showing on his transcript. Now that it's way too late to consider alternatives, the mother expresses her displeasure with the selection of his internship. In almost her exact terms, it was "you have given him a sh!tty internship because he is black." I'm paraphrasing here, but the accusations also included that all of our black students had "sh!tty internships" and that we set them up for failure. Keep in mind that he is the only one I know about having a dire situation from an academic standpoint. Keep in mind that I hear that the other black kids had pretty decent gigs, not that his was bad in the first place. Keep in mind that students are encouraged to seek out their own opportunities first, use us last. The mere fact that her statement implies that we have "given" anything discriminatory supports my personal belief that all people who pull the "race card" are wounded by our overall society's acceptance of the notion of entitlement. Apparently, from her perspective, the students in our program are now entitled to an internship and it had better end up working out in 100% of the cases, regardless of input from the student during the internship attainment or sustainment periods.

Where does the idea of personal responsibility fit in in all of this? Sadly, I don't think it does. One of the major faults with entitlement programs is that they tend to entitle the recipients to relieve themselves of any sense of personal responsibility. Hell, everyone would love to have it all without having to work for it. Unfortunately, not as many of us realize that the free lunch is really more expensive than it's worth.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Conflict of Interest

The typical student around here seems to know quite a bit. Granted, that bit may not be about anything remotely academic. They know lots about fashion, sex, drugs, celebrities, their favorite music groups. Ask them who the current Vice President of the USA is and you'll hear one of two things: the stereotypical cricket chirping or the marbles in their skull shifting.

Daytime television is brain rotting garbage. Being on holiday last week, there were times when I was at home with the television on. Flipping channels sans cable, there were several options. Trashy talk shows, trashy soap operas with totally implausible plotlines, reruns of Full House on the SuperStation, and Mr. Rogers on PBS. My wife and I chose the latter. I wish more people did as well. We suffered a great loss with his death this year. He had a great quote near the end of the episode. "You can't learn until you want to learn." I think that sums up my high school teaching experience quite well.

And today, Thomas Sowell writes, "Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational "excellence," I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity." Too bad that requires effort, thinking, and an attention to something other than MTV.