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Pre-teen Violence Not Just Us Problem

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/artic...8-2004Aug8.html

Teachers and students froze, assuming the sixth-grader known for her lighthearted nature had gravely hurt herself -- but she quickly dispelled that impression, witnesses said, by uttering a few chilling words: "This is not my blood."

Apparently this has been a serious problem in Japan for a number of years.

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SASEBO, Japan -- On a cloudless afternoon in this sleepy port city, an 11-year-old girl drenched in blood and clutching a box cutter walked into the lunchroom at her elementary school. Teachers and students froze, assuming the sixth-grader known for her lighthearted nature had gravely hurt herself -- but she quickly dispelled that impression, witnesses said, by uttering a few chilling words: "This is not my blood."

Minutes later, teachers found Satomi Mitarai, a 12-year-old girl, lying in a pool of gore in an empty classroom overlooking the sandy playground at Okubo Elementary School. The 11-year old killer, according to her own admissions as recounted in interviews with school officials and counselors, had led Satomi, remembered for her toothy grin, into the room. The attacker drew the curtains before slitting her victim's throat and brutally kicking the dying girl's head and sides, according to those interviewed.

The killing two months ago marked the latest and one of the most extreme in an extraordinary series of youth crimes in Japan -- including a number perpetrated by children who did not show unusual behavior beforehand. In many of the cases, the children involved seemed to snap without warning, in fits of kireru, sudden acts of rage.

The surge in youth violence has sparked calls for a reassessment of the increasingly violent and sexually charged youth culture in Japan, now exported worldwide through animation, comic strips and video games.

The young killer in Sasebo, whose name is being withheld under Japanese law, was an avid fan of "Battle Royale," a popular teen movie turned Internet game in which students kill one another through blood sport. Although the girl is still undergoing psychological evaluation, she is believed to have been set off by a seemingly minor offense: The victim, one of the girl's closest friends, once called her "overweight" and "prissy" on a Web site.

"What is so scary is that she seemed normal to us in every way," said Masashi Watanabe, head of the Sasebo Children's Counseling Center, whose staff interviewed the girl after the killing. "She did not seem like a troubled girl; there were no warning signs picked up by her teachers or parents. She could have been any of our children."

The youth crime wave is damaging the national sense of personal security in a country so safe that young children often ride subways or walk home through teeming cities unaccompanied by adults.

In recent years -- particularly since 1997, when a 14-year-old boy cut off the head of an 11-year old and left it at the entrance gate of his school -- Japan has experienced a rising tide of serious youth crimes, including arson, assault, rape, manslaughter and premeditated murder.

Incidents of violence on school grounds have increased fivefold in Japan over the past decade to 29,300 in 2002, leading the national Mainichi newspaper to warn of Japanese schoolyards descending "into battlefields." Violence by younger children in particular has risen rapidly, with the number of minors under 14 processed for violent crime increasing 47 percent in 2003 from a year earlier. One study by a children's research institute found that as many as 30 percent of high school and middle school students had experienced sudden acts of rage at least once a month. In response to rising youth crime, Japan lowered the age for criminal prosecution in 2001 from 16 to 14 and might lower it further.

Experts blame the violence on low self-confidence among children, and cite pressures on family life during the country's 13-year economic slump. Finances in Japan, the world's second-largest economy, are on the rise, but years in the doldrums sent divorce, domestic violence and suicide rates soaring, tearing at traditional family life and alienating child from parent.

"In Japan, youth crime is not a problem related to poverty," said Akira Sakuta, a noted criminal psychiatrist. "But rather, you can say it's more related to stress and developmental problems from children feeling they are not wanted or are lacking attention."

Many youths have retreated into the virtual world of the Internet, now easily accessed out of adult view on their cell phones. Children can view popular short animated films -- anime -- such as "Gunslinger Girl," a tale about murderous cyborg schoolgirls in plaid miniskirts.

Japan's top literary prize this year went to "Snakes and Earrings" by Hitomi Kanehara, 20. Shocking youth apathy, sex and violence are central elements of the book, a favorite of young people.

To be sure, violent crime is not the only social ill facing Japanese youths. Suicides by minors in Japan shot up for the fifth consecutive year in 2003, jumping 22.1 percent compared to a 6.9 percent increase for adults over the same period.

An estimated hundreds of thousands of Japanese students, from grade school to college, are suffering from a behavioral disorder known as hikikomori, meaning they are unable to leave their homes or cope with daily life, according to experts and sociologists who have studied the phenomenon.

Thousands of teenagers, mostly girls in large cities throughout Japan, have entered into what authorities describe as voluntary prostitution, marketing themselves to adults through Internet sites accessed by cell phone, mostly to earn money for designer handbags and brand-name clothing.

As society searches for answers, the Japanese tradition of discreet affection is coming under fire. A nationwide public service campaign on subways, trains and television is urging parents to hug their children.

"We are confronting a serious problem of how to reach out to our children and teach them the difference between right and wrong," said Kohichi Tsurusaki, superintendent of the Sasebo Municipal Board of Education.

In a country where parents and children traditionally shy away from expressing their feelings, the power of the virtual world has perhaps had amplified effect, experts said. Children, one government expert said, have become too used to dead characters coming back to life with the touch of a button on a game console. The young killer in Sasebo, for instance, did not appear to grasp fully the fact that she had ended her friend's life, telling the family court that she wanted to apologize to her friend in person for the deed, according to sources familiar with the case.

"Many Japanese children live in small block apartments with no pets and are not exposed to real death," said Takeshi Seto, a specialist in youth crime at Japan's Justice Ministry. "They may not understand the concept as much as they should."

Without doubt, some youth crimes -- such as a 12-year old who sexually mutilated and then pushed a 4-year old to his death off the roof of a parking lot in Nagasaki last year -- involve disturbed children with histories of psychotic behavior.

But many students in Sasebo have commiserated not just with the victim here -- but with her killer. According to school officials, the 11-year-old had been under parental pressure to get better grades and was forced to quit the school basketball team to study harder. Insults from her friend may have seemed slight, but students appeared able to understand the girl's rage.

"I wasn't so surprised," one junior high school girl wrote in an Internet chat for students hosted by NHK TV network. "I have experienced the feeling that I hated someone to an extent that I wanted to kill the person . . . a couple of times."

During another Internet chat organized by a local television station in the nearby city of Nagasaki, a student going by the handle "Arrow of Pain" wrote: "I understand so painfully how the offender felt. I have experienced being lonely, and being disliked . . . and of course forced to do things by my parents."

Sasebo, a city of 240,000 located about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo, was already reeling from the killing in June 2003 of a teenage boy by bullies at a local high school. The community is trying to heal in part by fortifying parent groups, encouraging parent-child conferences, and offering broader counseling to children and teenagers.

Part of the process was a recent memorial for Satomi Mitarai, whose father, Kyoji Mitarai, was the Sasebo bureau chief for the Mainichi newspaper and had lost his wife to cancer. Before his daughter's schoolmates placed large yellow sunflowers on a white altar topped with a large portrait of the slain girl at the local community center, Mitarai, fighting back tears, beseeched students to learn a lesson from his daughter's death.

"Please do not forget that right beside you are people who love you the most," he pleaded. "Please do not forget that there are people who would be very sad if you disappeared, even if not by death. Please treasure your lives."

If you don't want to log in to a website that requires registration, even though it's free, try using a username/password combination of cypherpunks/cypherpunks. It's a common 'hacker' name/password combo that people set up for websites such as this. I know there's a website that has a database of 'anonymous' logins for such websites as well, but I can't find it quickly.

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A decline in home life leads to a decline in the mental health of young people. Psychologists have told us this for years. I wonder what we can do to combat this familial degredation? A similar pattern exists in the United States.

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A decline in home life leads to a decline in the mental health of young people.  Psychologists have told us this for years.  I wonder what we can do to combat this familial degredation?  A similar pattern exists in the United States.

I believe that it's inevitable - as a trend, we will see more and more disturbed and enraged teenagers. The growing economic pressures on a large part of the population, combined with the memories and media reminding us of how good it was, and how good it is for a small percentage of the population, will continue to cause strife and pressures. This pressure exists not just on the teenagers, but also on their parents, who may well remember their father's Buicks, the in-ground swimming pool of their youth, and the house in the suburbs. Yet they find themselves unable to ever afford the same things that their parents did (I know a LOT of 30-40 year olds in this category), unless they either bought real estate years ago, or got lucky in the boom. For the rest of the middle class, this is very much an era of declining expectations, and that provides incredible pressures on families. Parents work harder and more hours, neglecting their children. Fathers and mothers seperate, as it now takes two working parents to equal the relative income of what one could earn in the 50s and 60s.

Add the this mix the continued downward wage pressure and job loss from offshoring, and it is a tinderbox for familial strife and discontent. With continuing automation and cheap transport, how can families successfully exist when an ever-larger percentage of our production can be done by machines, or offshore? Can you have a successful family when the head(s) of the family cannot keep a job? Evidence strongly suggests not...and there is no stability in the economic forecast in sight.

Japan is merely experiencing it very dramatically - similar forces are at work in the rise of neo-facist movements in Europe and gang cultures here in the US. The only real answer is economic, as you need to re-build the base of the family culture via a stable job situation for the parents, one that does NOT involve working 80 hours a week or travelling 5 days a week out of town to get ahead or even keep your job. The free-marketeers will tell you that is merely the price of economic progress - but they forgot the calculate the cost of destroying the stability of their own customer base. Ayn Rand wasn't much of a macro economics expert...too bad the neo-cons figure they can just hide in their gated communities,send their kids to private schools, and avoid the troubles. They can't, but they haven't realized that yet...

Future Shock

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With more and more parents dual parents working (or single) children don't get the right guidance from their environment.

I think this is becoming a bigger problem.

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Future Shock

Your right. The growing sense of entitlement has now infected the middle class. This can only lead to disappointment. If parents then teach their youth these expectations we will have problems.

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Future Shock

Your right. The growing sense of entitlement has now infected the middle class. This can only lead to disappointment. If parents then teach their youth these expectations we will have problems.

Cliptin,

Thanks for the props, although I might have a slight disagreement with the term "sense of entitlement." There are MANY people who have seen their own standards of living be greatly reduced, many of them through no fault of their own. Their jobs were shipped overseas, some of them actually had to train the Indians/Russians/Phillipinos that replaced them (or forfeit all severance pay), their industry downsized, etc., etc., etc. They don't feel they are entitled - they simply know they have been ripped off.

Look - the artificially inflated dollar (in the world currency market) increases cost of living in the U.S. Because of that, wages in the U.S. are artificially high, relative to our productivity. They are not slightly higher - they can be several times higher what someone else in another country can do the same job for. That's not the fault of the worker - that's a macroeconomic problem, caused in part by the U.S. government artificially supporting the currency. That policy PROTECTS THE ALREADY RICH, who have U.S. funds, while simulatneously making it more cost-advantageous to ship workers jobs from the U.S. to economies with lower-currency values.

I find it hard to find fault and say these people have a "sense of entitelement". They are ready to do hard, highly-trained jobs - many of them trained for years, and put in very long hours. In fact, very few of the Indian-outsourced projects that I have seen have resulted in better quality solutions on a per-worker basis. It's not a skillset or effort problem on the part of U.S. labor - firms can hire three or more Indian developers for the price of a single U.S. resource. But with a governmental policy that favors the already rich, while exporting working-class jobs - those U.S. resources are simply screwed.

And anyone who says that the economy will simply develop NEW types of jobs for these people had better take a look how most ex-employees of Detroit and the textile industry are spending their time, and (getting back on topic) how many lost their families and children to divorce. And how many of those children grew up screwed...

Future Shock

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Future Shock

Your right. The growing sense of entitlement has now infected the middle class. This can only lead to disappointment. If parents then teach their youth these expectations we will have problems.

While I agree that entitlement is a problem, I really don't think it leads to the kinds of problems I'm talking about.

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I think what Cliptin was referring to when he said sense of entitlement was when both parents work more than they really need to in order to buy things that aren't strictly necessities. While the nice new car or three vacations each year or inground pool may be nice, they aren't necessary. I've seen this trend quite a bit, especially where my sister lives on Long Island. Everyone tries to buy the same material things their neighbors have without really evaluating whether or not they really want or need those things. As a result you have both parents working when many times a single income might be enough. Just cut out what isn't necessary. Go on one trip every few years instead of three or four a year. Prepare meals at home, including lunch for your children (eating out is one of the biggest money wasters). Don't buy your kids everything they ask for, and explain to them how commercials make products look better than they really are. Get rid of the second car. If you live in a city get rid of the first car, too, or buy a good used one rather than a new one (cars are probably the single biggest discretionery expense in most households). Think of creative ways to spend free time rather always resorting to spending money for entertainment.

Another problem is that most people don't really analyze their finances. They think two people working automatically means double the income. In fact, more often than not the second job brings in less income than first expected because it is taxed at the incremental tax rate of the first person's income. Add in the necessity in most places to own a second car, lunch money, baby-sitting, summer camp, work clothes, and sometimes you're barely breaking even with the second job. I remember once when a financial expert analyzed this on TV and found out that the second job was actually costing a particular couple money.

I'll grant that in cases where neither parent can earn much money for whatever reason two jobs may be needed to make ends meet. However, when I see the amount of money many people simply waste on consumer crap that ends up in landfill in short order, I can't help but think maybe that second job is more for the parents than for the kids. Most kids, if you ask them, would rather have a smaller house, older family car, and less material things, if it means one of their parents can be home with them. Kids are more perceptive than we give them credit for. A kid who is shuttled off to a babysitter or preschool, and then when they get older is sent away to camp in the summers, may very well end up with a deep void in their personality as well as later emotional difficulties. So will those who are given drugs like Ritalin to "calm them down" (i.e. to make them more "convenient" for adults who really can't be bothered with a normal, inquisitive child). I can't help but think the large numbers of maladjusted adults in their twenties and thirties that I see all the time are the result of these misguided child-rearing policies. In short, and I know it sounds harsh, if one parent can't afford to be home with the children then maybe you really can't afford children, and shouldn't have any.

In the end, I'll also grant that what FS wrote has a lot of truth to it. Sometimes the pressures of just getting the necessities break families apart. I know something of this since I've never really been able to earn enough to support myself despite having an Ivy League degree. The jobs just aren't out there. My point in writing what I did was to point out that in quite a few cases this pressure doesn't really exist except in the mind of the parents. They justify two jobs and lots of material things "for the kids" when in fact one job would be enough. It's simply a case of "I want, I want, I want" on the part of everyone concerned.

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Point well taken, jtr. Cliptin's commentary certainly could be read that way. Glad to see you around more, and I was really waiting to read your commentary on this.

Future Shock

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In short, and I know it sounds harsh, if one parent can't afford to be home with the children then maybe you really can't afford children, and shouldn't have any.

I couldn't agree more jtr1962. Children require a tremendous amount of attention if they are going to develop in a healthy way. You need to be prepared to devote, and I mean really devote, at least 18 years of your life to them.

I think the time demands placed on present day parents would be mitigated if a great deal more money was spent on education. If we could attract more intelligent, capable, well-adjusted individuals to the teaching profession, I think we would observe real, worthwhile social changes among our youth (and throughout society as a whole). I don't think teachers are a replacement for good parenting, but, considering children spend half a day at school, five days a week, I don't think that they're an influence we can afford to ignore to the extent that we presently do. We need more teachers, and we need more damn good teachers. The biggest problem is that teaching is hard. Good teachers are, of necessity, very intelligent, very capable individuals.

How do you attract intelligent, capable, well-adjusted individuals to a profession? You have to reward them financially. I don't think there is anyway around this despite much of the moralizing that is regularly spouted. I particularly despise the "we don't want teachers who are going into the profession for money" argument.

Teachers are going to have a life outside of school. Many of them want husbands or wives, and, yes, even children of their own; the same qualities that predispose teachers to excellence in their profession, predispose the same individuals towards fierce ambition on the behalf of their friends and family. Hell, you want ambitious, driven men and women standing up in front of your children day in and day out. You want people who want to drag those around them forward with them. Inspiring teachers are too few and far between these days, and it's our fault.

We depend too much on good will and "the calling" in our recruitment policies, and it's really starting to show. The most caring man in the world won't betray his family for his work no matter how 'rewarding' teaching is. Money is the universal medium of exchange with which you reward people. The most charitable soul in the world seeks monetary reward, if only so they can in turn donate it to the causes most dear to their hearts. Secondly, everyone wants respect, and, whether it offends your morality or not, financial worth is a common method of measuring respect in our society, and, more importantly, money is the tool with which respect for work is paid.

If we shell out the cash, intelligent, capable minds will line up. We just can't expect them to do the job we demand of them for the money we give them. Every teacher I talk to tells me you have to be an idiot to become a teacher today.

OT. The scary thing is, Doctors regularly tell me the same thing... The two most socially critical professions have become among the most neglected.

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A big problem with teaching nowadays isn't just the lack of pay, but also the working conditions. Thanks to poor parenting, students don't come to school prepared to learn. Instead, the teacher is relegated to being little more than a security guard. By the time you've "paid your dues" by working in bad schools for many years, and have a chance to teach children who actually want to learn, much of your enthusiasm, drive, and teaching ability are long gone. Blame it on a system which forces new teachers to teach at the worst schools, and politicians who pander to parents by spending tax dollars on things schools shouldn't have to do, such as pre-school and afterschool programs, as well as breakfast, lunch, and forced busing (which just moves kids from one ghetto to another).

I'm often thought a solution would be to fine parents who send their children to school unprepared, and perhaps to require persistent offenders to take classes on proper parenting. Since many of these parents had piss poor parents themselves, they just don't know how to raise a child. They shouldn't even be allowed to have one, but that's another topic completely.

I wonder how many people who might have considered teaching were driven away not just by the wages and working conditions, but also by the low esteem in which the teaching profession is currently held. I've thought of teaching science at one time or another, and it wasn't the pay that drove me away but rather the need to "pay your dues" in a poor school, combined with a lack of respect on the part of parents. While good pay is a form of respect, there are other many other means to show appreciation. The simple fact is that teachers, doctors, engineers, scientists just aren't held in much esteem by our society. Instead, we idolize actors, athletes, and rock stars. People get the government and society they deserve. We are finally starting to see the negative results of this misguided celebrity worship combined with a rampant obsession with material things, sex, and drugs. The US and much of the Western world is falling behind in science, math, patents, new technology, and even general law and order. Those Far Eastern countries that emulate what the West does, such as Japan, are similarly beginning to see the fabric of their societies unravel. We've had the warning signs for years, but in the interests of corporate profits continued to subject our offspring (and their parents) to junk pop culture. Now we're seeing the results. Pretty they aren't.

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With regards to what cliptin meant by sense of entitlement, while there may have been elements of jtr's interpretation there, I rather suspect that cliptin was talking about the sense of entitlement that has traditionally been associated with some portion of the poor of America by American conservatives. Basically, the sense is that these people feel that somehow the world owes them a living, that the government should provide for them (the traditional conservative counter-argument being a message of personal responsibility and self-actualization should be the means to success and/or comfort, not a government handout). I suspect that is what cliptin was talking about...I hope of course that he will correct me if I've misinterpreted. He was implying that FS's argument displayed this same sense of entitlement for the middle class.

With regards to teaching:

1) Teachers are not underpaid in most circumstances. In some inner cities, and in many very rural areas, teachers are underpaid. But the majority of teachers have no difficulty making a good living. Salaries where I live start around US$35K per year for 180 days of work (to my 230 or so). That's more than I started with on a tech job, and teachers get better raises than I do every year, better health care, and better retirement benefits.

There is, however, a great deal to be said for Gilbo's argument. If we want to attract the best and brightest to teaching, then pay increase is by far the most effective means of doing so (perhaps the only means). He is completely right that the old argument about teachering being a calling is baloney. It may be a calling for some, but it is also a job.

2) Most teachers are reasonably "good" teachers (i.e., they are adequate). They can effectively transmit information to their students. They can get their students to pass a test. But that is not the only thing a teacher has to do; a teacher needs to also be able to teach students how to think, which is a different thing entirely from teaching them facts.

The problem with teaching is that there is a very wide spectrum of teaching ability displayed. The tenure system is to a large extent responsible for this. Many young teachers are "fired up" when they start teaching, trying to change things, be creative, be inspiring, and working to do the best job they can. As the years pass, the system tends to crush their creativity and discourage innovation in a variety of ways, compounded with the fact that most times teachers are teaching the same material every year, doing many of the same things, and it's hard to stay fresh. And this is the case in any job...for example, I'm going to grad school now just because I feel so static in my job. New challenges help people to stay motivated and focused, to keep them growing.

The problem with the teaching system is that it allows an "adequate" teacher to skate, all the while earning the same kind of pay as a teacher who works their ass off. After tenure, as a teacher you probably have most of your lesson plans set up, and you know your material, so preparation is no longer required if you don't feel like doing it. If you don't want to challenge yourself, to improve, to grow, you don't have to -- and you will continue to receive the same compensation as someone who does. There's no incentive other than the internal one to improve. And in my experience, that internal incentive is very elusive in most of us. So many teachers skate rather than climbing.

There are many things we can do to help combat this, in addition to raising general teacher pay to attract better people. One of the first things I'd like to see is the end of teacher's unions, and replace them with standards for teaching that will determine continually your level of compensation. Much like I am in my work performance, they should be evaluated every year (or more often, if possible), and specific, attainable, measurable goals should be set at each evaluation. Compensation should be tied to the extent to which the teacher meets those goals.

3) The kids. Here I disagree with jtr in many respects. Most teachers do not have to "put in their time" at some horrible school. This may be true in large cities, but in most suburbs pretty much ALL teaching jobs are at least decent in terms of troubled kids (gangs, etc.).

But the kids themselves almost invariably want to learn. They are desperate to learn. The problem is that it may or may not be the teacher from whom they want to learn, and it may or may not be about the course material that they want to learn. A large part of a teacher's job is to motivate students to want to learn the curriculum of the course. This may be the toughest part of the job, and the part that requires the most creativity.

In addition, the kids who get ritalin are NOT "inquisitive." They are rambunctious and disruptive, usually extremely so. While I certainly agree that ritalin is over-prescribed, it is not prescribed nearly to the extent you seem to think it is. Most of these behavior problems are not the result of chemical issues in the brain, however, but are rather the result of various emotional or psychological issues.

4) I think that trying to have teaching make up for bad parenting or a poor home life is ultimately a failing game. Certainly teachers need to provide positive role models and effective discipline for students, but they can't be expected to make up for poor home life. This needs to be addressed at a different level, OR the training, job description, and job mechanisms for teaching must be dramatically revised. A teacher is not a psychologist or a therapist or a parent (though aspects of all these attributes are helpful and possibly necessary in a good teacher). If we want them to be, we should at least give them the proper tools and training.

I don't know if I want to get involved in a discussion of how to improve parenting and home life, but suffice to say that I think jtr's solution of forbidding those who cannot afford children from having them is unrealistic unless there is a paradigm shift in how we think about individual rights in the USA.

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Teachers are not underpaid in most circumstances.  In some inner cities, and in many very rural areas, teachers are underpaid.  But the majority of teachers have no difficulty making a good living.  Salaries where I live start around US$35K per year for 180 days of work (to my 230 or so).

In NYC they most certainly are underpaid relative to the cost of living, although the same can be said about many service jobs. Teachers start at ~$30K and go up to maybe $70K with a masters and years of experience. While $70K is OK, a single person here *can't* support themselves on anything less than maybe $50K (I know, I've run the numbers). You need outside support if you want to be a teacher. Of course, the entire employment situation nowadays is pretty depressing, so I suppose from that standpoint teaching is no better or worse than any other situation, and summers off are a big plus. I guess if a person is willing to work a second job after school, on weekends, and in the summers they can get by on a starting teacher's salary. Needless to say, this will make them less effective in the classroom.

One of the first things I'd like to see is the end of teacher's unions, and replace them with standards for teaching that will determine continually your level of compensation.  Much like I am in my work performance, they should be evaluated every year (or more often, if possible), and specific, attainable, measurable goals should be set at each evaluation.  Compensation should be tied to the extent to which the teacher meets those goals.

Great idea, and I really would like to see the end of teacher's unions myself. BTW, I don't consider just teaching set facts or a curriculum to be adequate. Some of the most uninspiring teachers do this. Rather, it is the goal of good teaching to impart a love of learning and an ability to reason. Whatever specific facts you learn won't stay with you unless you use them often, but learning to think will. Sadly, even "good" schools fail miserably here as we see by the declining number of patents issued to Americans, as well as the general lack of creativity among our leaders.

Most teachers do not have to "put in their time" at some horrible school.  This may be true in large cities, but in most suburbs pretty much ALL teaching jobs are at least decent in terms of troubled kids (gangs, etc.).

It's a given that if you want to teach in NYC the first years of your career will be spent in East New York, Harlem, the south Bronx, Bushwick, etc. You will be dealing with kids who can only loosely be classified as human beings, and you will ahve to fear for your safety every single day. As far as actually teaching, forget it. Your day will be spent policing these kids and otherwise doing what amounts to security guard duty. If you're lucky, and don't get disenchanted, you may find yourself at a school where you can actually teach within maybe five years. All this for $30 to $35K annually-you can keep it. Small wonder the city has had to get unlicensed, uncertified teachers to fill the shortage. In many cases the teachers don't have much better reading skills than the kids they're teaching.

In addition, the kids who get ritalin are NOT "inquisitive."  They are rambunctious and disruptive, usually extremely so.  While I certainly agree that ritalin is over-prescribed, it is not prescribed nearly to the extent you seem to think it is.  Most of these behavior problems are not the result of chemical issues in the brain, however, but are rather the result of various emotional or psychological issues.

Part of the problem is that you have a school nurse, or sometimes even a teacher, making the decision as to whether or not psychoactive drugs should be prescribed. That's plain wrong, and as you said in most cases these problems are the result of other issues that the school staff either can't or doesn't want to deal with. At the risk of going off-topic, Ritalin isn't the only problem. As a nation we're overly addicted to prescription drugs of all sorts. These drugs usually cause more problems than they solve. They also help to mask an unhealthy lifestyle.

I think that trying to have teaching make up for bad parenting or a poor home life is ultimately a failing game.  Certainly teachers need to provide positive role models and effective discipline for students, but they can't be expected to make up for poor home life.

Agreed, and this is one reason why I'm against after school, preschool, even school breakfasts. Not providing a place after school, or breakfast, or care prior to age 5 is just poor parenting. It is not the school's place to make up for this, and I resent tax dollars being used for non-educational reasons. Politicians love to pander to people, however, and sadly I see more of this idea of the school as a surrogate parent rather than less.

I don't know if I want to get involved in a discussion of how to improve parenting and home life, but suffice to say that I think jtr's solution of forbidding those who cannot afford children from having them is unrealistic unless there is a paradigm shift in how we think about individual rights in the USA.

Didn't we already discuss this once? ;) Sadly, most people can't see my main point on this-individual rights end when they trample on someone else's rights. Taking money from me to subsidize the deficiencies of a poor parent robs me of the right to do with that money as I choose. If there was some compelling, societal reason why everyone, even poor parents, had to have children then I would accept this. However, there isn't. In fact, we as a planet would do well with a couple of centuries of negative population growth for more reasons than I care to discuss now. We simply don't need more children.

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In NYC they most certainly are underpaid relative to the cost of living, although the same can be said about many service jobs.  Teachers start at ~$30K and go up to maybe $70K with a masters and years of experience.  While $70K is OK, a single person here *can't* support themselves on anything less than maybe $50K (I know, I've run the numbers).  You need outside support if you want to be a teacher.  Of course, the entire employment situation nowadays is pretty depressing, so I suppose from that standpoint teaching is no better or worse than any other situation, and summers off are a big plus.  I guess if a person is willing to work a second job after school, on weekends, and in the summers they can get by on a starting teacher's salary.  Needless to say, this will make them less effective in the classroom.

JTR, with all due respect, that's just hooey. I have several friends in the publishing industry, and they lived for several years in NYC on $23K-$28K per year. They lived in Queens, had roommates, no car, and few luxuries, but they survived just fine.

However, as I said, in cities teachers probably ARE underpaid...though I'm surprised that $70K is the ceiling...I'd have thought $80+ for masters degree at retirement.

As for conditions in a big city like NYC, I can't speak. I went to a "small-city" school (80K residents, 2500 students) and did my teaching fieldwork in another "small-city" district (100K+ residents, numerous high schools, each with several thousand students). This doesn't compare to NYC that well, I guess, but we had nowhere near the problems you describe in either discipline or money. There were gangs and many "problem" students, but not unmanageably so.

Great idea, and I really would like to see the end of teacher's unions myself.  BTW, I don't consider just teaching set facts or a curriculum to be adequate.  Some of the most uninspiring teachers do this.  Rather, it is the goal of good teaching to impart a love of learning and an ability to reason.  Whatever specific facts you learn won't stay with you unless you use them often, but learning to think will.  Sadly, even "good" schools fail miserably here as we see by the declining number of patents issued to Americans, as well as the general lack of creativity among our leaders.

Unfortunately, "inspiring creativity and love of learning" is a very difficult goal to measure, so tying compensation to it is very difficult. The goals would probably have to be tied to things like lesson plan assessments and class observations among other things...this adds to bureaucracy, but it may be a worthwhile investment. Tough choices to be weighed (if the solution were simple, it would have already been done years ago).

It's a given that if you want to teach in NYC the first years of your career will be spent in East New York, Harlem, the south Bronx, Bushwick, etc.  You will be dealing with kids who can only loosely be classified as human beings, and you will ahve to fear for your safety every single day.  As far as actually teaching, forget it.  Your day will be spent policing these kids and otherwise doing what amounts to security guard duty.  If you're lucky, and don't get disenchanted, you may find yourself at a school where you can actually teach within maybe five years.  All this for $30 to $35K annually-you can keep it.  Small wonder the city has had to get unlicensed, uncertified teachers to fill the shortage.  In many cases the teachers don't have much better reading skills than the kids they're teaching.

This is the prime argument for paying teachers more, especially in certain areas. Your assessment of students in these areas is highly disturbing to me, however. Do us a favor and don't go into teaching in one of those areas (not that it was likely you would).

Part of the problem is that you have a school nurse, or sometimes even a teacher, making the decision as to whether or not psychoactive drugs should be prescribed.  That's plain wrong, and as you said in most cases these problems are the result of other issues that the school staff either can't or doesn't want to deal with.  At the risk of going off-topic, Ritalin isn't the only problem.  As a nation we're overly addicted to prescription drugs of all sorts.  These drugs usually cause more problems than they solve.  They also help to mask an unhealthy lifestyle.

Ritalin, like most other drugs, has its place. To my knowledge, NO teacher can prescribe Ritalin. NO school nurse can. A psychiatrist must assess the patient and give a prescription. While these people may have some influence in the process, they do not make the decision.

The fault for over prescription lies in the psychiatrists, and ultimately, the parents.

Agreed, and this is one reason why I'm against after school, preschool, even school breakfasts.  Not providing a place after school, or breakfast, or care prior to age 5 is just poor parenting.  It is not the school's place to make up for this, and I resent tax dollars being used for non-educational reasons.  Politicians love to pander to people, however, and sadly I see more of this idea of the school as a surrogate parent rather than less.

While I don't think that the school should be a parent, there are certain practicalities involved with school lunches and breakfasts: do you have any idea how difficult it is to teach a student who hasn't eaten? They are rambunctious and cannot concentrate. They can't learn, and disrupt the learning process of others. Hence, it makes sense to feed them if they haven't had food at home.

As for after school activities: you are out of the solar system on this issue. After school programs are common in nearly ALL school systems, even the most wealthy of private schools. This is because there is a great deal of valuable educational experience to be gained from them. For example, I was in the Chess Club, Creative Writing Club, Literary Magazine staff, and a few other after school activities. Taking these away is idiotic and self-destructive. They have nothing to do with being substitute parents! I had some of the best parents a person could ask for (including a mother who didn't work, but volunteered in our schools a few days per week), and I still participated in after school activities.

As for pre-school, I'm of two minds about that. It's good for kids to get socialized with other kids in a public environment, but at the same time pre-school is not so that Mommy and Daddy can have Junior out of their hair for a few hours. Pre-school can be an effective learning tool, but only if it is properly implemented by both teachers and parents. The few that are done properly are VERY expensive.

Didn't we already discuss this once? ;) Sadly, most people can't see my main point on this-individual rights end when they trample on someone else's rights.  Taking money from me to subsidize the deficiencies of a poor parent robs me of the right to do with that money as I choose.  If there was some compelling, societal reason why everyone, even poor parents, had to have children then I would accept this.  However, there isn't.  In fact, we as a planet would do well with a couple of centuries of negative population growth for more reasons than I care to discuss now.  We simply don't need more children.

We did discuss this once, and that's why I don't want to get involved in it again. ;)

Suffice to say that your views are not shared by most. And if you wanted a class war, removing the ability for the lower classes to have children nearly guarantees it. I may empathize with your view in spirit, but it's completely unworkable with our current society.

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As a nation we're overly addicted to prescription drugs of all sorts.

I agree. It is indicative of a social malaise, not a physiological one. Here's something that has disturbed me ever since I read it. People are pissing out so much Prozac that it's in our drinking water. No water I've been feeling better than I should the past couple years ;).

We shouldn't be drugging people so they can endure modern life. We should endevour to make modern life more tolerable. (I wonder what Schopenhauer would think of Prozac.)

I don't know if I want to get involved in a discussion of how to improve parenting and home life, but suffice to say that I think jtr's solution of forbidding those who cannot afford children from having them is unrealistic unless there is a paradigm shift in how we think about individual rights in the USA.

I agree. However, in some respects, the arguments that bestow universal individual rights, could also be used to restrict the opportunity of individual's to exercise those rights to bring a new life into the world.

The specific branch of moral philosophy from which universal human rights and, particularly, the rights of individual freedom were developed, Kantian morality, also requires that children (and all human beings) have a right to education. To not adequately satisfy that right violates the same class of laws that protect universal freedom. Telling an individual that they can't have children, because they are unlikely to be capable of raising them adequately, is a reasonable restriction that is well within the reach of rational morality.

I think a big problem for modern society in general is that we are taught that we have all these rights, but never taught why. Not understanding the rationality that bestows upon us our rights is one of the biggest problems in modern society today. Many people are incapable of generating moral structures themselves, and instead follow arbitrary virtues and laws.

When both Kant and Nietzsche agree on something, warning bells go off in my head...

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Balding_ape, and Jtr1962 while both of you make many good points about the difficulties inherent in compensating teachers adequately and rewarding them based on the quality of their teaching, I want to emphasize a crucial element of my assertion that simply shelling out the cash will result in better teachers.

Providing the cash is in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don't need to rate the quality of the teachers if you make the profession attractive in a financial respect. Shelling out cash to teachers won't change things in the short term. It is a longterm solution that has two major effects.

1. Making a profession financially rewarding relative to other professions increases the competition for entrance into the profession. This inherently increases the quality of individuals practicing the profession over time. Yes, you'll still have bad teachers who are paid too much, and good teachers who are paid too little, but on average you'll have better teachers. The more cash, the better the teachers, because the pool of people you draw teachers from is larger. This change will occur at teachers college and take years to propagate through the system.

2. Not only do you increase the size of the pool, but you increase its quality. Offering more money to teachers raises the limit on the individual quality of those seeking entrance to the profession. A limit on the quality of individuals seeking entrance to the profession? Am I insane?

No (hopefully ;) ). Capable, intelligent people are often multi-talented. The more capable and intelligent they are, the greater the range of professions from which they will select their own. Low pay is a barrier to the entry of intelligent individuals into the profession. Teaching is not an option for many people who would be excellent teachers because they can make more money in business as senior managers, or as lawyers, or in a variety of other professions.

I speak from personal experience as regards the latter point. I wanted to be a teacher. I still want to be a teacher, but over the last few years I have never seriously considered pursuing that particular dream. I have other options that are far more attractive. While teaching is something I would love to do, it's not the only thing that I love to do, and I can do more of the things I love by pursuing other things. Now, I may or may not have actually been a good teacher, but we'll never know. And that's the point...

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Oh, by the way, I'm not saying that many of the excellent recommendations both of you have made for reforming the management of teachers are irrelevant. I am simply pointing out that simply putting money on the table will improve the overall quality of the practitioners of a profession over time. You don't have to anything else (I agree that more thought and work is better though).

If teachers made as much as lawyers, in thirty years I don't think we'd have problems with the quality of education our youth recieved. We'd be overloaded with teachers who couldn't get work and only the best would be in our schools.

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JTR, with all due respect, that's just hooey.  I have several friends in the publishing industry, and they lived for several years in NYC on $23K-$28K per year.  They lived in Queens, had roommates, no car, and few luxuries, but they survived just fine.

Just to nitpick but I said support yourself, not live with roommates to split expenses. ;) By the same token, I've heard of people living here who make $1 an hour. They live twenty to a one bedroom apartment and take turns sleeping. Neither arrangement is one where you're completely independent. I'm living in NYC on $5,000 to $10,000 a year but I'm hardly supporting myself. If not for my family I would be homeless. My brother just moved back in with us at age 38 because his rent was raised to a point where he can't afford it, and he works full time. Roommates was not an option open to him, nor to a lot of people. Something needs to be done about housing prices here. I'm just damned if I know what.

This is the prime argument for paying teachers more, especially in certain areas.  Your assessment of students in these areas is highly disturbing to me, however.  Do us a favor and don't go into teaching in one of those areas (not that it was likely you would).

Unless there's a sea change in new teacher assignment policies, I have no plans to ever consider teaching so you needn't worry. As for the rest, I've dealt with some of these kids first hand on the subways and in other places. I'm probably being charitable here in my assessment. I don't know if you remember the Central Park jogger incident but the kids involved were typical of those from these areas. They might even seem personable on a good day but once something sets them off, or they get in a group of their peers, they fall to their lowest basic instincts. You don't want to be within ten blocks of them when they do. One of my mother's friends from the Bronx said that a kid in her son's school routinely carried a gun. The school staff knew it, yet they did nothing because of fear of retribution from this kid, or his associates. Such is the hell new teachers have to endure, and to the best of my knowledge carry permits for new teachers aren't in the contract (and sadly I'm only half joking here about the need for teachers to arm themselves against "students").

To my knowledge, NO teacher can prescribe Ritalin.  NO school nurse can. 

A few years ago there was something in the papers here where this was routinely being done, and some parents where even told that their child could not attend school unless they took their drugs. Hopefully this policy no longer exists, but I've noticed that often things like this have a way of silently creeping back when nobody notices.

As for after school activities:  you are out of the solar system on this issue.  After school programs are common in nearly ALL school systems, even the most wealthy of private schools

What I meant here wasn't clubs and the like. I guess I should have been clearer. I'm talking about schools just keeping the kids around until maybe 5 or 6, every single day, and often with no form of structured activity or supervision. And sometimes feeding them dinner to boot. This is quite different from the after school activities you (and I) engaged in which were more to socialize and/or pursue outside interests, and weren't every single day until 5 or 6. Parents nowadays complain that they have nobody to take their kids at 3, so the schools oblige by keeping them there an extra few hours with really nothing to do. My aunt who teaches says this is becoming more and more common.

I guess if we want to point out problems, I'd have to say the quality of parents and students is probably a bigger problem than the quality of teachers. I honestly don't think the best teacher in the world could do anything with a classroom full of some of these kids. They're damaged goods from the start thanks to their home situation.

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We shouldn't be drugging people so they can endure modern life.  We should endevour to make modern life more tolerable.  (I wonder what Schopenhauer would think of Prozac.)

I feel the same way as well. There is something inherently wrong with our way of life if such large numbers of people feel the need to take drugs to cope. Maybe being isolated in our cars has something to do with it. Maybe relocating thousands of miles from our families makes it worse. In much of the country people just don't interact any more outside of in structured situations like work. Maybe materialism and prosperity aren't all they're cut out to be. To an extent, prosperity does cause isolation. Isolation leads to other problems as we are a social species. I couldn't imagine living in a place where I couldn't walk in the street and see 10,000 different people in the course of a day, along with the possibility of having unpredictable, spontaneous interactions with any one of them. Sadly, we think more money is the answer to our problems, yet inexplicably many of the wealthiest turn to drugs to ease their pain.

Getting somewhat back on topic, it is not possible that the removal of traditional social support systems like family is in great part responsible for so many of the problems we take drugs now to cope with? Or for kids who murder other kids? I've often wondered how many people see shrinks just to have someone to talk with. It's a sad commentary on society when enough people take Prozac to cause it to go into our water table. It's even sadder that these people never learned the tools to cope with life, but instead rely on chemicals to provide temporary relief.

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Balding_ape, and Jtr1962 while both of you make many good points about the difficulties inherent in compensating teachers adequately and rewarding them based on the quality of their teaching, I want to emphasize a crucial element of my assertion that simply shelling out the cash will result in better teachers.

Actually, Gilbo, I fully accept your arguments (and have from the start) about increasing salary. I never explicitly said so, but I agree. I understand labor economics at this rudimentary level, at least.

My argument was designed to get the most out of the money we currently spend on teachers, as we are unlikely to get much more. I'm taking a pragmatic stand on this; local and state governments just don't have the money to jack up salaries in an age when the federal government is increasingly cutting programs (or, uh, it was until recently) and letting the states handle the fallout. It also doesn't help that we need MORE teachers as much as we need better teachers.

What I meant here wasn't clubs and the like. I guess I should have been clearer. I'm talking about schools just keeping the kids around until maybe 5 or 6, every single day, and often with no form of structured activity or supervision. And sometimes feeding them dinner to boot. This is quite different from the after school activities you (and I) engaged in which were more to socialize and/or pursue outside interests, and weren't every single day until 5 or 6. Parents nowadays complain that they have nobody to take their kids at 3, so the schools oblige by keeping them there an extra few hours with really nothing to do. My aunt who teaches says this is becoming more and more common.

Ah, I see. Yet another need for more money: if schools are to do this, there must be structured educational activities for the whole time. Otherwise it is both time wasted and time to get into trouble. I guess I haven't heard much about this because the teachers I know now are all suburb teachers...though one of them recently taught in Washington DC public schools. While he noted that students had a remarkable number of problems, and it was difficult to get through lesson plans, he loved the kids and most did try hard. They just didn't have the emotional or material support at home to cope with an institution like school.

I speak from personal experience as regards the latter point. I wanted to be a teacher. I still want to be a teacher, but over the last few years I have never seriously considered pursuing that particular dream.

I as well wanted to be a teacher. I didn't have a problem with the money; it was always an issue of the bureaucracy for me. My experiences with the eductation system during my initial training were very poor, including being politically screwed on several occasions -- from both within my college's education program and from the schools -- as a goddamned field worker. I left the program. I hope to someday return and teach, hoping that with a great deal of professional experience and the ability to not depend quite so much on the job for my living I'll be able to do it.

WRT to Gilbo's Kant thread:

You are right (as I think in many ways JTR is right, too): there are very good basic reasons why a person unable to provide a good home and an education for a child should not be "allowed" to have one. However, my take on the issue was pragmatic rather than idealistic:

1) In our current society, like it or not, this would be grounds for a kind of class war that could turn very ugly, very quickly. You really don't want to disenfranchise or dehumanize these people any more than they already are. The results will not be positive, no matter your intentions.

2) Assuming you could pass such a law, you could never enforce it, unless you're going to non-permenantly sterilize everyone, only to be reversed upon their successful application for a child. People could cross borders, people could just have sex and get pregnant -- and what would we do with the children that were born...?

My third and fourth points are more ideological than pragmatic.

3) What we're really talking here is direct social engineering. Interference from an authoritarian government in people's personal lives. I think this is a very bad principle to follow and should be limited to the extreme.

4) Who judges which parents are eligible? By what criteria? Who decides that criteria? We've had very successful, well-adjusted children come out of poor, single-parent homes. Sort of a riff on the WANG idea, I guess (We Are Not Gods).

As I have said, I think we'd need a paradigm shift in the way we think about personal freedoms, families, etc. (more than just a legal paradigm shift) for this to be even remotely effective, and even if it's effective, it may not be right, no matter what Kant says.

We shouldn't be drugging people so they can endure modern life. We should endevour to make modern life more tolerable. (I wonder what Schopenhauer would think of Prozac.)

I think we are currently endeavoring to make modern life more tolerable. I think that it gets better with every generation, slowly but surely. Certainly, new problems constantly crop up, but old problems also fade slowly away. I think that presenting the issue as a dichotomy between drugs and a better life is fallacy (and I'm not sure that you intended to present it as one anyway, but it does seem that way). We can do both. And there are in fact many people who suffer from chemical problems that induce all kinds of psychological behavior like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and others. That's why the drugs exist: for that "improving our lives" thing.

The issue with overprescription is another thing altogether: I think that stems mostly from people with too much money (or too good a health care plan) to get shrinks and too much time to consider their loneliness. Basically, they don't have enough other problems. If you look at the "depressed" of our society, most are middle class or higher, and their problems are generally related to life circumstances like divorces or other family problems, abuse, etc.

They are not taking drugs to cope with "modern life;" they are taking drugs to cope with difficult situations in which there are no other serious demands placed on them. The problem is that they really need therapy. Someone to help them learn to cope, not something that helps make the feelings go away.

So in short, I agree on overprescription, but not that these behavioral drugs are somehow a problem in and of themselves.

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Getting somewhat back on topic, it is not possible that the removal of traditional social support systems like family is in great part responsible for so many of the problems we take drugs now to cope with?  Or for kids who murder other kids?  I've often wondered how many people see shrinks just to have someone to talk with.

Oops, meant to say before that I agree with you here, and I do think that the lack of good social support systems is a strong contributor to most issues of teen violence and other problems.

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I'd have to say the quality of parents and students is probably a bigger problem than the quality of teachers. I honestly don't think the best teacher in the world could do anything with a classroom full of some of these kids. They're damaged goods from the start thanks to their home situation.

I don't know. Maybe with the present-day curriculum it's impossible, but there are things that should be taught that aren't. Critical thinking skills aren't emphasized enough, and being trained to think critically would change and illuminate the world for a lot of youth. It's hard to be an ignorant, violent piece of trash when you're trained to think critically about things.

Also, rational morality can't be taught in schools because it freaks Christians out. I don't know if they're intimidated by the fact that faithless atheists can be bound by a moral code, or if they want to pretend that consideration for others and universal human rights are somehow a consequence of faith and religion, which couldn't be farther from the truth. As soon as a teacher tries to tell kids that there are laws that weren't sent down by god but exist by virtue of causality alone, Christian parents start getting all reactionary. As if their freedom of religion and every other freedom (except to bear arms) that they enjoy and cherish wasn't prescribed by these same laws. God didn't set them free, reason and Immanuel Kant did,and they need to sit down and accept that. God, if he exists and cares, will survive.

If youth knew why they have the freedoms they do then maybe they'd be more inclined to be responsible citizens. Giving someone freedom without reason (intentionally ambiguous) is dangerous, and I believe that the problems we're discussing now are just one of many pressing examples of the problems imposed by our consistent ignorance of this fact. And I'm not talking about making people remember all the blood that created American freedoms, which the American educational system focuses on very thoroughly, I'm talking about remembering the thought behind those freedoms.

Regardless of the specifics of this, it is a huge problem. Leaving our youth in the dark about the wealth of reason and thought that birthed our democracies perpetuates this post-modern despair with which we have come to characterize our own age. And only someone in a postmodern despair, convinced of the meaningless of their life and of their actions, performs violent acts like these we abhor.

P.S. I'm bored so I am going to ramble philosophically for a while. I might even get mildly pedantic and quote something :o.

I believe we are observing, in some individuals in society, presently, freedom, without reason, running rampant. A person is free, because of their reason --if you give them the rights of reason, and they don't appreciate the role of reason, the rule of reason, you are simply releasing animals into the wild.

The most elemental example of this in action is the incredible, but strangely innocent destructiveness and violence that children are capable of.

Nietzsche had a name for people in this condition. It is best translated as "those who go under." They are people who have realized that they are free, but haven't realized that their own freedom imposes on them the greatest of moral strictures and the weightiest responsibilities.

It is at the same time a sickness that can destroy the man who has it, this first outbreak of strength and will to self-determination, to evaluating on one's own account, this will to free will: and how much sickness is expressed in the wild experiments and singularities through which the liberated prisoner now seeks to demonstrate his mastery over things! He prowls cruelly around with an unslaked lasciviousness; what he captures has to expiate the perilous tension of his pride; what excites him he tears apart.

Isn't that incredibly well written (if a little grammatically tense in English --German has an incredible capacity for organizing long sentences) as well as remarkably perceptive. "What he captures has to expiate the perilous tension of his pride." In my mind, modern democracies, in forgetting the reason behind their creation are poisoning themselves. They weren't founded because of freedom, they were founded because of reason, which demands freedom as a consequence. But freedom isn't the only thing that was demanded by the reasonable science that birthed democracy. A democracy can't function if people forget, or aren't educated in the first place, as to freedom's equally necessary counterpart, rational morality and responsibility.

Related to the middle east, but not particularly politically explosive hopefully:

I apologize. I particularly appreciate that this thread has thus far been free of the political craziness that has embroiled the Bar & Grille. I mention it for two reasons, one, it leads my to my conclusion, two, I don't think my brief discussion will trigger any political land mines, as it is more philosophical. So here goes (if it does trigger something, let's start a seperate thread and leave this beautiful example of purity intact):

There's a reason democracy doesn't work in the Arab world. Like I said "if you give them the rights of reason, and they don't appreciate the role of reason, the rule of reason, you are simply releasing animals." You can't give people freedom and democracy before you give them reason. They won't know what to do with their freedom, and they'll experiment --often to catastrophic, disturbing effect. Nietzsche, puts it better than my poor words ever could, so consider him requoted here.

Experimenting in democratically-entitled individual expression without the rule of rational morality (sorry religious people, but the morality of religions is clearly not going to do the job) results in things like car bombs and chopped off heads. This happens because, one, people don't understand rational morality (which prohibits car bombs and head-chopping), and, two, the people you're talking to aren't reasonable and they won't listen to you. Autocratic states work for the Arab world, and they work because Arab people understand the mechanisms upon which they are founded, that is: the role and rule of violence. Until you educate a people as to the role and rule of reason, democracy will simply produce chaos --often destructive chaos.

This is why demoncracy has only successfully taken root in a small number of nations outside of those that shared the enlightenment, and, generally, it isn't working very well in those nations.

Of the greatest concern to me is that I think some modern democracies are, potentially, in danger of devolving back into this state. I believe religious influence in politics is the strongest indicator (for causal reasons) and correlator (given existing evidence) of such a tendency. I am particularly concerned for the future and stability of the elephant to the south of me given this.

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I forgot to title the above post: "Mild rant on the post modern condition and why the people before us were so much better than us" ;).

By the way, since 'postmodern' gets thrown around a lot, I'll define it as I use and understand it, and as I was originally introduced to the term.

1. Modern thought is characterized by a belief in "meta-narratives."

2. Meta narrative is, essentially a fancy word for universal explanations (I.E. laws of physics, laws of morality, the idea that all human beings share the same struggle to prove Schopenhauer wrong... etc).

3. Postmodern thought, in contrast, is characterized by a disbelief in meta-narratives (everyone's opinion is equally right, there is no right or wrong, there are no universal struggles faced by all individual human beings so every human being's suffering is unique and we're doomed to be unable to help each other, etc).

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