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The (Not So) Latest

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4/24/09: The U.S. and Somalia

Still - in 2009 - the United States and Somalia are the only nations refusing to support the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child. Some are afraid, though, that our new president might change that. Sure Bill Clinton and both George Bushes refused to join the rest of the world in recognizing basic human rights for youth, and Obama, to his shame, has never promised to change that, but some Republicans are all set to resist if he does. Yes, America seems to be the only place where human rights for children is politically incorrect.

Here's Jon Stewart's take:

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4/18/09: A Star is Reborn

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter accurately depicted a Puritan tradition of forcing known sinners to wear insignia on their clothing identifying their sins. It was a mark of shame and it also let the "good" people know which neighbors were an appropriate target for harassment.

  Stamp commemorating the Holocaust shows yellow star on teddy bear
Stamp commemorating the Holocaust 
Later, Hitler did something similar. He required Jews throughout Germany to each wear a yellow star, making them clearer targets for Nazi law-enforcement and for incited citizens.

But that could never happen in America. Not today. Right?

New Jersey just passed a law to mark youth.

The law will require that every car driven by someone younger than 21 have a special stigmatizing decal to help police spot them. We already have proof of widespread police harassment of young drivers. Now New Jersey will help cops harass youth more uniformly. No longer will young drivers be able to escape police harassment by merely driving perfectly. Ageist cops will now be able to target all youth.

We have an ageist media fooling people into thinking youth are criminals, inciting hatred against youth. Now the government is making it even easier for hateful adults to find targets.

Is it an over-statement to compare this to Nazi Germany? I certainly don't believe millions of youth will be rounded up for extermination. But we must recognize that this law is the result of hatred. It is itself a harassment of youth, and the law has been enacted with the full understanding that it will make its victims more visible targets for further harassment. It will have the same effect it has had in the past.


4/9/09: Time Magazine, or Fretful Mother?

For a while now, we've been urging people not to give money to Time magazine. Need another example of why?

This week's issue offers an article that begins with this sentence:

Being a teenager means experimenting with foolish things like dyeing your hair purple or candy flipping or going door-to-door for a political party.

Oh, those foolish kids! Making dumb mistakes like getting involved in civics and following different fashion trends than old people! Will these kids never learn?

The article's main purpose, however, was to give fretful parents yet another excuse to harass their children. This one tells parents, if your child goes vegetarian, you should treat that as an eating disorder. Think I'm joking? Read this nonsense yourself.

This article probably gives the editors and their meat industry advertisers a good chuckle, but when impressionable parents read this, there can be consequences for their children, as manipulated parents pressure their children to violate their consciences and to eat food that educated people know is unhealthy.

Don't buy Time. But feel free to give them a piece of your mind.


3/21/09: Forced Fighting

We heard plenty of news reports about that Corpus Christi mental institution where staff found it entertaining to force retarded people to fight each other. The press have given less attention to a Dallas high school that was caught doing the same with students.

"It was gladiator-style entertainment for the staff," Frank Hammond, a fired counselor who has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, told the newspaper. "They were taking these boys downstairs to fight. And it was sanctioned by the principal and security."

The staff would lock teenagers in a locker room equipment cage and force them to fight bare knuckle "with no head or eye protection," according to a hall monitor who caught one of the matches.

Sadly this comes as no surprise to me. As a teacher, I've witnessed fellow teachers and administrators alike laugh with glee while talking about a student stabbing another. I've seen staff joke about a student who had committed suicide.

Politicians and pop-culture portray teachers as good-hearted people who want the best for their students. But those who have been inside the system know that many who work here want the worst for students and derive pleasure from watching students suffer.

Students who drop out of this system are not "quitters" as Obama recently suggested. They are survivors.

More on my personal observations.


3/20/09: Youth Rights on "The Colbert Report"

Choose Responsibility is a group of college administrators working to lower the drinking age so students can drink responsibly in the open rather than drinking underground, which is usually less responsible and less safe. They certainly have a good point. Research has documented that raising the drinking age has led to an increase in drunk driving fatalities among other problems associated with irresponsible drinking.

Their reasoned proposal to improve safety and recognize human dignity has gotten little more attention than other youth rights initiatives. A refreshing break occurred this week when Choose Responsibility's President, John McCardell, was interviewed by Stephen Colbert on the hit show "The Colbert Report." Check it out:

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3/16/09: Teachers: School Sucks

Interesting segment on NPR's "This American Life." In New York, rather than fire teachers and deal with the teachers' union, some administrators simply transfer troublesome teachers to a place known as the "rubber room." Here, teachers just sit around. They still draw their paycheck for showing up on time, but they do not interact with students and they do not serve any purpose. They just sit there. This goes on for days, for months, even for years.

These teachers feel so degraded and powerless they sometimes fight each other over who gets to sit in which chair.

The broadcast journalists talked at length about the great suffering of these teachers, and yet they never mentioned how K-12 students endure exactly the same suffering. They never mentioned that students, too, are made to feel powerless, their time wasted, forced to do busywork that serves no real purpose, driven to fight one another over what little they have.

This treatment, of course, is not exactly the same. The teachers get paid to endure this; and no one tells them they should be grateful. If these teachers quit to find a real job, the President of the United States does not chase them with denouncements such as, "It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country," (as Obama recently scolded students who drop out).

Why did NPR do a program on these suffering teachers without even acknowledging the students who suffer the same? Is it because they feel the suffering of paid teachers is wrong but the suffering of unpaid students is right? Do they feel making adults suffer is worse than making youth suffer?

Listen to the full broadcast for yourself. See if you agree this story is missing an important element.


2/13/09: Judges Railroad Teenagers for Money

In many areas, state-run juvenile prisons have been replaced by for-profit privately-run juvenile prisons. The government pays these private companies to warehouse young convicts. In many cases, the more youth housed in the prison, the more profit the company can make. This encourages overcrowding and other abuses.

In Pennsylvania recently, two judges were caught taking bribes. Over several years, two private prisons paid these judges $2.6 million in kickbacks.

What did the prisons get in return for their money? More business, of course. In these judges' courtrooms, young defendants were denied legal representation, rushed through quick trials, and given long sentences even when probation officers urged more reasonable sentences. Hillary Transue, for example, got three months in prison for creating a MySpace page that ridiculed her school's assistant principal.

These two judges have been removed from their benches and are facing prosecution, thank God. Taking bribes is illegal. But if these judges had handed out such sentences merely for kicks, they would still have their positions of power. Before the bribes were discovered, youth advocates complained for years about these two judges handing out excessive sentences. The complaints fell on deaf ears.

Will such complaints be dismissed so quickly in the future? We'll see.


2/1/09: Ageism Infects Computer Games

Diner Dash: Hometown Hero lets players try out their dream career as a waitress. Okay, that's a little unfair. This game deserves props, not only for offering an engaging game, but for creating one that is girl-friendly in a sea of violent boy games and also for recognizing that teenagers in the food service industry do jobs hectic enough to make a challenging game — as challenging as games about race car drivers and soldiers.

Sadly Diner Dash: Hometown Hero is not all positive. When the player reaches a certain level, our hapless heroine is burdened with a new problem in her zoo-based diner. "It's Teen Day at the zoo today!" a placard informs the player. Why is this a problem? The placard explains, "Teen girls are always talking on their cellphones and will disturb customers sitting nearby. Let's try not to leave them sitting next to our other customers for too long."

Diner Dash screen shot
(Click image to enlarge)

This is an insult to the game's target audience. It is also unfair. Anyone who goes in public knows obnoxious cellphone-users come in all age-groups.

Does this really matter? Should we care about a video game?

Consider how we might react if the game offered this challenge instead: "It's Jew day. Jews are always trying to cheat people out of money, so let's keep a sharp eye on them to ensure they pay their bill." There would be outrage, of course, if a game pushed stereotypes of Jews, blacks, or gays. Fear of that outrage keeps most video game designers on their toes, eager to avoid stereotyping such groups.

Do youth deserve less support when they are stereotyped?

When "teen girls" finally get to play a video game that addresses their interests, why must they stop in the middle to see themselves insulted? The video game industry owes us all better than this.

Please email PlayFirst (the company behind Diner Dash: Hometown Hero) and ask them to show more consideration for their own customers.