Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yes, We Can, But We Don't Dare

Philip K. Howard has some ideas on why Obama's call for people to get involved may fall on deaf ears:
Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.

That instruction to teachers is one of the reasons I did not become a teacher. As a man, I sensed very early on that the risk of lawsuit or arrest was just too great to risk touching children, even though it broke my heart.

I did a short-term teaching job at a private Catholic school for a few hours each week. The moment I stepped onto the playground the kids would come flocking up to me and wrap their arms around my legs. I longed to hug them back, and I know that some would have benefitted from it enormously. But I couldn't afford to care about their needs. The threat to my potential livlihood was greater than their need.

As long as the modus operandii in America remains "No good deed goes unpunished" we will not live up to our values, no matter who is in office. Indeed, I have to question if those are still our values anymore.

My sister-in-law is a speech therapist in the public school system--at least for a few more weeks. Part of her job is working with mainstreamed special needs students. She tells of the incessant paperwork involved in her job and the lawyers constantly looking over their shoulders looking to sue if every piece of documentation isn't completely perfect. How does that serve the students?

It doesn't. The best special education teachers are quitting in droves, because they got into the job to help children, not file paperwork and fend off lawyers. But the job has become all about the latter and not the former. So they leave. In their place school administrators are forced to hire lesser-skilled stand-ins who are good at neither helping nor paperwork. In the end no one is served.

But it's not about helping people any more. It's about extorting money from the system. It's about "getting yours" regardless of who you have to crush in the process. It's about forcing people to do what's right, even if the definition of "what's right" is unclear or even contradictory.

The very people who are accusing churches of trying to legislate morality are doing just that themselves. Only they can't even get that right, because they have no moral compass of their own. Common Sense has become an oxymoron. Common decency has been replaced with lowest common denominator.

The problem is going to take much more than a sharp-dressed president with a bag full of platitudes. His community organizer tactics won't work here. America needs more than a bandaid, and he's offering little more than to kiss our owie better.

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