The Blog

News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.

Blog

Confidence in Congress falls to record low

A new Gallup poll confirms that Americans' confidence in Congress is at a historic low:

According to Gallup, "The percentage of Americans expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress is the lowest for a trend that dates back to 1973 [the earliest data available]."

Both Democrats and Republicans showed exceptionally low levels of confidence--"the worst Gallup has ever found for any institution it has measured since 1973."

Government is dysfunctional and Americans know it. It's time for radical simplification.

Comment ›

Dodgeball danger revisited

By Lenore Skenazy

Score one for dodgeball!

A New Hampshire school had outlawed the game last March while a committee was convened to study the controversial issue (clearly right up there with Guantanamo). The problem arose when -- surprise --  a parent complained of a child being bullied during the game.

Of course, the rules of dodgeball dictate that pretty much ALL children are bullied by the game. That's the whole POINT. And considering the school only allows foam balls -- goodbye big red balls and big red welts -- getting "out" didn't even physically hurt anymore. The sting was strictly psychic.

Still, the school board voted 4 to 1 to suspend the game while it investigated. The outlook seemed dire.  But darned if, three months later, the board didn't decide it had overreacted. That is, it DID decide it HAD overreacted.

Knock me over with a feather! (A foam feather, please, with a bed of wood chips below me.) Sometimes I fear so much for common sense, I can't even believe when it wins. But it did, fair and square. The classic game will be reinstated next fall...with some new caveats.

The first one is that any kid who doesn't want to participate can choose an alternative activity. Believe it or not, I always hated dodgeball -- though clearly I will defend to the death kids' right to play it. So the first opt-outer would be me.

I'd hope they'd let all non-participants head off to a cafe to talk about the pitfalls of public policy during gym period.

The other caveat is that the school is giving all its "human target" games new, P.C. names. So, according to WHDH Channel 7 NBC News, the game "Slaughter" becomes "Numero Uno," while "Prison Ball" becomes "Repair Shop."

And I guess "War" becomes "Peace"? Didn't I read that somewhere long ago?

Sigh.  Just when you think common sense is about to win...a foam ball knocks it out.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Comment ›

Ten unsupervised minutes

By Lenore Skenazy

Folks -- Take a look at this article, about the danger/injustice/affront of not allowing kids into school 10 minutes early. That means for 10 minutes or so, middle schoolers arriving before the school officially opens must wait OUTSIDE! Unsupervised! Imagine that!

This mom can't...without hyperventillating:

Students Arriving at School Early Forced to Wait Outside

Despite an e-blast sent out about exactly what time students should be dropped off at Eisenhower Intermediate for extra help before school, one parent is still finding students standing outside because they arrive too early.

Parent Lisa Weinstock said at Tuesday’s board of education meeting that she drops her child off for early-morning help at the school, and has found students standing outside alone because they are not allowed in the building before a certain time.

"I saw students standing outside unsupervised," she said. "When I called parents to ask if they knew they were not supposed to do this, they were appalled their children were left standing outside."

Appalled? really? Can we save being appalled for something a little more worthy, like kids not having enough to eat?

But, Weinstock said, there was an email from Eisenhower principal Joseph Diskin saying that students will not be allowed into the building earlier than the time individual teachers have designated for before-school help to begin.

"He said do not drop off students earlier than the specified times," she said.

This makes me almost physically ill. I want to ask the mom, "How about having your kids spend a week in Sudan? Or Syria? Or Somalia? Have them come back and  THEN we'll see what 10 minutes outside Eisenhower Middle School feels like. Probably pretty non-threatening."

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Comment ›

Common Good Online Forum on Risk in Schools

JOIN COMMON GOOD’S ONLINE FORUM: RISK AND LEGAL FEAR IN SCHOOLS
We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen—especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized—communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. But are all of the rules and procedures wise? Do they truly make schools and children safer and better? One school, for example, suspended a six-year-old for "pointing his finger like a gun and saying 'pow,'" while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

To shield themselves from legal exposure, schools have attempted to eliminate every conceivable risk—no tire swings, no dodgeball, no monkey bars. Field trips require complex liability waivers. Every activity requires paperwork—documentation, permissions, waivers. Our schools must be safe, but are some of the steps taken to protect against every possible lawsuit and risk doing more harm than good?

Common Good is hosting an online forum to address this question, with experts on education, parenting, and the law, including:

  • Lenore Skenazy, author and founder of Free Range Kids
  • Frederick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
  • Nancy McDermott, writer and former chair of the advisory board for Park Slope Parents
  • Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute
  • Megan Rosker, teacher and founder of Let Children Play

These experts have already started talking about how to address risk and legal fear in schools.

Add your ideas to the conversation here.

Find out what our panelists think and contribute your comments and questions below.

Comment ›

Join Common Good’s online forum: Risk and Legal Fear in Schools

We entrust our children to teachers and principals with the expectation that they will be both educated and protected from harm. When, inevitably, incidents happen—especially when those incidents are tragic and well-publicized—communities often press for stricter rules and procedures. But are all of the rules and procedures wise? Do they truly make schools and children safer and better? One school, for example, suspended a six-year-old for "pointing his finger like a gun and saying 'pow,'" while another suspended two boys for playing cops and robbers.

To shield themselves from legal exposure, schools have attempted to eliminate every conceivable risk—no tire swings, no dodgeball, no monkey bars. Field trips require complex liability waivers. Every activity requires paperwork—documentation, permissions, waivers. Our schools must be safe, but are some of the steps taken to protect against every possible lawsuit and risk doing more harm than good?

Common Good is hosting an online forum to address this question, with experts on education, parenting, and the law, including:

  • Lenore Skenazy, author and founder of Free Range Kids
  • Frederick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
  • Nancy McDermott, writer and former chair of the advisory board for Park Slope Parents
  • Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute
  • Megan Rosker, teacher and founder of Let Children Play

These experts have already started talking about how to address risk and legal fear in schools.

Add your ideas to the conversation here.

Find out what our panelists think and contribute your comments and questions below.

Comment ›

Costs much greater than benefits

A tragic train accident in 2008, caused by a distracted engineer, led to the deaths of 25 people. In response, as George Will writes in the Washington Post, Congress approved a requirement that train companies install a system to protect against human error. Sounds good, but there's a catch--the new system is cripplingly expensive:

So far, railroads have spent more than $2.7 billion on a system estimated to cost $10 billion to $14 billion — plus perhaps $1 billion in annual maintenance. PTC has not been installed, partly because it is not sufficiently developed. CSX Corp., which includes railroads among its assets, says the railroad industry is the nation’s most capital-intensive — and the $11 billion combined capital investments of all U.S. railroads in 2010 were approximately equal to the cost of PTC. The 2015 mandate will not be met.

The Federal Railroad Administration estimates that were PTC to be installed on thousands of locomotives and tens of thousands of miles of track, it would prevent perhaps 2 percent of the approximately 2,000 collisions and derailments, preventing seven deaths and 22 injuries annually. But because a dollar spent on X cannot be spent on Y, the PTC mandate must mean the sacrifice of other investments crucial to railroad safety (and efficiency).

As Philip Howard has written, "Every public dollar involves a moral choice." Requiring railroads to spend billions on a technology with limited usefulness means they have billions less to spend on more effective safety measures.

Read the rest of George Will's piece here.

Comment ›

Kindergartener may get detention for lego gun the size of a match

By Lenore Skenazy

It's like there's a News Goose out there laying golden eggs of wacky web fodder.  And the Goose's name? ZERO TOLERANCE.

All it needs is a steady diet of school administrators with Lego-size minds. And apparently there are plenty!

So here's the story. This time the kid is 6. The place is Massachusetts. He plays with this toy's toy on the bus ride to school and another kid yells about the "gun." Next thing you know, the school sends home a letter to reassure parents that THERE WAS NO GUN ON THE BUS. (Even though they reacted as if THERE WAS A GUN ON THE BUS.)

And here's a picture I cribbed from WCVB Boston of the terrifying instrument of death:

notagun


The boy who yelled about the gun on the bus was also made to apologize.

There is one silver (goose?) lining: The school committee is going to discuss its Zero Tolerance laws when it meets next month. But God only knows how many children will not be scarred by toys that are not guns by then.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Comment ›

Save the drowning man? But we’re not certified yet!

By Lenore Skenazy

I love the Scouts (got two of my own) and appreciate the old motto: Be Prepared.

BUT -- there's preparation that's safe and sane, and then there's super-stratospheric safety that goes so beyond what's necessary that the end result is red tape. And how safe is it to be wrapped up in tape?

Guess. (This is a letter I got over at Free-Range Kids last week):

Dear Lenore,

Last year our daughter decided that she wanted to join the Girl Scouts.  My wife signed up to be an assistant.  Over the next few months we discovered what a strange and dysfunctional organization the Girl Scouts had become. 

You see, in order to have a camp fire on the Girl Scout campgrounds, you need to have someone who is “fire certified.”  My wife was all eager to earn this certification so that the girls could have a good time.  So she had to attend a two-hour class where she learned all about fire safety and how to properly build a campfire. 

You’d think that would enough, but you would be wrong.  She then had to attend another two-hour class on a Saturday.  Certified yet?  Of course not.  Now she had to attend a weekend camping trip where the parents could practice their skills and finally become certified.

This is where it gets absurd.  A bunch of parents go off on a camping trip where they are presented with rules that treat them as though they are children.  They still can’t have a camp fire! And if they have to go to the bathroom, they need to go with a buddy. Yes, even if it’s the middle of the night, you’ve got to wake somebody up. (Sanity prevailed and they all agreed to break this rule.)

Then, as they were sitting in a small group and talking, my wife hears a muffled cry.  After a minute or two she figures out that someone is crying for help.  The group rushes down to the lake where they can see that an elderly man has fallen out of his fishing boat and is unable to climb back in.  He's hanging onto the side of his boat, his legs submerged in the cold lake water.  He is minutes away from drowning.

When my wife and her group got to the lake, they encountered another group of moms who had arrived first.  Were they rushing out to save this man?  Of course not.  They were debating amongst themselves over who was “water certified” to help him!

Water certified?  Fortunately, they finally threw caution to the wind and my wife and some other parents got a boat out and rescued the man.  When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs estimated that he had been about five minutes' away from not being able to hold on any longer.  It’s so sad to me that these women were more worried about who was certified to help this man, than they the fact he was minutes away from drowning.

But at least my wife is now certified to start a campfire.  It only took two classes and a weekend trip. --  Brad, the Dad

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Comment ›

Second-grader suspended for pretending pencil is a gun

By Lenore Skenazy

To understand our undoing as a nation all you need to do is examine a single form filled out by a second grade teacher on May 3, 2013: The Suffolk Public Schools Discliplinary Referral Notice to Parents/Guardians:

On that date, under the section "DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT," the teacher wrote, "Christopher pointed his pencil at another student as if it was a gun and made shooting sounds. I told him to stop and he did."

Now, you might THINK that that final sentence meant she told him to stop and he did. As in, "Okay kids, now let's get back to our math lesson." But in fact, the next part of the form is labeled, "THIS SECTION MUST BE FILLED OUT" and so it was, detailing all the post-pencil-pointing "ACTION TAKEN." Apparently the admins:

  1. Held a conference with the student.
  2. Met with his mother.

    And

  3. Suspended the boy for two days.

That'll teach him to point a pencil!

Of course, this was all the result of Zero Tolerance, the school rules that are often interpreted with such bizarre literalness it's as if the principals have willed themselves into a kind of administrative autism. In this case, the school's policy is against "weapons or anything that resembles a weapon." If there's any difference between a pencil and a gun, well, the principal couldn't see it.

But what's even more disturbing -- and that's saying a lot -- is that the administration actually assumed its students were just as delusional.
Bethanne Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Suffolk Public Schools, told a Fox reporter that, when accompanied by verbal "gun noises" (or at least the universal stand-in for real gun noise -- the word, "Bang!"), "Some children would consider it threatening,  who are scared about shootings in schools or shootings in the community....They think about drive-by shootings and murders."

They do? Then here's a tip: Instead of reinforcing their hysteria by reacting as if they're in real danger, try saying something soothing instead, like, "Look, hon, it's just a pencil." (Or something satisfying like, "FOR GOD'S SAKE, IT'S JUST A PENCIL!")

But since it seems more likely that the kids were not ACTUALLY scared of being shot by a #2 Ticonderoga, then let's retire the, "Oh, the poor, rattled children!" rationale. If no one feels threatened, why overreact? And why teach kids to overreact, too?

Because that's what we've been trained to do. Safetyland -- excuse me, America -- is so obsessed with safety that we demand it even when we're already extremely safe. We want super-safety -- the kind you get when you make middle-aged moms take off their shoes before getting to the gate. Yes, we are 99.99999% sure you're not a shoe bomber, but just in case.

At school: Yes, we are 99.999999999999999999999% sure your pencil is not a gun, but just in case.

And in the courts: Yes, we are 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999% convinced that a simple, "Put down that pencil" would have been the appropriate response. Case adjourned.

Until that sane day, we must remain very afraid.

Of hysteria in the schools.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Comment ›

Make It Simple

A crisis of complexity is wreaking havoc on business, government and finance--and there is a pressing need to simplify society. That's the central message of the new book Simple, written by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn.

"Simple" book cover

In 1980, the authors point out, the typical credit card contract was about a page and a half. Now it's 31 pages. Other practical examples of how complexity and lack of clarity waste money and time abound:

  • One study found that landline phone customers spent more than $2 billion a year for unauthorized charges largely because the bills were so confusing most customers didn't even know they were being overcharged.
  • Because of the complexity of insurance contracts, one survey found, as many as one-half of policyholders are misinformed about their coverage.

  • The U.S. Constitution, written in the 1790s and the basis of the entire American government, is 0.1 percent of the length of the current income tax code, which runs 14,000 pages. Figuring out the ins and outs of the tax code costs American taxpayers billions.

In a world where there are over 425,000 iPhone apps, 241 selections on the Cheesecake Factory's dinner menu, and 454 lotions at Sephora, complexity is an issue that touches every aspect of modern life.

"One of the great misconceptions  about the complexity," writes Siegel and Irene, "is the belief that the people who made things so complicated--the bureaucrats, the technocrats, the lawyers--are the only ones who can get us out of this mess." They continue: "It's time for us to demand--of, if in leadership positions, to develop and put into effect--new ways of borrowing money, of paying taxes, of accessing government, of purchasing products, of communicating." This can be done, they argue, by transforming the way we do business and reinvent everyday practices and processes plagued by complexity.

Philip K. Howard, Common Good chair, recently hosted an event in New York featuring Siegel and Etzhorn and a discussion of the book. Howard pointed out that simplifying government, law and regulation is the central mission of Common Good's agenda--which is key to reinvigorating America's economy and reducing federal budget deficits.

Comment ›

‹ First  < 11 12 13 14 15 >  Last ›