The Blog

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

Blog — Op-Ed

Philip Howard speaks on encouraging good medicine

Last Thursday, Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard presented before the Florida State University College of Medicine’s Grand Rounds series. In his remarks—titled "Remaking the Social Contract with Healthcare Providers"—Howard examines the conditions under which doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators deliver care today, questioning whether they have the freedom to act on their best judgment and values to do what’s right.

Philip Howard"I think we’ve created a [healthcare] structure that demeans healthcare professionals at the same time that it encourages them to act selfishly," he argues. "I think we’ve smothered the conditions for human accomplishment under endless bureaucracy." Howard goes on to address four particular institutional flaws in healthcare that need to be corrected.

You can watch Howard’s full remarks here.

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Should bullies get three months in jail?

by Lenore Skenazy

It's hard to think of anyone in favor of bullying, but this seems truly overboard: A proposal in Australia to prosecute kids as young as age 10 for bullying. According to The Daily Telegraph:

CHILDREN as young as 10 could be criminally charged as part of a radical proposal to overhaul Australia’s approach to bullying.

A symposium organised by the National Centre Against Bullying and the Australian Federal Police will next week consider how laws should be strengthened to fight bullying and cyberbullying.

It’s hoped that as a result of its recommendations, Australia will become the first country in the world to have unified national laws to address bullying.
NCAB chairman Alastair Nicholson, the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, said the law does not define bullying, cyberbullying or clarify the legal duty of schools, teachers, parents and carers.

He said a summary offence for bullying with a maximum penalty of three months jail would help educate people and act as a deterrent to offenders.
“I think there is a real need to examine the way the law operates, if only so that people know where they stand,” he said.
But bullying shouldn't be handled by the police and courts unless it involves things the police usually deal with, like actual crimes, not just rotten behavior.

The "school to prison pipeline" is already getting clogged with merely disobedient kids now trailing rap sheets, thanks to more and more police, not principals, mediating school scuffles. And besides, says Susan Porter, author of Bully Nation: Why America's Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone: "Laws, by definition, are intended to deal with situations in a uniform way. If there’s one thing we know for sure about children is that they are not uniform, nor do they respond in uniform ways to consequences."

Kids develop in different ways at different times, and even swing between being bullied and being the bullies. Defining them as one or the other isn't the job of the cops unless the kids are breaking a law. (And a real law, at that. Not a "Zero Tolerance" edict issued by some bureaucrat who sees bullying in every schoolyard scuffle.)

As for three months in jail? THREE MONTHS? "These laws are at best misguided," says Porter. "At worst they will hurt the very people we are trying to protect and educate: children."

Draconian laws don't make kids safer. They just make lawmakers look like bullies, eager to pounce on defenseless kids.

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!

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University buys bulletproof whiteboards for its professors

by Lenore Skenazy

Reading and writing and richocheting? University of Maryland at Eastern Shore just spent $59,800 on bulletproof whiteboards for its classrooms. This begs a whole lot of questions:

whiteboard

  1. Who gets to stand behind the shield? The professor? Or the kid who writes the most convincing, "Why I Deserve the Shield More than My Professor" essay?
  2. What do you want to bet the kid who writes the most convincing essay somehow ends up failing the class?
  3. Exactly how does a bulletproof whiteboard help even the person holding it? Weren't shields invented back when all you had to do was not get skewered by a lance? So, you could hold it in front of you but still peek around or over it? I mean, if you can't peek, how can you see where the enemy is?
  4. Alternatively: If you DO peek, and now your enemy has a gun and not a lance, doesn't that mean your head is as unprotected as a pumpkin on a spike?
  5. Who's the president of this university -- Ben Hur?
  6. Why are we even talking about a single shield making sense in a classroom full of students?
  7. More to the point, why are we even talking about this, period? As tragic and senseless as the Sandy Hook shooting was, the bigger picture is that America is really safe. Not perfectly safe -- nothing is. But the homicide rate is back at the level it was in (wait for it!) 1906.
  8. No one bought white board shields in 1906.
  9. Then again, no one watched CNN.
  10. Then again, no one does now either.
  11. Lists usually end at 10, so consider this more of a footnote: Shields for shooters are as weird and worst-case-scenario as buying helmets for all the students -- excuse me, for all the professors -- just in case of a falling meteor.
  12. Final final note: Which did happen last year, too. But somehow we manage to keep that danger in perspective.

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!

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Students! Barricade the Doors & Hide Under Your Desks! Suspect Has a…oh…never mind

By Lenore Skenazy

Lifted from a friend of a friend's Facebook page:

Just spent 20 minutes under a desk with my colleague...door locked and blinds closed. Turns out it was a false alarm, but scary nonetheless.

In fact, it turned out to be a guy with a cell phone or some other tool. Here's the full story. It happened at Cal State University Long Beach, and according to the  school:

The alert came only hours after University Police held an active shooter and mass casualty drill...designed to test the Student Health Center’s ability to perform triage in the field, according to a Cal State Long Beach press release.

Do you think awareness was heightened just a little too much? That's my guess. I know the idea is, "If you see something, say something." But if you start SEEING THINGS -- as in imagining the worst every time you see a guy with a bulge -- good luck.

lou

"Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just ready to kill me?"

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!

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Miriam Kurtzig Freedman: Rethink special education

In the Wall Street Journal, school attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman takes on the thorny issue of special education--the $100-billion-dollar program that needs a closer look:

Very little work has been done to establish how inclusion [of special education students in regular classrooms] affects regular students—whether they are average, English-language learners, advanced, poor or homeless. Studies seem to support the social benefits of mainstreaming for children with disabilities and possibly for regular-education students, but what about the effect on their academic progress?

Teachers may tell you (privately) that inclusion often leads them to slow down and simplify classroom teaching. Yet the system is entrenched and politically correct. Many parents remain silent. Some quietly remove their kids from public schools.

Can this be anything but very bad for America? Our schools thrive only with a diverse student population and engaged parents—not with the departure of those who choose to leave.

New thinking on special ed is desperately needed. As Philip K. Howard wrote in The Atlantic:

Today, special ed consumes 20 percent of the total K-12 budget in America. Programs for gifted children get less than half of one percent, and pre-K education gets almost nothing. Is this a sensible allocation of education dollars?

Read Freedman's full piece here, and read more about Common Good's education proposals here.

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The diaper of doom

By Lenore Skenazy

So a new diaper is being developed with a “QR” code on the front. When a baby pees, some kind of litmus strip inside the diaper analyzes the, uh, output and the QR code reflects what it has found. You simply snap a picture of the code, and use the app to...

Obsess about incredibly small risk.

“Seriously, what parent wouldn't want to use smart diapers to take some of the guesswork out of keeping their baby's health in check?” gushed one early review. The answer is: Anyone who understands that guesswork is fine, when it comes to parenting.

If your baby isn’t sick or special needs, why treat every diaper change like a trip to the endocrinologist? This is a new way of looking at our kids: As if it is only some kind of miracle that keeps our children alive from one second to the next. That is the kind of distraught outlook that makes us demand ever more laws, regulations and surveillance to insure against even the tiniest of odds that something COULD go wrong.

The assumption that something terrible is happening that we just can’t see is the same impetus behind keeping kids indoors (there may be a predator in hiding!), and not trusting any foods except locally grown spelt (there may be some toxic chemical we just can’t detect!) and pivoting video baby monitors (there could be someone sneaking into the baby’s room!) and all the TSA stuff (that lady COULD be smuggling a bomb in her unopened can of Coke!). Yes, there is the possibility of any or all those happening BUT the odds are so great, when do we decide to live with a bit of uncertainty?

When we grow up and understand that there is no way to eliminate ALL RISK. Aiming for zero risk means seeing only what COULD go wrong in any endeavor. The result is a million reasons not to do anything at all – not to build, explore, innovate. Not to do anything except sit there at home, taking pictures of the diaper and pacing the floor until the app gives the all clear.

Until the next change.

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!

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Malpractice lawsuits are expensive, protracted, and foment mistrust

A new report on medical malpractice suits by Medscape takes a closer look at doctors' experience of malpractice suits. Among the findings:

  • 39% of malpractice suits take more than 3 years to resolve.
  • 93% of doctors believe expressing sympathy for patients by saying "I'm sorry" would not have helped.
  • 29% of doctors report losing trust in patients after a malpractice suit.
  • 6% of doctors report leaving their practice altogether.

lawsuit_length

Our malpractice system creates unfortunate incentives--for mistrust between doctors and patients, defensive medicine, and expensive legal battles--that damage both doctors and patients. Common Good advocates health courts, a reform that would restore reliability and trust, save time and money, and promote fair outcomes. Read our proposal here.

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School lockdown overboard

By Lenore Skenazy

Oh no -- there's a stranger walking into that school! Dozens of them in fact! We can't have THAT, can we?

Well, we always have. It's called voting. And yet, more and more schools are saying no to the age-old tradition of hosting elections in the school gym. It's a "risk" they say they cannot take.

Except that, as far as I can tell, it has never posed any risk at all -- and still doesn't.

Vrouwenkiesrecht / Votes for women

This article from the Press-Citizen details how Election Day has already changed in Iowa. Only 7% of voting is still done in public schools. "The pressure to move polling places out of schools intensified following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.," writes the reporter, Emily Schettler. And yet -- what is the connection? One terrible thing happens in one place and suddenly all voters in all schools are regarded as potential terrorists?
The article adds that although there haven't been any serious problems in Iowa during elections "officials pushing the moves say they want to avoid future issues."

Which, in case you hadn't noticed, is an argument you could use to outlaw absolutely anything. "While there haven't been any problems with kids tripping on shoelaces, we want to avoid future issues by requiring velcro." "So far, no children have violently collided during Square Dance instruction, but we want to..."

Already one county has had to spend $8000 for polling space, since the schools -- free and paid for by our taxes -- were no longer available.  So now kids are missing out on a nice chunk of change that could be used for, I don't know, maybe copies of the CONSTITUTION? And they don't even get to see adults exercising the inalienable right that makes America such a beacon of fear.

Er...freedom.

As we've discussed before: There's safety and there's sanity. Ideally the two go hand in hand. But when it comes to kids and schools, it feels like they aren't even allowed in the same building.

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!

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School “security theater”

The following is an excerpt, by Lenore Skenazy, from Common Good's online forum on Risk and Legal Fear in Schools.

The worst massacre at a school did not happen last year at Sandy Hook Elementary. It happened in 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan. A disgruntled (to say the least) school board member didn't want to pay any more school construction taxes. In protest, he blew up the school, his car, himself, four other adults--and 38 school kids.

Almost double the number at Sandy Hook.

Afterward, do you know what precautions schools all around the country immediately took?

None. Because administrators, politicians and parents did not see the tragedy as part of a huge new threat. They saw it for what it was: A bizarre anomaly. They understood that, for the most part, kids were still very safe at school.

That's a kind of perspective we have lost, in an era when we've been trained to automatically think these two thoughts:

1 - If anything bad happens to any child, anywhere, it is likely to happen to my kid, tomorrow.

2 - If we are proactive to the point of paranoid, we can achieve 100% safety.

The result has been a rash of excessive, expensive and sometimes exasperating new measures designed to make schools safer...that don't. My favorite is the reading specialist who told me that ever since Sandy Hook, when she goes to a classroom to help out, the door is always locked. As she is not trusted with a key, she has to knock on the door. But before the teacher WHO KNOWS HER can open it, the reading lady has to say the secret password.

Is it "Security Theater"?

Actually, I have one other favorite. There's a school in rural Oregon that has taught its teachers: If you ever hear a fire alarm but don't feel any heat, lock the kids in your room, because it COULD be a madman trying to lure kids into the hall.

Frankly, if I was a madman and I knew that school's M.O., I'd set fire to the building.

The problem is that when people are afraid, they can't think straight. And in an era when we are encouraged by the media and our lawmakers to be constantly fearful and tearful -- "Could your school be NEXT?" -- we are stuck in panic mode. We throw everything we've got at the problem, without even realizing...it's not a problem.

The job for those of us still thinking rationally, then, is simple. We must help parents, principals and politicians re-gain that old-fashioned, 1927 perspective that understood: Sometimes bad things happen, but that doesn't mean all kids are in constant danger. What's more, over-the-top security measures don't even make them safer, in part because madmen work around obstacles, but also in great part because the kids are already very safe.

Just not 100% safe.

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School fear and informal relationships

The following is an excerpt, by Nancy McDermott, from Common Good's online forum on Risk and Legal Fear in Schools.

The most important point we need to understand about the fearful climate in our schools is that is does not originate with parents or the public. It is a by-product of the decline of informal relationships between people in the schools and people in communities they serve.

Informal relationships are those hundreds of sustained, casual interactions between teachers and students, parents and local schools for which there is no guidance, policy or code of conduct. They may seem trivial, but over time they create just enough mutual familiarity and confidence for people to set aside their emotional response to risk (any is too great) in favor of a more reasonable approach.  Without these relationships, cooperation and trust is impossible.

This erosion of informality is occurring in many areas of social life but has accelerated in schools partly because of the way education is now seen as a therapeutic tool for meeting social policy objectives and partly as a consequence of the new levels of bureaucracy that come with school reform.

Over the past 30 years the scope of education has expanded beyond traditional subject matters into areas like sex education, character education and self-esteem. By attempting to teach what children really only learn over time and in context, schools have made students, teachers and their parents, hyper-aware and even paranoid about how they conduct interpersonal relationships. School administrators who intervene to prevent children making “best friends” are a sad example of how this over-think makes authentic relationships more difficult and actually pathologizes them.

The process of reform has exacerbated the problem by making schools less accountable to their local communities and more beholden to state and federal authorities. Tax levies seldom raise enough to fund annual budgets. As a result, school districts are forced to cobble together the remainder of their funding from a combination of state aid, entitlement and competitive grants like Race To The Top. Each source of funding brings a new set of requirement for schools: requirements for measuring and reporting progress; codes of conduct that must be followed; targets and outcomes that must be achieved. Principals, teachers and administrators are left with little discretion and expected to follow procedure rather than use their judgment or initiative. In this context, parental concerns become largely irrelevant.

This juridification of experience at every level of our schools is profoundly demoralizing. Simple disciplinary matters tend to escalate beyond all reason. That children are now regularly suspended from school for possessing guns the size of toothpicks is testament to institutionalized mistrust that has taken on a life of its own.

Informal relationships have not gone away and they are still incredibly important. This is why the actions of a few motivated principals, teachers or groups of parents can make such a positive impact in individual cases. But they are under pressure and will need to be nurtured to survive. The challenge for policy makers is that they may of necessity have no positive role to play.

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