Thursday, September 08, 2005

Just in case the point was missed . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:10 PM |  

This is what distinguishes Cheri Pierson-Yecke from the, quite literal, herd of current educators. Writing of individual rights in the Fredericksburg, VA, Free Lance-Star she says --
Why is the concept of individual rights so important? The Declaration of Independence, America's founding document, states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

These words affirm that our Founding Fathers saw rights as bestowed not by governments, but by God; not to groups, but to individuals.

The Declaration continues: "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men " In other words, our Founders saw the role of government as that of protecting the rights of individuals.

However, by the mid-1990s, it was being postulated that America had become a nation where the rights of individuals have been superseded by the rights of groups. Evidence in support of this point can be seen in the observation by social commentator Jessica Gavora: that the American Civil Liberties Union has switched its focus from the defense of individual rights to group rights.

This trend can be seen all across the country, in ways large and small--a blight that is nibbling away at individual rights.

Consider, for example, that the goal of promoting group identity over individual identity appears regularly in educational literature. A National Middle School Association conference promoted cooperative learning as an "essential" classroom practice because, through this practice, "competition is directed away from individual performance and toward a group identity."

Education professor Paul George of the University of Florida stated that for students, group membership "must be the focus of identification."

The pre-eminence of the group over the individual was seen recently in a report on the services for gifted students in one suburban school district. Teachers objected to allowing gifted students to leave class for enrichment activities, because these children "often provide a needed spark" for the rest of the students.

This comports with the views of social activist Mara Sapon-Shevin, who claims that "a child who is academically advanced could in fact be valued for this difference if that child's performance were helpful to the entire group."

In other words, in some school districts, allowing an individual to have their intellectual needs met is trumped by the perceived needs of the group. In this case, high-ability students are expected to sacrifice the opportunity to develop their own talents and abilities in order to serve the needs of the group--needs that should be addressed not by students, but by the teacher.

In a larger sense, this has evolved into the movement to eliminate the recognition of individual merit. As a result, in some schools, spelling bees, science fairs--even the honor of valedictorian--are being eliminated, often with the justification that individual recognition might harm the self-esteem of others.

Consider the concept of merit pay for teachers. Doesn't it make sense to reward an individual whose classroom skills produce remarkable student achievement?

The idea of rewarding excellence makes sense in the rest of the economy, but many educators blanch at the idea. They view the acknowledgement that some teachers may be better than others as unfair or demoralizing to the group, so they lobby for pay to be based on longevity and coursework instead of merit--thus keeping the members of their group happy.

Carry this forward into the debate on smoking in restaurants. The battle is between a group (nonsmokers) and individuals (property owners). Nonsmokers declare that, as a group, they have the right to eat in a smoke-free environment. The problem with that argument is that no one is taking this right away. An individual can practice free will and choose to go to any restaurant they please, and if they prefer an establishment that prohibits smoking, fine.

The problem is that members of this group want all restaurants to prohibit smoking--a move that conflicts with the individuals who own clubs and restaurants, who argue that they should be able to run their establishments as they see fit--smoking or not. Nationwide, this group is winning and individuals are losing.

Even prospective presidential candidates have made their views known on this topic. It is reported that when a woman complained to Hillary Clinton that she did not want to be forced into a health care plan that she didn't choose, Hillary replied: "It's time to put the common good, the national interest, ahead of individuals."
If the attitude Yecke describes does not scare you, well, all one can do is shrug.

Update: So who is one of the first to chime in and by example make Yecke's point? He does it here and here.