Take No Prisoners

The American Way: Three Absolutely Backasswards Practices

Have you ever watched the news, read the paper, or sat through a high school class, and wondered why the hell people in America seem to do everything completely backasswards? I suppose it’s no surprise that we do things backwards in a country whose administration thinks an unprovoked invasion is a form of defense, but it never fails to amaze me how completely mismatched our system seems to be.

Here’s a few American practices and institutions that just don’t seem to make much damn sense when you really examine them:

1. Innocent Until Proven Guilty… on the Radio?

This is one of my personal favorites. We’ve all been told a thousand times that the greatest part of the American judicial system is that the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty – and, hey, I like this. It makes sense for a legal system to assume someone is innocent unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary.

What doesn’t make sense is that it’s alright to plaster the faces and names of individuals charged with a crime all over television, the newspaper, and any other media you prefer. What the hell is that? I’m presumed innocent, but CNN can tell the world that some jerk sheriff thinks I might be a child molester? Thanks, guys, that’s gonna endear me to the neighbors!

If a teacher is charged with a sex crime, do you think it will be easy for that educator to find a job teaching kids again, even if found innocent? Or a man charged with a murder that is later determined to be a suicide – will everyone shrug it off, or do you suspect there might be just a tiny shadow of doubt in the back of everyone’s mind?

Innocent until proven guilty is great, but then wait until someone is found guilty to tell everyone about their awful crimes. To do otherwise is, well, kind of a dick move.

2. We beat our kids, but ground our criminals.

Parenting is tough, and there are many schools of thought on how best to discipline a child, but one that has never made much sense to me is spanking. Now, I’m not talking about the one-two swat on a three-year-old’s behind right before they stick a fork in the socket; I’m talking about the middle-of-Wal-Mart-I’ll-give-you-something-to-cry-about-boy spankings that are part and parcel of daily life in the south.

Before I lose “y’all” spankers (that’s how they say it in the trailer park, right?), I’m not one of these hippies who thinks a kid can’t learn anything from a beating. Kids aren’t stupid, and they’re quick to realize that A+B=PAIN. There are just other ways of discipline that are just as effective – but more importantly to the topic at hand, it just doesn’t match up with what kids experience when they grow up.

Wouldn’t you think a more effective way of disciplining criminals would reflect, in some fashion, the discipline us adults remember from childhood? Those readers who were spanked will probably still shiver a little if they see Dad’s belt wrapped around a fist. Yet we don’t punish criminals with a belt. We punish them by grounding the shit out of them – for years. What’s wrong with this picture?

So we ground this guy…

…but beat this girl? WTF?

If I’m an immature kid, and mom catches me smoking marijuana, she uses physical violence to punish me; if I get caught doing the same thing as a damn adult, I just get grounded? What’s worse, if someone suggested beatings as a punishment for crime, there’d be inevitable comparisons to awful totalitarian regimes like China, where caning criminals is still a fun past-time (I guess it’s to occupy the folks whose kids have already grown up).

I don’t know what the solution is here. Should we cane our criminals, or ground our kids? Hm…

3. We use totalitarian education to teach future citizens of a democratic society.

Maybe this is the source of all the bullshit we post on here: the sad state of American education. Hey, it’s no secret that our schools suck and our kids don’t want to learn, right? But to be fair, would you want to learn if the fucking SS were teaching your class? Me either – that’s why I was homeschooled.

We’ve got a president who talks about spreading democracy to the world (and thankfully, we’ll have a different president hopefully talking about different goals by the time I update again), and while I realize that our American ‘democracy’ is a far cry from true democracy, it is at least founded in democratic principles. So why do we adopt such a fascist model for our schools?

Democracy and free society in general cannot function without an educated, critical citizenry who engage in free and open dialogue. Democracy without debate isn’t democracy at all – just look at the Bush White House, where dissent from Dubya’s plans is frequently silenced.

Yet we have an educational system that seems to be violently in opposition to dialogue. Have you ever tried correcting a teacher in an elementary school, or questioning information in your text books? Children are taught early on to accept whatever authority figures tell them is The Truth, and to always be mindful of anyone older, richer, and wiser than them.

Schools pass regulations to stop any conflict between students – because it’s too hard for unqualified educators to handle the conflict and let it be resolved in a civil fashion. Classes are set up with multiple choice exams where students memorize and repeat, instead of contextualizing and discovering information. Even the placement of the teacher in the classroom, standing before the whole class like Stalin before the proletariat, as a form of visual rhetoric, makes them seem like some distant and quasi-divine entity sent to the chalkboard to impart wisdom.

And now there’s the move in school districts across the country to go toward more uniforms and stronger dress codes.


Pictured: American schoolchildren, eagerly modeling their new Hitlerjugend uniforms.

Some people see children headed to school in their perfect uniforms and smile; I shiver. I shiver because those kids aren’t going to school to learn. They’re going to school to be indoctrinated. They’re going to school so our nation’s educators – blissfully unaware of how they are being used to subvert democracy – can teach them everything they need to know to ensure that a viable democracy will never exist in this country to take power away from those who already hold it. Next week, we’ll expand on this fatal flaw in education, and take a look at how an educator can be democratic rather than authoritarian.