How demanding equality hurts education and mental health.
We are letting our emotions and humanistic strivings lead us down a dangerous path if we believe that “all men are created equal.” The truth is that all men are created unequal. There are no two humans who are equal in every respect, or even most respects. Our admirable impulse to make everyone the same is pretty dumb, when you think about it.
Our Constitution speaks of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness –– but it doesn’t say or intend that we will be equally happy, prosperous, successful, or holy.
Let’s start with Will Rogers, America’s greatest humorist. When he visited Communist Russia, he noted that “they don’t allow competition between different teams in athletic events. They claim that it is against true Communism; that if you defeat your fellow man it might make him think he is not as good as you, and they don’t want to leave that impression. If that was the way we looked at it over home (U.S.A.), imagine how poor Harvard would feel.”
Good old Will had it right, and I like the fact that he started with Harvard University. According to many Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and politicians in general, all students should go to Harvard. If they don’t, it means our teachers are incompetent and we have let our kids down.
This fear of differences leads to unrealistic school policies. There is big-time pressure for all students to succeed in academics, regardless of ability, motivation, or lack of early support and stimulation at home. This pressure to succeed academically translates to everyone needing to attend college, which in turn means pressure for all students to prepare for college.
This in turn means everyone should graduate from high school and that American schools have failed because some students are below grade level in reading or math. There is also denial of the fact that a high academic mental ability is necessary to achieve in academics! Critics of our school system say: “Surely everyone can at least learn to comprehend reading and math at grade level.” But they can’t.
The most harmful part of this “do-gooder” motivation is the lack of political support for career education. Kids who could do something they find relevant and earn industry certifications, instead drop out of school or learn watered-down academics that won’t land them a job.
How about mental health? A number of years ago marvelous movie and play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, generated sympathy for mentally ill individuals in state hospitals. Both conservatives and liberals decided it would be best to relocate these individuals in urban areas and support them with medication. This was once again based on the assumption that all people are the same or pretty much the same and embedding mentally ill people into a normal environment would make them well. Some of this may have been effective and there were some abuses in state hospitals, but we now have a large population of street people who are not receiving the mental health services they deserve.
This gets us back to the school system, because the same insistence on equality has led to placing children with significant emotional disorders in classrooms with non-ill kids. I have a friend who taught the sixth-grade for 25 years and one of his students was assigned a full-time aide to help in the classroom. The child could not keep up academically, and the class and school were losing their accreditation. The solution? The aide started taking the tests for the handicapped child –– that solved the problem.
Are there any limits to benevolent impulse? I suppose the next step will equate people and animals. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced recently that elephants will no longer perform in the circus. Elephants have been used in circuses for 200 years and if they were systematically abused, this is a good move. One author of a book on elephants indicates that they are sentient animals capable of a full range of human emotions.
If this is true, it means the elephant book author should receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Neuropsychologists are only beginning to study the several trillion neurons and connections in the brain and have little understanding of its makeup. The full range of human emotions may eventually be found in the human brain but we still have a long way to go.
We don’t even want to get into the potential inequalities found in gender differences, do we? Some people purport that men and women are the same, but it’s interesting to note that transgender research is showing differences in male and female brains and for every 100 males who graduate from college in 2016, 139 females graduate. Mark J. Perry, American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal, “Notable and Quotable,” May 2, 2002. Yet accusations of sexual misconduct come primarily from females and not males. I would like to suggest that maybe the genders are not the same.
When I was studying clinical psychology, books on individual differences were all the rage. I haven’t seen one lately. If you have a copy, maybe you could lend it to me.