Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Defining Deviancy Down

Have we had enough? It’s beginning to look that way. The final straw? Maybe. Kids, 11-13, can now get birth control pills at Portland’s King Middle School, possibly without their parents’ knowledge. Boys’ voices haven’t changed yet but the school gives them condoms. Five students told the nurse they were sexually active and she decided that the school should prescribe them birth control. The School Committee in that bluest city of the very blue state of Maine agreed with a 7-2 vote. According to the Portland Press Herald: “Of 134 students who visited King's health center during the 2006-07 school year, five students, or 4 percent, reported having sexual intercourse, said Amanda Rowe, lead nurse in Portland's school health centers. ‘This is a service that is totally needed,’ Rowe said. ‘It’s about very few kids, but they are kids who don’t have the same opportunities and access as other students.’”

Opportunities? What is she talking about? She wants to offer them opportunities to behave irresponsibly and avoid some of the consequences? What will she offer next? A taxi service to Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Clinic? Or, is she offering the rest of us an opportunity to keep our blinders on, to avoid taking a hard look at how low our culture has sunk? Students need parental permission to take Tylenol, but not to take strong hormonal birth control pills or injections - or even to get an abortion. Parents of school kids might object if they knew their unborn grandchildren were going to be killed. Better that they never know there was a pregnancy. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

The blue “progressives” who rule this state believe we must catch up to Canada and Europe with their enlightened permissiveness and socialized medicine. They agree with Hillary Clinton that It Takes A Village to raise a child and parents sometimes get in the way. Some mothers and fathers here in Maine don’t believe the varied versions of sexuality so popular in Portland are wonderful things. They still think a lot of them are just plain wrong and they don’t want parades to celebrate them. So it becomes necessary for Hillary Clinton’s Village People to go around bigoted parents and use schools to influence their kids “progressively” - make students more like those sophisticated Europeans. It’s for the children.

When the story broke, Maine’s Christian Civic League (CCL) demanded that state Attorney General Stephen Rowe investigate Portland’s school-based health clinics for not reporting underage sexual activity as Maine state law requires. That was awkward, because Rowe is married to Amanda Rowe, the lead nurse who wants to pass out the birth control. Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson did investigate, however, and determined that the CCL was right - sexual activity by thirteen-year-olds violates Maine law and has to be reported. According to the Press Herald:
Although Portland officials intend to comply with the law, exactly what the law requires remains unclear, [Portland City Attorney Gary] Wood said. Having sex with a 13-year-old is clearly illegal, he said, but the law doesn't address the possibility of the other person involved being 13 years old, too. "I think (Anderson) has raised a legitimate point," Wood said. "I'm just not sure that consensual sexual activity (between two 13-year-olds) constitutes abuse." If Anderson's office received a report of two 13-year-olds having sex, she said, each minor would be considered a victim and a perpetrator and the case likely wouldn't be prosecuted. Wood said he plans to seek guidance from Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe.”

Around and around it goes. Where the buck stops, nobody knows - not in Portland anyway. Maybe the Village People there can look to those sophisticated Europeans for guidance about what to do next. An Oslo, Norway paper reported last week that:

Norwegians woke up Tuesday morning to news that a respected Oslo pre-school teacher, backed by child psychologists, thinks children should be allowed to openly express their own sexuality, not least through sex play and games in the local day care centers known as barnehager, or kindergartens. . . . Pia Friis, leader of the popular Bjerkealleen Barnehage in Oslo and a well-known pre-school educator, told newspaper Dagbladet on Tuesday that children should be allowed to express their own sexuality at day care centers. She doesn't want to stifle what comes naturally. Children, she said, should be able "to look at each other and examine each other's bodies. They can play doctor, play mother and father, dance naked and masturbate.”

I wish I were making all this up but, sadly, I’m not. It’s outrageous of course, but so was the idea of “marriage” between two men or two women only ten years ago. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said four decades ago, we’re “defining deviancy down.” How low can we go? There’s evidence that we may finally be nearing bottom. In Norway, there’s a backlash to the idea of naked, masturbating kindergarteners similar to the backlash Portland’s Village People are feeling about their idea of birth control for eleven-year-olds. Have people finally had enough? Maybe. About time, huh?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Survey Said . . .


“The Portland School Committee voted last night to give birth control pills to middle schoolers,” I told the class, holding up a copy of the Portland Press Herald. Several students were quick to tell me and each other that they had seen the story on the news. “Okay! one person speak at a time! Please!” I said over the din. “Raise your hand if you have something to say. Can one of you sum this up?”

A girl down back said, “Kids at the King Middle School will be able to get birth control pills if their parents give permission, but they won’t necessarily know about it.” Others were holding up their hands enthusiastically, waiting for me to call on them.

“That sounds contradictory,” I said. “Parents give permission, but they might not know about their kid getting birth control pills?”

“It’s confusing,” she said, “but parents give permission for their child to go to the health clinic for something else. Then the nurse, or whoever, might give them birth control and the parents won’t know. There’s a confidentiality thing going on with the kid and the nurse.”

“I get it,” I said.

“Why would sixth graders need birth control, Mr. McLaughlin?” asked a boy.

“Good question,” I answered. “It says here in the sidebar that: ‘The percentage of middle school students in Maine who reported having sexual intercourse dropped from 23 percent in 1997 to 13 percent in 2005, according to the Maine Youth Risk Behavior Survey.’ Now you guys filled out that survey in 2005 when you were in sixth grade,” I continued, “and you can see that the results from it are being used here to justify the school committee’s decision. Do you think the surveys are accurate?”

They looked at each other for a second, seemingly perplexed. “Oh yeah,” said a girl. “I remember that.” Several others nodded as they recalled the survey too.

“The survey indicated that, back in 1997 when you were only three years old, about one out of four middle schoolers were having sex,” I continued. “So, of course you were too young to know if that’s accurate or not. But you were eleven when you filled out the survey in 2005 and those results indicated that one in eight middle schoolers were having sex. Those are your answers and the answers from other kids around the state that are being used here. Does that one-out-of-eight statistic sound right to you?”

“You can’t go by what kids wrote on those,” said a boy. Most other students also voiced skepticism. A dozen side conversations sprang up.

“Okay,! Okay!” I said, trying to bring them all back. “Why not?”

“Nobody’s going to tell the truth on those,” someone said.

“Why not?” I asked again. They all wanted to talk at once. “One at a time!” I said again. Raise your hands!”

“First of all,” said a girl, “kids would be afraid the teacher would know what they wrote.”

“But they were supposed to be anonymous,” I said. “You didn’t put your name on them.”

“But teachers would know what your handwriting looked like and they could find out,” she said.

“Or they’d get the results back from the state saying there were X number of kids at Molly Ockett Middle School having sex, and the teacher could probably figure out who those kids were,” said another student. “They sort of suspect already.”

“Or they’d be afraid the kid sitting beside them would see what they wrote,” said another.

“I see,” I said. “So, were the results under-reporting sexual activity among middle school kids? Over-reporting it? Or were they just unreliable?” I asked them.

“Well,” said a boy, “Boys would probably put that they were having sex more than they really were, and girls would probably put that they were having it less. That’s the way it is.”

“I see. So would they balance each other out?”

“It’s all unreliable,” said a girl. “They shouldn’t go by what was on those surveys.”

“I think kids would be more tempted to have sex if the school passed out birth control pills,” said a boy.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because it’s like the school is saying it’s okay when they give students pills for it.”

I posed the question to several classes. Did they think middle school students were more likely to have sex if they got pills from the school? Overwhelmingly, they did think so. There were two or three in each group who didn’t, saying that kids who decided to have sex were going to do it anyway, no matter what the school did.

“This story is getting a lot of attention across the country,” I told them. “We haven’t heard the last on it. Keep watching the news, okay?”

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Degree of Value?


Know any young people with college degrees working in restaurants, retail stores, or somewhere else for which their degree is worthless? Do they owe tens of thousands in student loans? There are lots of them out there. Perhaps they are reevaluating the worth of a college education. I’m not talking about people who want to be engineers, nurses, biologists, or something else in the hard sciences. I’m talking about some of the the so-called “soft sciences” like Women’s Studies or Art History, or some other useless course of study. Only people with huge trust funds should pursue these majors.

A man who graduated from the University of Iowa in the early forties told me three weeks of summer work could pay for a year’s tuition there at the time. I earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Massachusetts State College system in the sixties and seventies by paying my own way throughout - no loans, no parental assistance, no financial aid of any kind. I just worked. I wanted to be a teacher and I needed at least one degree for that. My courses of study didn’t actually prepare me for the classroom, but they did get me certified. Can young people do that today? It would be much more difficult, if not impossible.

The cost of college has risen faster than nearly everything else while the quality has declined drastically. Government is contributing more and more for “higher education” and getting less and less. The federal government has $448 billion out there in student loans and put out $74 billion in new aid for the 2004/5 school year alone. Are we getting better citizens with all that investment? Doesn’t look like it. According to an April, 2007 article in The Eagle Forum:

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute contracted with the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy to undertake the largest statistically valid survey ever conducted in order to find out what colleges and universities are teaching their students about U.S. history and institutions. They surveyed 14,000 randomly selected college freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities. The students were tested with 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: American history, American government, America and the world, and the market economy. Freshmen and seniors were given the same test, and here are the results. Seniors scored only 1.5 percent higher, on average, than freshmen, and at 16 schools, seniors scored lower than freshmen.

So, what are we getting for our investment? Looks like less for more. Which are the institutions where seniors know less than freshmen? They’re some of our “prestigious” universities like Yale, Brown, and Georgetown with tuitions nearing $40,000 per year. It’s not just tax money being wasted either. The big foundations like the Ford, Carnegie, Mott, Rockefeller and Mellon Foundations have invested tens of millions in Women’s Studies, African-American Studies as well as Gay and Lesbian Studies. What can a person with a degree in one of those majors do? Teach Women’s, African American, or Gay and Lesbian Studies courses, I guess. Nothing else comes to mind. According to a 1996 City Journal article by Heather MacDonald:

Not content with setting up separate departments of ethnic and gender studies, foundations have poured money into a powerful movement called “curriculum transformation,” which seeks to inject race, gender, and sexual consciousness into every department and discipline. A class in biology, for example, might consider feminine ways of analyzing cellular metabolism; a course in music history might study the hidden misogyny in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—actual examples. One accomplishment of the curricular transformationists is to distinguish bad, “masculine” forms of thinking (logic, mathematics, scientific research) from good, “feminine” forms, which subordinate the search for right answers to “inclusiveness” and “wholeness.”

Uh-huh. You can’t make this stuff up. Do you wonder what Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller would have say about how their money is being spent? Clearly, our colleges and universities suffer from a problem of too much money rather than not enough. Our young people will probably be able to live normal lives without searching for the “right” answers to “inclusiveness” and “wholeness,” much less incurring huge debt to do so. I know I have.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Prestigious University?


Am I the only one who is tired of hearing Columbia referred to as “prestigious”? I mean, what have they done lately? They used to employ and graduate talented people who went on to do great things for their country in various fields, but the institution hasn’t had much to brag about for a while and Columbia might more rightly be called a formerly-prestigious university. As we all know, they invited a racist, terrorist dictator, who is perhaps the biggest enemy of the United States, to speak there. The United Nations had to let him come, but Columbia chose to invite him. Is that what prestigious universities do? Not in my opinion, and it’s part of a decades-long pattern.

When criticism arose about the terrorist Ahmadinejad’s invitation, Lee Bollinger fell back on the “freedom of speech” excuse, as if that would explain his school’s latest quasi-treasonous action. Does Bollinger remember who preserves Columbia’s freedom of speech? Soldiers, that’s who, but Columbia won’t allow ROTC on his “prestigious” campus. He allows military recruiters at the law school only because the US Supreme Court upheld the Solomon Amendment recently and Columbia would lose federal funds if he continued to ban them. Even though students voted nearly 2-1 to ease restrictions on ROTC following the September 11th attacks, the administration still refuses to allow it. Columbia’s faculty and administration claim our government discriminates with its “Don’t ask; don’t tell” policy toward homosexuals in the military. Columbia claims to ban all forms of discrimination - unless it’s against patriotic Americans. That kind of discrimination is encouraged, nurtured even. Are the “adults” there to the left of students now? Seems like it.

In 2003, an assistant professor named Nicholas De Genova called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq, saying: "Peace is not patriotic. Peace is subversive, because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live--a world where the U.S. would have no place. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military. I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus." To those who considered such statements treasonous, President Lee Bollinger fell back on his usual explanation: "Assistant Professor Nicholas De Genova was speaking as an individual at a teach-in. He was exercising his right to free speech. His statement does not in any way represent the views of Columbia University,” he said.

Is that right, Mr. Bollinger? Then why does your university hire people like that? Why do you promote them? Until his recent death, Edward Said was a university professor - the highest rank for a professor at Columbia. Said believed that Yassir Arafat - the father of modern terrorism - was not aggressive enough toward Israel. Hijackings, murders, assassinations and suicide bombers are too gentle for Professor Said. “The stones and slings of young men [of the Palestinian Intifada] are now offering courageous resistance to a demeaning fate meted to them by Israeli soldiers armed by the United States, policed by Arafat's apparatus with U.S. military and financial aid," Said wrote. The Columbia professor was actually caught on film joining in the stone-throwing himself. His Palestinian allies were also filmed as they danced in the streets after hearing of the September 11th attack.

The Ahmadinejad fiasco is only the latest in a series of anti-American outrages at Columbia going back to 1968 when they let radical leftist students occupy their administration building for eight days so the media could fawn over them and their anti-war views. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough once asked a guest, Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, this question: “What's wrong with Columbia University where they let somebody like Said teach there and they celebrate his teachings and they also allow another professor to root against America in their war in Iraq?”

“They're too superior to feel patriotism for the United States,” Pipes answered. “These are internationalists who look at the world from, you know, a kind of lunar position, you know, far away, no allegiances. They feel genuinely distant from the United States. They don't like this country very much.”

Sounds like the kind of “unbiased” perspective we see in many of our mainstream media personalities. It’s not fashionable to wear American flag lapel pins or say “our” troops when reporting the War with Radical Islam. It makes me wonder how many of them are graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism. After studying curricula in which courses in western civilization have been dropped in favor of others purporting that heterosexual, capitalist, white men are responsible for most of the world’s problems, we shouldn’t wonder why they turn out that way.

They’ve been called prestigious so often that many who teach at Columbia, with its $6 billion endowment and $37,000 per year tuition rate, believe themselves way above other Americans who love their country and are willing to fight and die for it. It’s past time that Columbia be disabused of its pompous notions.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Fair: Like It Or Not


Everybody knows when it’s Fryeburg Fair week. You can’t live in western Maine with being affected. Everyone’s routine changes because, even if you never go to the fair, you have to plan on leaving earlier to get someplace if you’re going anywhere near Fryeburg village. A week earlier, all the highways leading into western Maine are filled with unusual-looking vehicles carrying fried dough stands and carnival rides. Seeing all this strange-looking cargo, school kids get keyed up and by the time the fair opens, they’re wired. Some work there, especially if their parents run a small business and depend on the income they earn in a booth during that frenetic week. Some park cars for property-owners near the fairgrounds. Others just go and hang out there every day. Whatever their reasons, a lot of school kids are tired or wired, or both. Others are just absent.

When my children were young, I took them to the fair. Money was tight in those days and I had to say no to them often. If I had to pay at the entrance I don’t think I could have afforded it, but I usually knew someone who worked there and would let us in free. I couldn’t pay for them to go on the rides until the last night when bracelets were sold for about $5 or $10 apiece, allowing them to ride them all until closing time. I’d buy a bracelet for myself too and we’d all be pretty tired when we got home. By the time my kids were teenagers, however, they wouldn’t want to be seen with parents in a public place like that, so my duty was to drop them off and pick them up. Once they got old enough to drive themselves to the fair, I stopped going altogether.

There’s one thing at the Fryeburg Fair I’ve never seen, however, and would really like to, and that’s Woodsman’s Day. For about twenty-five years, I cut wood from my family’s wood lot in West Lovell and from my own property here on Christian Hill. I’d work up at least seven or eight cords every year until my life got so busy with other jobs that I heat with oil now. Back in those days I was interested in tractors and chain saws and trucks and I wanted to watch the guys who were really good at it show off their skills. Woodsman’s Day is held on the Monday of fair week when school is in session. I couldn’t call in sick and show up at the fair because too many people knew me. Guess I’ll have to wait until I retire from teaching before I can finally go.

When my own and the area kids went off to college and it wasn’t too far away, their first visit back home was usually during the long Columbus Day weekend - which was also fair week. It became almost obligatory for the new freshmen to flash their faces and meet old friends at the Fryeburg Fair. After a few more years, grandchildren started coming along. My first grandson wasn’t quite a year old when his mother and his two aunts wanted to be present for his first fair experience as he was pushed around in a stroller. It became a rite of passage to watch the first member of the newest generation to experience his first Fryeburg Fair. He’ll never remember it of course, but my daughters will, and we have the pictures.

Though I hadn’t attended for five years or so, I returned to the fair this year with my now seven-year-old grandson. It was fun to follow a boy his age around the grounds and see it all through his eyes. Though my legs got tired faster than his did, his enthusiasm was a balm for this late-middle-aged columnist as we checked out rides, gaming booths, food stands, animal barns, and grown-up toys like ATVs, snowmobiles and trucks. What he seemed to like most was the sheep dog competition.

Fairs have a long history going back several centuries - to middle-age Europe at least where they were important social, political and economic events. In Old England, fairs were commissioned by the king and lots of wealth changed hands just as it does today. Our local fair shows no signs of waning early in the twenty-first century either. Like it or not, we’re all going to have to enjoy it or endure it every year for the foreseeable future.

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