Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Justin M. StoddardA Flagging Stupidity
Posted at 4:23 pm on May 10, 2010, by Justin M. Stoddard

“The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt.” — H.L. Mencken

For the most part, the out-of-proportion response to the suspension of five juveniles for wearing clothing emblazoned with American flags to school on Cinco de Mayo is all over but the shouting. Though this incident serves as incredibly effective fodder for the ever increasingly silly (and almost wholly invented) culture war being waged at the fringes, it also reminds those of us less prone to “the vapors” to recognize what’s important in cases such as these … and it is a central libertarian theme.

Sometimes we are put in the position where we feel obligated to defend stupidity.

Let’s not be coy about it. The act of donning over-the-top patriotic garb on Cinco de Mayo was an act of adolescent sophistry. Not that I’m opposed to such actions, were it aimed in the proper direction. But this was not an act aimed against an authority or unjust policy. It was simply aimed to, well … disrupt. Being such, it was impolite, uncouth, and a bit stupid. Certainly not an action that would elicit my sympathies. Until, that is, the Man stepped in and screwed everything up.

When the principal of the California school got involved, things got a bit surreal. Telling the students that they were welcome to wear such accoutrements any other day other than Cinco de Mayo, said principal immediately made himself out to be a bit of a buffoon. When he suspended the boys for the day and sent them home, he unwittingly thrust himself and the entire brouhaha into the national spotlight, proving to everyone in America what children have known for ages: A school administrator wielding arbitrary power is an irresistible recipe for ridicule.

Don’t let’s get caught in these culture war traps. What these boys did was silly and unwarranted, a feat begging to be ignored. Any intelligent school administrator would have recognized this stunt for what it was, and acted appropriately — that is, not at all. What we have now is a principal (and the school administrators who backed him) worthy only of ridicule and censure.

Race and immigration policies are tangential, here. This is about restraint (the wisdom of knowing when to wield and when to yield the power you have) and personal responsibility, two capacities for which individuals could stand to develop more.

[Cross-posted at Shrubbloggers.]

Filed under: Culture, Education, Nanny State
Comments: 2 Comments


  1. I haven’t read the story yet, so I’m not sure I’d agree. The idea that Americans should celebrate Cinco de Mayo strikes me as absurd on the face of it, but then, I don’t live in the Southwest.

    The Mencken quote is a key to understanding what’s wrong with schooling today: The education establishment has tarted up their profession with enough credentialism to ward off good teachers who might come from outside the School Industry to teach a few years, and then go back to other emprises. So, with near-universal forbidding of teaching by experienced but uncredentialed exemplars of knowledge, and with the establishment filling schools with more administrators than teachers, no wonder our schools tend to suck.

    The basic truth of modern education is that we now demand, exasperatingly, that our high school graduates perform at levels that used to be required of sixth grade graduates.

    In this environment, simply getting rid of all federal oversight and funding would probably be enough of a destabilizer to allow saner heads to take control.

    Comment by wirkman — 2010-05-10 @ 7:44 pm

  2. I agree with you entirely (a) that the students were stupid and pointlessly confrontational–perhaps even bigoted–and (b) that the principal should simply have ignored their behavior as a matter of prudence. It also seems to me, though, that there’s a pretty straightforward prohibition on content-based discrimination against speech on the part of state authorities. Surely that’s especially true of state authorities trying to restrict the speech of people forcibly corralled into attending state-operated or -approved schools.

    Comment by Gary Chartier — 2010-05-16 @ 11:32 am

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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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