Monday, August 22, 2011

Hymowitz Award Nomination

If you are a history teacher, chances are, you have read at least one essay that starts out with,
Throughout history, societies have . . .
Hopefully, you have crossed these words out and drawn some sort of frowny face before commenting on the inherent weakness of such grandiose statements. In a better world, the student writer would take this advice to heart and learn the joys of being specific. In the actual world, he will go on to write an opinion piece for the New York Times.

In today's NYT, Professor Joel Bakan informs us that "there is reason to believe that childhood itself is now in crisis." Oh noes! What with the gadgets and the sugar and whatnot, the apocalypse is surely upon us.

Look, I'm sure that Professor Bakan actually has some interesting things to say about the purported subject of his essay — the conflict between corporate rights and children's rights at the end of a century of enormous changes in the laws that govern both American corporations and American children. Too bad that's not the essay that made it into the NYT.

Instead of an insightful consideration of who benefits from these specific legal developments, we get an awful lot of fuzzy, a-historical pearl clutching. I have no doubt that poor regulations expose children to harmful chemicals. But is it actually true that, "children today are being exposed to increasing quantities of toxic chemicals"? Like, more than when they worked in tanneries? Or when lead paint and plumbing were still big? Is the risk of toxic chemical exposure really increasing relative to the pre-Superfund era?

Prof. Bakan does raise some tepidly interesting points about over-medication, but the whole piece is just terribly framed. I swear, when I read, "Throughout history, societies have struggled with how to deal with children," my eyes rolled of their own accord. It doesn't help that the whole first paragraph is a standard-issue "it feels like something is wrong" when the kids these days get all mesmerized by their beep-beep-boop-de-boop. Bakan offers a brief nod to the idea that his own parents' generation was likely just as concerned about The Rock and Roll as he is about The Internetz, but he glosses over that quickly, assuring readers that, "the issues confronting parents today can’t be dismissed as mere generational prejudices."

Where have I seen this before?
The wise Man doth justly condemn the folly of those, that are always saying and complaining, what is the cause that the former dayes were better than these? . . . Such complaints often proceeding from Ignorance in History, or non-observation of the vices in those of former, and virtues in some of the present Generation . . . All this not withstanding, some Times are more corrupt, dark, and miserable than can be said of all . . . Yea, the dreggs of those times are now at hand.
That's Increase Mather, on the case in 1679, in his "Call from Heaven," a pamphlet on the raising of godly children.

The Hymowitz Award is awarded for misuses of history in jeremiads.

1 comment:

MsGenealogist said...

Am all excited about discovering your blog - and this post made me laugh out loud through my fog of tiredness and cold symptoms.