Thursday, October 18, 2012

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ... The French Motto and Our Humpty Dumpty World

Recently we noted that in today's political sweepstakes the words middle class, millionaires and billionaires have taken on a Humpty Dumpty meaning in that "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

So what do some other commonly used words and phrases such as "everybody gets a fair shot," freedom and equality mean in today's political climate?

Today we'll look specifically to the French and their Socialist President's views on homework for answers as to how different people can  and do mean different things when they use the words "fair shot," "playing by the rules" and "equal opportunity."

When used properly, equal opportunity and freedom are wonderful words, but depending on how they're used, they frequently mean different things to different people.

For example, equal opportunity does not create equal results. If we want equal results, we in fact have to restrict freedom. Otherwise a few will make the extraordinary effort to excel and as a result achieve success far greater than most of us will.

That's the effect of human nature at work and all it means is that as we begin we're all C students. Then most of us will go on to earn Cs, but a few will do what it takes to get As and some will get Fs.

Extraordinary individual achievement is almost always related to hard work, perseverance, motivation and character. Not brains. It brings to mind people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Sam Walton.

So to me being given a fair shot means only that at the outset everybody has an equal chance to work and get the A. In the end, we will get what we earn, even if we receive an F. Of course, a little luck and a teacher or two along the way that likes us helps, too. But that's another story.

So equality of opportunity is what matters in a free society. On the other hand, equality of result means dumbing down and mediocrity --- that collectivism or socialism is the preferred approach.

At least that's what it says to me. Assuring equal results means limiting individual freedoms and equal opportunities.

The national motto of France has long been liberte, egalite, fraternitie, or liberty, equality, fraternity.

And now newly installed Socialist President Francois Hollande brings us a Humpty Dumpty dumbed down socialistic definition of the word equality.

In an effort to demonstrate how socialists think about the meaning of words and how that's often different than what the rest of us believe, we'll use the example of --- HOMEWORK.

France to Ban Homework. Really. says this about the ban on homework as a means of promoting equality. It's the dumbing down socialistic approach to equal results, mediocrity and a lower standard of living for all French citizens.

In any event, here's the French president's plan:

"François Hollande has a bold new plan to tackle social injustice and inequality in France: ban homework. Introducing his proposals for education reform last week at the Sorbonne, the French president declared that work "must be done in the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support the children and re-establish equality."

Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.

These small-scale experiments aim to give students more freedom to excel on their own initiative. Mr. Hollande wants just the opposite. As Education Minister Vincent Peillon told Le Monde, the state needs to "support all students in their personal work, rather than abandon them to their private resources, including financial, as is too often the case today." The problem, in other words, isn't with homework per se. It's that some homes are more conducive to homework than others.

Here we begin to wonder: Are the French losing their mind? Fortunately not. More than two-thirds of the country would oppose the ban, according to an Ifop poll, so there's hope that even in the land of égalité there's some recognition that state power cannot equalize everything. It's also reassuring to know that a majority of French adults believe there's something to be said for instructing children in the need for personal initiative and responsibility, regardless of excuses or circumstances.

Mr. Hollande, however, remains out of step. At the Sorbonne, he stressed that school is where "the child becomes the citizen of the future." Perhaps his ideas about homework say something about the kind of citizens of the future he wishes to see." 

Summing Up

So when you hear about the rising inequality in America, ask yourself questions like these: Why is it happening? Or why aren't all little league baseball players destined for the major leagues? Or why doesn't everybody make the honor roll, graduate from high school or college with a straight A average, or become the boss or even CEO of the company?

Or does this have something to do with hard work, time on task and perseverance? And why do we want to diminish the desire to excel in the name of equality?

What does freedom mean, if not the liberty to pursue one's dreams, even if that requires doing lots of homework?

My view is that we should each be free to build what we want to build and can build, and to spend as much time building whatever it is we choose to try to build or become. That's freedom and equal opportunity at work.

That may not be the French president's preferred way, but it's the best way.

It's called freedom, individualism and self reliance, and when combined with making sure that we reach out to help those in our "American fraternity" who need our help, it's the absolutely hands down winning way.

Thanks. Bob.

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