Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What's Up, Fatty?

It seems that the best lessons are worth learning several times.

We have forgotten the lesson of Reefer Madness: that the true madness was the overblown hysteria of the parents in reaction to a substance that

  • probably wasn't, at that time, part of their children's lives
  • research proved to be a relatively minor threat
  • turned out to be downright safe in comparison with heroin, coke, crack, meth, and so on
So, in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, the fat principal who doesn't understand MySpace or students' rights to free speech, banished an honor's student to a remedial class where he had to stack paper clips to learn about teamwork.


I'm going to skip over the paper clip curriculum, assuming for the time being that it's a valid exercise with measurable goals, and not just another program that wastes the time and talent of students who are hard to educate.

The article is worth reading because Kevin Poulsen, the writer, does cover all of the angles, and allows everyone to rebut each other without allowing anyone to get away with spouting unsubstantiated propaganda. I particularly appreciate his debunking of the "rash of cases" statistics. I thought at first that he was going to follow the traditional American media template, stating that there were a certain number of cases recently and then declare a crisis. My bad. I forgot that I was reading Wired.

I also found it thoughtful of him to include a primer on constitutional law as it affects public schools. I would have thought that such a topic might have come up in the professional development of a high school prinicipal once or twice. You know, something like, "S'up Fatty? Ever hear of this Constitution thing?" Apparently not, which is why it's good that Poulsen included it here, so Fatty can bone up on all that legal-type stuff.

Another good suggestion comes from the educator who points out that this could be a teachable moment, rather than an excuse for a crackdown. As that educator says, however, crackdowns are easy, teaching is hard. It would have been a good opportunity to teach everyone about how hard it is to get along peacefully in a free society, in which even hurtful speech is tolerated. Perhaps Fatty could have educated everyone about why he's large. Does he just love to eat? Have a medical condition? Aspire to be a sumo wrestler? Grind the bones of smart-ass honors students to make his bread?

Now that everyone has retreated to their legal bunkers and is busy lobbing rounds at each other, we'll never know what could have been learned from this. We're left with these unlearned lessons:
  • Overblown, unsubstantiated hysteria does not lead to good education or public policy.
  • A handful of exceptions out of millions of cases doesn't constitute a crisis, disaster, or failure.
  • Any site that's on the Web, particularly one with 57 million subscribers is not a "cyber secret," or any other kind of secret, for that matter.
  • Stacking paper clips has nothing to do with education or teamwork, no matter how remedial the students.
There is one lesson we did learn: John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Horatio Sanz notwithstanding, not all fat people are funny or have a sense of humor.


  1. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Paper clips were the perfect purgatory. What this hapless hog blogger had clearly forgotten in his lyric to largesse is that we live in a world of connection. Every computer is connected to every other computer; every person is six degrees away from having bacon; every action is followed by a quick and merciless reaction. Paper clips are the perfect reminder of the endless chain of life. (Didn't Disney use that image at the beginning of Lion King, where all the herbivores celebrate how limitlessly cool it is to be able to predigest the caloric intake of the carnivores?)

  2. Ahh, Disney imagery.

    One of my favorites is the snack bar outside the Pocohantas stage show at Disneyland, which sells "Colors of the Wind Nachos."