Saturday, September 02, 2006

Zero Tolerance And Education: Crucifixion without Christ

NO MERCY. By Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

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This past summer, Rhett Bomar, the starting quarterback for the University of Oklahoma Sooners, was cut from the team when he was found to have been “overpaid” (receiving wages for more hours than he worked, with the apparent complicity of his boss) at his job at a car dealership. Even in Oklahoma, people seemed to think that kicking someone off a football team for having cut a few corners on his job made perfect sense. This is the age of zero tolerance. Rules are rules. Students have to be held accountable for their actions. Institutions must signal their expectations firmly and unambiguously: every school principal and every college president, these days, reads from exactly the same script.

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Somewhere along the way—perhaps in response to Columbine—we forgot the value of discretion in disciplining the young. “Ultimately, they have to make right decisions,” the Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, said of his players, after jettisoning his quarterback. “When they do not, the consequences are serious.” Open and shut: he sounded as if he were talking about a senior executive of Enron, rather than a college sophomore whose primary obligation at Oklahoma was to throw a football in the direction of young men in helmets. You might think that if the University of Oklahoma was so touchy about its quarterback being “overpaid” it ought to have kept closer track of his work habits with an on-campus job. But making a fetish of personal accountability conveniently removes the need for institutional accountability. (We court-martial the grunts who abuse prisoners, not the commanding officers who let the abuse happen.) To acknowledge that the causes of our actions are complex and muddy seems permissive, and permissiveness is the hallmark of an ideology now firmly in disgrace. That conservative patron saint Whittaker Chambers once defined liberalism as Christ without the Crucifixion. But punishment without the possibility of redemption is worse: it is the Crucifixion without Christ.

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2 comments:

Don said...

Marian, the problem with Bomar was actually between the University and the NCAA (the national federation which polices college sports). These kinds of 'jobs' used to be a common dodge for schools or their 'boosters' (uber fans) to pay a star player to play for them when there is supposed to be no payment at all.

Had Stoops (the coach) dealt leniently with Bomar the result might well have been the NCAA putting the entire team on probabtion, forfeiting any games won which Bomar played in and very possibly being disqualified for playing for the championship of their conference or in bowl games.

The consequences to Bomar will be rather small. He must transfer to another university and not play football for a year, then he can resume his career.

Will he be able to do this? Almost certainly. Bomar was a concensus '5 star' player in high school (one of the top 25 players in his year) and played very well for Oklahoma last year at the most important position. He could go almost anywhere and play right away after sitting out a year.

Marian said...

Don,

thanks for the input. Apparantly, I don't know anything about U.S. college sports.

I didn't want to make a point. I just thought that the quote on liberalism was funny.