Columnist offers his wishes for the new year

December 30, 2010|By ALLAN POWELL

As the New Year relentlessly presses its way into our consciousness each year, there is a predictable rash of articles with lists of wishes for the upcoming year. Some are humorous and are intended to evoke a chuckle, while others represent the vision of the writer for the future. The following are a few wishes I am hoping for. 

First is a plea for less panic-filled articles about "The Failure of Our Public Schools." Usually, these articles support their claims by comparing the test scores of European students with American students. The disparity is attributed to the poor quality of American education. To be sure, there are areas where American educators are struggling to achieve satisfactory results. They are frequently reminded of these shortcomings by critics.

There are factors in American society that represent serious challenges for our educators. In addition, the fundamental plans on which the two educational systems rest are different. The American system covers a wide expanse of territory and is more massive in its coverage of students from kindergarten through 12th grade. This sets the stage for higher costs and lower test scores.


American students develop within a youth culture that does not hold intellectual achievement in high esteem. There is also an overexposure to course and mindless movies and television. It is highly probable that a lack of parenting is also behind the poor performance of many students. The foregoing facts create a context that requires educators to be wonder workers to get a favorable outcome.

These problems and more are but secondary, tertiary and quaternary influences brought forward to explain personal failure on the part of students. The primary reason must ultimately be placed on the failure of individuals to respond to the pleas and opportunities to do their share in getting an education. 

Way back in the 1940s, when I and my three brothers dropped out of school at old Hagerstown High School to join the Navy, we knew — without a shadow of a doubt — that our failure was not the fault of any teacher or official. They did not fail us — we failed them. A tour of duty in the Navy made it possible to overcome the difficulties we faced and turn things around. 

A second wish is that politicians of both major parties would refrain from using the overworked phrase "the American people." When they say, "The American people do not want to extend unemployment benefits" or "The American people are opposed to minimum wage laws," they are bound to know that they are guilty of "overspeak." America has such a diversified population, with such a variety of opinion, that it is quite impossible to classify so many variations into a singularity.

Another very significant wish is for the well-being of all of those who work day and night —much of the time under difficult and perilous conditions, to protect us from harm. On cold days and nights when a firetruck, ambulance or police car is speeding to the aid of someone in trouble, there is a sigh of thanks for what they do for our safety. Their daily risks deserve our profound admiration and thanks.

A final wish is that Republican politicians would cease the fraud of claiming that they are for the Bush tax cuts in order to advance the ability of the upper 2 percent of our wealthiest citizens to expand their entrepreneurial capacity to help employment. As Judge Judy will occasionally blurt out when she is peeved at a devious litigant, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining."

There is plenty of information available to indicate the real reason for so much solicitude for the welfare of the upper 2 percent of our citizens. They are the major source of funds for political campaigns needed for very expensive re-elections. Our political system is a closely knit fraternity of the military, industrial and financial elite, enabled by a political elite, to hold the arrangement together. We really need to be paying closer attention than usual to what is going on. 

Seldom does anyone get all of the things that they have wished for and they might not get any. Nonetheless, wishes are hopes and it is our hopes that guide our energies toward a better world. As has been said, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast."

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College

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