What's Next: Children Barred From Coal Mines? Nanny State Bans Undermine School Tests, Satanic Rituals, Farm Work
Here's two stories from the frontlines of American childhood (which truth be told, died whenever I went through puberty).
First up is a classic case of nanny-state stupidity from the unlikely epicenter of so many stupid rules: New York City.
A ban in Big Apple schools prevents tests from using such filthy words as dinosaur, birthday, and Halloween on city-wide tests. Why?
…such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."
Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren't celebrated by Jehovah's Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism.
Even "dancing" is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet.
The forbidden topics were recently spelled out in a request for proposals provided to companies competing to revamp city English, math, science and social-studies tests given several times a year to measure student progress….
Officials say such exclusions are normal procedure.
"This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction," said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it's not censorship.
In fact, sensitivity guidelines recently published by a group of states creating new high-stakes exams also caution against mentioning luxuries, group dancing, junk food, homelessness or witches.
Yet a comparison shows the city's list, at 50 topics, is nearly twice as long and has fewer exceptions.
Lord, that I had been spared exam questions about "group dancing"! I might have made something of myself! It's a good thing that New York school-prisoners are waiting for Superman and not Devil Dinosauar and Moon-Boy, because the latter ain't allowed anywhere near a school.
And just so you don't think that it's only big cities that are hell-bent on protecting the delicate little flowers that are the ineffective leaders of tomorrow, check out the rumblings in America's heartland, where farm states that get more from the federal government than they pay in are in a tizzy over proposed farm-labor regs that will keep Junior from riding a tractor until he's collecting Social Security:
Proposed labor restrictions cutting a path through Congress may adversely affect younger teens. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed modifying child labor regulations for work on the farm in an effort to "strengthen the safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture."
New laws would keep teens under 16 from operating nearly all power-driven farm equipment. Legislation would prohibit anyone under 18 from working at a grain elevator, feed lot or similar facility….
"It's a terrible idea to restrict kids on their own family farm," [a farm co-op manager] concluded. "I don't mind good government and good laws. Sometimes, the laws can over-reach."
Anxieties about children are nothing new, and neither are stupid, well-intentioned laws. By virtually any and all measures, kids are doing better than ever. To better understand the panic attacks that grow with every passing year, check out this 1997 Reason story by yours truly that is titled "Child-Proofing the World." A snippet:
The threats are everywhere, we are told: If children are not hounded by ritual satanic child abusers at day care or by perverts on the Internet, then they're sucking in too much asbestos at school, or chewing on too much lead at home; if television, purportedly the babysitter of choice in the overwhelming majority of American homes, hasn't transformed kids into underperforming, slackjawed dullards, it has overstimulated them into feral children who must be tamed with Ritalin and Prozac; if we haven't failed the kids by not spending unlimited amounts of tax money on them, then we have transformed them into shallow consumers who can only measure affection in terms of dollars spent; if they're not at elevated risks of brain cancer from eating hot dogs, then they're likely to become punch- drunk from heading soccer balls; and on and on.
Bonus story about "helicopter parents" being the real problem (duh): Colorado Springs Cancels Easter Egg Hunt Due to Misbehavior by Parents.