If you keep up with this blog, you know that I’m in favor of kids catching tadpoles vs. playing Nintendo, climbing trees vs. memorizing bilingual flash-card drills, going camping vs. doing homework every day and night.  I think there’s a lot to be said for Kid as Savage, which is a Romantic idea.  Have a gander at Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burns, or any of the innumerable French Romantics, and you’ll know what I mean.

It’s probably because I grew up eating dirt and cracking my head open every other day–all in the interest of adventure and discovery.

I know I sound like a  fussy old coot, and I probably  am one.

Sometimes, though, even a fussy old coot is vindicated.

I’ve long thought that molly-coddling young-uns is really doing them a disservice.  The whole “You’re great!  You’re a winner!  You’re terrific, no matter how badly you’ve done!” ethic dooms them to a life of feeling superior when they probably aren’t (statistically, most people aren’t superior–let’s face it) and, worse, the inabilty to cope with criticism, even when it’s well-founded and deserved.

I started teaching in 1985, and if I gave somebody an F, they took it on the chin, because they knew they deserved an F.  Now, 25 years later, a lot of students who don’t get an A–no matter how badly they performed–blubber, whine, and complain to those over my head, calling me a meany.  They’re all from the “You’re terrific, no matter what!” generation.  Older students are more likely to take their lumps, do the work, and try to learn, rather than rest on their assumed laurels.

If I had to chalk this phenomenon up to anything, I would chalk it up to–believe it or not–quick-and-easy birth control.

I know, I know.  Now I really sound like I’ve gone ’round the bend.  But listen.

A guy named Carl Djerassi (who, by the way, lives in a house bordering Neil Young’s property in Kalifornia) invented the birth control pill–synthesized from a Mexican yam, oddly enough.  Djerassi has expressed some regret–not a lot, but some–at this accomplishment.  Once upon a time–pre-Mexican-yam-synthesis–people lived in houses and had kids.  Now women have some control over birth, and we delay families in the interest of school and careers, and we live in apartment complexes, and a lot of women have kids because the condom broke or the guy lied or it was a moment of passion or whatever–the underlying idea that “I don’t have to get pregnant if I don’t want to” is still there.

Please don’t misunderstand:  I am absolutely in favor of women making their own decisions about their bodies.  Intelligent women tend to make intelligent decisions; less intelligent women tend to make less intelligent decisions.  I’m starting to think that less-intelligent women are an encroaching percentage (and, of course, there are loads of unintelligent men, which certainly doesn’t help things).

I just think that quick-and -easy birth control (a very recent development) makes it much too easy to get away with thinking that profound actions don’t have to have profound consequences.

So Tommy Beefcake and Suzy Creamcheese get it on one night, she gets pregnant, and figures “It would be nice to have someone around who will love me and need me”–since Tommy Beefcake was a one-nighter and doesn’t fit that bill.

Suzy Creamcheese has a beautiful baby boy, but Suzy is still in college or climbing up the corporate ladder, and doesn’t spend as much time with Baby Creamcheese as she could.

How does she deal with it?  “You’re terrific!  Now mommy has to go.”  Superlatives take the place of time climbing trees, looking at bugs, making cookies, and skylarking in general.

No, I’m not heaping the entire onus on mothers.  The fathers in question can be just as bad, if not worse (there’s an argument for a biological imperative there; read Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee).

Thus we had the rise of “helicopter parents” and the “nanny state,” the altissimus cuspis, of which, I think, was the nut allergy mania.

There are public schools with segregated cafeteria tables specifically for nut kids.

I’ve been around a little while–since 1961–and I never heard a jot or tittle about nut allergies up until about ten years ago.  It was all the rage for quite a while, kind of like ADD was ten years before that.

ADD has pretty much crapped out, and people are starting to realize that nut allergies were over-estimated.

There was an outfit called the Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.  Want to guess what they did?  They fostered paranoia, printing and distributing pamphlets, flyers, and posters for schools, all about the evils of nuts.

Want to guess who funded the A & A N?

The people who make the Epi-Pen, which is that hypodermic thingy you jab into your thigh when you have an allergic reaction.

I would really like to know how much money they made off of the nut-paranoia scam.  There are kids who won’t walk down Aisle 6 at Safeway, for fear that the nuts will jump off the shelf and kill them.

Yes, I know, some people have legit nut allergies, and I’m not making light of that.  I’ve seen it happen, and it ain’t pretty.  But they’re a very small percentage of the population, especially compared to all the freak-out “Oh, good God, don’t let cashews near my baby!” parents.

The good news is that we finally seem to facing a turn-around.

Sensible scientists never let go of the idea that kids need to be exposed to icky things like germs, so that they can develop resistance.  And if you crack your head open as often as I did, you will eventually get the idea that it’s not a good thing, and you’ll cut it out.

Part of me wanted to slap every mother I saw at the grocery store, swabbing her shopping cart with disinfectant–and then wiping her kids down too.

Your kids spend a large part of the day at child-care and/or school.  Do you really think that sanitizing a shopping cart will somehow make them better?

Kids are naturally filthy, and I see nothing wrong with that.  If anything, I encourage it.

I certainly don’t want my daughter to crack her head open–ever–but if she comes home with tadpoles in the pockets of her overalls, I’ll be a very happy daddy.

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