Saturday, July 24, 2010

Good guys (and gals) finish last

Two researchers on child development comment in the NYT on new law in Massachusetts requiring schools to institute anti-bullying programs, investigate complaints, report serious cases, etc. They are concerned the new legislation will encourage schools to make mostly superficial efforts which will not produce real results. The title of the article proclaims: "There’s Only One Way to Stop a Bully" - and this is "to teach children how to be good to one another" and to instill in them "a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others." Let's say schools and teachers decide to make an all-out, determined effort to "instill" these laudable values. On the other hand, children cannot remain blind to the fact that in the jostling for social status going on everywhere around them - from school cliques to boardrooms - it is often the nice guys and gals who finish last. And existing social mechanisms for the distribution of material and non-material rewards often favor, in the words of Paul Krugman, "bad actors." As Donald Trump likes to reminds his "apprentices," you do need to be tough, sometimes even mean, if you want to play with the big boys. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this state of affairs - many will argue that this very harshness of the competition at all levels is at the heart of the dynamism which sets American capitalism apart from the more lethargic European versions. But it's quite obvious which lesson will leave a stronger mark on the minds of most impressionable kids and adolescents.