Jewish World Review June 23, 2010 / 11 Tamuz 5770
The Latest Thievery: Best Friends
By Jonah Goldberg
There's a great moment in the 1993 movie "Searching for
Kingsley complains that her decision "just makes my job harder."
"Then your job's harder," she responds.
As the father of a 7-year-old myself, that scene comes to my mind all the time. Most recently, when I read a profoundly depressing story in the
"I think it is kids' preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults -- teachers and counselors -- we try to encourage them not to do that," said
"Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend," she continued. "We say he doesn't need a best friend."
As a result of this thinking, best friends are broken up. Buddies are put on separate teams, assigned different classes, etc. It's not quite the sort of thing cult leaders and North Korean prison guards do, but in principle it's not too far off either.
The response from across the ideological spectrum on the Web has mostly been outrage and disgust. Among the objections: Why ban successful, positive relationships in an effort to wean out negative ones? Why value the superficial over the meaningful? Why lie to kids that they can be friends with everyone? What about the damage to shy and introverted kids who particularly benefit from having a kindred spirit?
All good points, but it is a bizarre symptom of our hyper-rationalist age that people are forced to articulate why best friends are valuable to kids. For the record, I think removing best friends from childhood is a barbarous and inhumane act, akin to amputating a limb from an athlete. You can still have a childhood without a best friend, just as you can still be an athlete without a leg. But why would you voluntarily make someone's life so much harder? Having someone with whom you can share the joys and discoveries of early life is a gateway not just into adulthood, but humanity.
The most offensive part of this whole enterprise is that it is aimed at making life easier for administrators, not better for kids. The social life of childhood is frustrating and unwieldy for educators, so they respond by making childhood less complicated. Indeed, it's worth noting that the psychologists the
In his 1998 book, "Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,"
There's a lot of kindling here for a big culture-war conflagration. Many conservatives, myself included, see the building blocks of Brave New World Nanny-Statism (not to mention a perfect example of mission creep in American education).
But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. Liberals believe in having best friends, too. And conservatives understand that educators should try to dissuade bullying and blunt the sharp edges of cliques. Administrators are free to complain that best friends make their jobs harder. And we, as a society, should simply respond, "Then your job's harder."
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