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Jewish World Review August 26, 2002 / 18 Elul, 5762

George Will

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Teaching 9/11 lies | The National Education Association, the largest teachers union, usually concentrates on convincing legislators, against ample contrary evidence, that increasing the number and pay of teachers is certain to improve schools. But now the NEA has gone into wartime mode and become a sensitivity tutor for parents and teachers. The result makes one wish the NEA would stick to misleading legislators.

It has furrowed its brow and thought really, really hard about what parents and teachers should do with children on Sept. 11. The results, on an NEA Web site (, illustrate three things that make the public education establishment a national menace.

One is distrust of parents, whom the NEA obviously considers imbeciles. Another is a politically correct obsession with "diversity" and America's sins. Third, and most repellent, is a therapeutic rather than an educational focus -- an emphasis not on learning but on feelings, not on good thinking but on feeling good.

Jerald Newberry, an NEA functionary who helped develop the material for Sept. 11, says the attacks were "so horrific parents did not know where to start conversations." Beginning with this presumption of parental incompetence, the NEA asked a psychologist, Brian Lippincott of John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Calif., to provide "tips for parents and teachers," such as: "Use language that is developmentally appropriate for children." Actually, parents are pretty good at doing that even without exhortations or instructions from trade unions or academic psychologists.

One measure of how America has changed in 60 years is Lippincott's and the NEA's emphasis on the need "to comfort each other" and "help those most in need" of emotional bucking-up. On Dec. 7, 1942, there were not armies of people calling themselves members of "the caring professions" and operating on the assumption that Americans were emotional cripples, obsessed with their own feelings.

Lippincott has down pat the education industry's pitter-patter about "diversity" and "tolerance" and the omnipresent danger of bigotry by the loutish average American. With the patience of a savant lecturing primitives, Lippincott explains that "people of all ethnicities were hurt by these attacks." And he reminds us that we are sinners in the hands of an angry professor of psychology: "Some of this country's darkest moments resulted from prejudice and intolerance for our own people." And one emphasis of Sept. 11 should be on "historical instances of American intolerance."

The NEA says the lessons to be learned from the terrorist attacks are: "Appreciating and getting along with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, the importance of anger management and global awareness." Let's see. Some seriously angry people murder almost 3,000 people in America and Americans need to work on managing their anger? And on getting along with others? Did little Mohamed Atta's report card in third grade say he "plays well with others"?

Under the category "Healing Tools, Routines and Rituals" the NEA says that on Sept. 11 teachers should "help students understand that they can help themselves feel better by taking care of themselves, by following their established routines and by identifying activities that make them feel better." Yes, by all means floss after brushing on Sept. 11. And drink lots of water. The NEA says: "Teach about what confronts soldiers, refugees and locals in a harsh climate, and relate to the need for hydration and healthy living."

But should that day really become an exercise in self-absorption? Why should a commemoration of mass murder be an occasion to "feel better"?

Another NEA idea for a "healing tool" is a "circle of feelings." Teachers should "give students the opportunity to discuss and have validated their feelings about the events of Sept. 11 in a nonjudgmental discussion circle."

Time was, teachers were supposed to teach deep, rigorous -- hence even judgmental -- thinking about difficult matters. Now they are urged to be mere enablers, encouraging students in the semi-solipsism of venting feelings and having their emotional forth "validated." Which probably means assuring students that Sept. 11 is about their serenity, not about their nation and its rigors in responding to the world's dangers.

But dwelling on somber matters would complicate making everyone feel good about themselves as the center of the universe. And it would be judgmental to invoke the archaic notion of honor, as in: It is dishonorable to use a solemn public moment for private therapy.

Many NEA ideas defy caricature, such as the suggestion that 12th-graders soothe their souls by reading Dr. Seuss books. The NEA represents, and presumably reflects the mentality of, the people who are delivering -- inflicting? -- public education. That is as frightening, in its way, as any foreign threat.

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