D'oy Vey

« May 2006 »

Memo to Rabbi Gellman: YOU ARE DUMB.

I have, in large part, bypassed Judaism in my various rantings and ravings against the regressive forces of organized religion. I'm not sure why this is. It could be their encouragement of scholarly pursuits. It could be that they keep to themselves. Or it could just be that the crazy politically active ones all move to Israel where I don't hear about them.

Enter Rabbi Marc Gellman, author of the "web-exclusive" Spiritual State column for Newsweek. As far as I can tell, Gellman talks faith and values and politics to anyone who bothers to read through Newsweek's web site.

For example, he wrote a column I will not be discussing much, entitled "A Call To Arms On Oral Sex", which is at best unfortunately titled. In it, he bemoans the burgeoning blowjob culture where, apparently, our nation's youth see a school-bus hummer like the rest of us see a handshake.

Gellman is concerned about this, possibly rightly. I think rampant high school blowjobbery is just one more thing that high school nerds can be jealous and resentful about, myself. Oral sex in school should be treated like gum in school. If you didn't bring enough for the whole class, you'd better spit it out.

But according to Gellman, there's another insidious threat to moral values lurking in the halls of our institutions of learning. The dreaded... valedictorian. Which, as yet, is not a Latin term for a sex act, although the list of potential filthy "valedictorian" puns extends far beyond what one column can hold. So to speak.

You see, according to Gellman, schools shouldn't honor the students with the highest grades, because that just leads to a bunch of immoral geniuses running around. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Honoring the person who got the best grades in high school establishes the value of intelligence over virtue and, in the long run, it is virtue that will determine the fate of the graduates with far more precision than their grade-point averages."

Bullshit. Actually, if a recent study is to be believed, all that really matters is if you're born white, born rich, or both. These days, we don't live in a virtue-rewarding, by-your-bootstraps, Horatio Alger dreamland. Given that, I think it's better to know stuff than to not know stuff.

And it's not like good grades and good behavior are mutually exclusive. Doing well in school these days demands a strict allegiance to societal norms. Drugs, blowjobs, robbing banks, writing stories, and poetry all interfere with social studies homework. But for Gellman, it's that striving for grades that is the problem.

"Getting the highest grades is just an entry-level drug to getting the highest salary and then to cooking the books to keep the stock price high, as at Enron, and then to jail. By transforming education into a grab for quantifiable returns, we produce a culture of grubby cheaters, plagiarizers and criminals who get the only barely twisted message that the bottom line is all that matters."

What Gellman seems to be forgetting is that these are SCHOOLS. They're supposed to teach things, students are supposed to learn things, and how well they learn things has to be determined somehow for the whole exercise to have even a modicum of meaning. I'm not saying the system is remotely close to perfect, but I don't think it's that ridiculous for schools to honor those who succeed in school. That's not where the bottom line message is being taught. It's getting taught when the Ken Lays of this world can use their wealth and power to drag out their trials, and if they DO get convicted, serve out their sentences in minimum-security prisons before returning immediately to cushy corporate jobs.

As an alternative to the cheating, grade-grubbing brainiacs who will inevitably grow up to invent securities fraud, Gellman proposes a "menschadictorian", which makes for even filthier puns. ACTUAL DEFINITION TIME!

"A menschadictorian is the student who showed the most moral virtue during his or her high-school years."

And how would such a thing be judged, given that it is not the job of most schools to teach "moral virtue"? Gellman skips over that question, instead telling a touching story about a kid with multiple sclerosis who helped a homeless man who was being harassed by a convenience store owner. Off of school grounds. In a situation that had nothing to do with public education. Not to diminish what the kid did, assuming the story is true, but come the fuck on. The schools have enough on their plate without having to verify dozens of heartwarming anecdotes about random acts of kindness.

And if the problem is, as Gellman states, that the desire to be recognized for an award drives kids to cheat and game the system in order to win the award, why would the "menschadictorian" be any different? Kids'll just steal tales of dogoodery off the Internet like they were essays on the fall of the Soviet Union. Only it'll be easier, because all they'll have to do is stop deleting the e-mails their aunts forward them.

American society is fucked up in more ways than I can count, and more ways than I can recount, and valedictorians aren't the problem. It wasn't a valedictorian that fucked a pig in Louisiana, and it's sure as hell not a valedictorian occupying the Oval Office.