View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Harrison Bergeron

Guy over at Damascus Road first noted this travesty of education a couple of days ago. Boortz points out that the guy never talks about earning money, but I think he misses the point. It's actually kind of a clever experiment, making the kids compete on unequal terms like that. But I don't think the mittens stand for what he thinks they mean.

The problem with the way the lesson gets taught is that the mittens only stand for externally imposed restraints. And they equate results with the means. So, for instance, if you have to try to pick up pennies wearing mittens, it's because it's already been determined that you won't end up with as many pennies. And it's because this thing called "society" has detemined that you won't end up with as many pennies.

Maybe the mittens should stand for something called "talent," or "ability" or "interest." Maybe you start the kids out with different numbers of pennies, unrelated to those talents. Maybe the kids with the mittens get to team up, shoveling the pennies into the scoops and splitting the haul. There are a million ways this cute project could be used to teach something really valuable and encouraging. There's about one way it can be manipulated into proto-Marxist propaganda. Leave it to an education "expert" to dig that one out.

Back when anyone cared what Kurt Vonnegut wrote, I read a short story of his, "Harrison Bergeron." The notion was that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we'd be banned from discriminating on the basis of ability. Gifted dancers and athletes would have to wear weights. Smart people would have their thoughts interrupted every so often. And everyone accepted it in the name of fairness, and avoiding hurt feelings. There was a time when I thought it was just a metaphor.

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