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Working to Your Strengths
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's! For all my American friends, I'm afraid it gets kind of political on your front. But I thought you may be interested in seeing how other countries are viewing your current transformation:

Back in the fall, the Berkeley school district in California made international headlines when they decided to cut funds for Advanced Placement Science labs because not enough minority students were enrolled. Even though many white and Asian students were studying diligently to prepare for university, it was decided that the Advanced Placement Science was racist.

Closing the educational gap between certain minority students and others has always been a public policy challenge, but what I find so interesting here is the race to the bottom. At one point researchers were trying to find ways to encourage minority students to study hard so that they could score well. Now we’re asking other students to stop studying so that everything can be equal.

And thus we have a little microcosm of the choices that our society has to constantly make. Where do we invest? Do you play to your strengths, or to your weaknesses?

For decades it was assumed that America played to the strengths, and Canada played to the weaknesses. We had a nice, semi-socialist state that would bail out people who had made mistakes, while America forced them to fend for themselves. Lately it seems as if we have traded places. It is in America that the president is saying that if you were snookered by banks into signing loans that you couldn’t repay, or taking a mortgage that you never should have taken, you don’t have to pay it back.
When it comes to letting defaulters off of the hook, our banks are strangely silent. We still operate by the assumption that one lives up to one’s responsibilities.

And that brings us to the central question facing governments when they look at places to cut spending: who is responsible for the fortune of citizens? Is it the citizens themselves, or is it the government? If people make bad choices—say by purchasing vacations or electronics rather than RRSPs, or by spending their twenties in a blur rather than in school, who should bear the brunt of that problem?

The whole debate is summed up well by African-American economist Thomas Sowell, who says: "There is much discussion of the haves and the have-nots, but very little discussion of the doers and the do-nots." Sowell, the son of a single mother, excelled in an Ivy League education entirely through his own hard work, and has been a widely read professor for decades. He feels that making excuses for people, rather than encouraging them to work hard, promotes an infantilism that prevents people from actually succeeding. They start to believe that other people owe them something, and that they themselves can never make their lives better, so why try?

Sowell has a point. Most of us don’t begrudge a social safety net for those who genuinely are “have-nots”, through little fault of their own. What we don’t want, especially in an economic downturn, is for the government to take tax money we have earned and hand it to those who believe they deserve it, without doing anything for it.

I want to live in a world where everyone has an opportunity to be their best, and that includes the “doers”. Those who have initiative, who have motivation, and who have a desire to succeed, like those Science students, should not be held back because others don’t have that same drive. I don’t want to be a society in a race to the bottom. Our society succeeds when people with initiative are encouraged to start businesses that create jobs, to make new discoveries that make our lives better, or to become philanthropic. And I’m glad Canada is rapidly becoming that “beacon on a hill”, even if it has to come at the expense of our neighbour to the south.



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2 Comments:

At 10:16 AM , Blogger Q said…

Yup. I'm American and yes this is aimed right at us. But goodness, you aren't saying anything that isn't true. If we ever get back to running our country via the Constitution, and if the American public ever starts voting with research on fact and principle, we may be able to give you a run for your money again. But until then you are, indeed, the beacon on the hill.

 

At 5:42 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Isn't it tragic? Your "race to the bottom" sums it up perfectily.

Which is why we homeschool.

Julie

 
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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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