Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.
Last Friday I wrote about a new world fashioned by my 11th-grade students whose goal was to avoid the fate of planet Earth, which had been destroyed by thermo-nuclear war. The human experiment turned out to be a dismal failure, and it was incumbent on my students to work out a better way.
Here are some of their suggestions, some of which did not pass, and some of which did, with laws requiring a two-thirds majority.
All of the classes this year were insistent on having leaders, judges, law enforcers, teachers — virtually every public worker — take psychological tests to assure that such persons be mentally balanced. Could it be that these kids, at their tender age, have already seen their share of nutcases in public arena?
The decision on whether to allow lethal weapons on their new planet is always a source of heated debate for my students. The need for weapons is pretty well established for law enforcement, but less so for all other purposes to which guns were put on Earth. The real question became, "Do we really need lethal weapons?" After all, some of them reasoned, isn't that what got us into trouble back on Earth?
One of my classes voted to put extra research into Taser technology to further develop weapons that incapacitate, but do not kill.
There were strenuous objections from the "we need our guns" group (likely future NRA members), but the prevailing wisdom saw an unmistakable connection between hand-held pistols and their ultimate extension — the intercontinental missiles that nearly extinguished the human race.
Three out of the four classes decreed that there would be no jails on their new planet. Dangerous criminals would be exiled to remote islands, while others would be required to do community service to atone for their misdeeds.
One class suggested that all criminals be branded so that law-abiding people would be put on guard in their presence. Perhaps their aversion to locking people up has something to do with the present overcrowding in California prisons and the drain it causes on our faltering state economy.
All four classes would allow capital punishment, and two added child molestation to their list of capital offenses, no doubt reflecting their own vulnerability to this heinous crime.
One group of kids were guided by their "eye for an eye" philosophy, and when it came to the crime of rape, they suggested a "rape machine" that would visit upon the convicted rapists a mechanical violation simulating their own offending act. We were (thankfully) not subjected to detailed descriptions by its proponents.
I was interested to see that all four classes set the voting age at 21. In our follow-up discussions, the majority of students thought that an 18-year-old was not yet ready to assume that responsibility. That's a rather remarkable statement from a bunch of 17-year-olds.
And just to be consistent, should there ever be a future draft, the age of eligibility would begin at 21, not the present age of 18. Virtually all the young men voted to include women in a draft right along with the men.
The question of religion often gets brought into the discussion in this brave new world. There is an understandable tendency to cling to any aspect of their lives that brings them spiritual comfort, especially after the cataclysmic event that brought them to the verge of extinction.
But recognizing that religious differences also caused much of the misery back on Earth, the proposition went forward in two of the classes: That a new religion of the people be declared, and that it be formed by recognizing the commonalities that exist in all religions.
It did not pass in either class. Some differences, they decided, could be reconciled or ironed out, but a person's relationship with God is sacrosanct and not given to compromise.
One class almost unanimously decided that government should not interfere with marriage. Any two people on their planet were free to wed, including two people of the same gender. It's interesting that this class is about 80% female, confirming once again for the thousandth time in my experience as a teacher that women are far more accepting/tolerant of homosexuality than men.
All classes decided that education and health care should be provided; that as a society they would work to establish both as basic rights, and that they would tax themselves to whatever extent necessary to guarantee them for all people.
It's important that our young profit from the wisdom of their forebears, and that they are prepared to build upon the successes of the past. It is no less important that they recognize the failures of previous generations, and that they depart from preconceived notions and habits of mind and old traditions and long-held assumptions.
Their ability to do both will define their success or failure.
Based on what I've seen in recent years, there's every reason to have hope that the future of our world will be in good hands. In fact, from where I sit and what I see, the sooner they take charge, the better.