STOP the War on Children

July 17, 2011

Supreme Court: 7-Year-Olds Free to Buy Violent Video Games

By Karen Gushta                                                                                                                          

Parents are having a hard time understanding Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent opinion. Scalia, writing for the majority, gave the High Court’s reasoning for upholding a federal appeals court decision, which threw out a California ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Scalia and his wife Maureen have nine children and 28 grandchildren.  What was he thinking?

Perhaps one explanation is the fact that the Supreme Court justice left most of the child-rearing up to his wife. When it came to attending the children’s soccer games or piano recitals, Scalia told Lesley Stahl in a 60 Minutes interview in 2008, “You know, my parents never did it for me. I didn’t take it personally… He has his work. I got my softball game. Of course, [Maureen] was very loyal. She went to all the games.”

Referring to the Stahl interview, Jamie Heller noted on the Wall Street blog, The Juggle, “perhaps the more compelling point here is the clear division of labor that seemed to exist between these spouses. Nino had the workplace career. Maureen raised the children.”

So does this excuse Justice Scalia’s taking the position he did in siding with the majority in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association? Rebecca Burgoyne, legislative analyst for the California Family Council, says “The Supreme Court has basically done an end-run against parental authority and said that children have the right to have access to these video games, despite what their parents may think or say.”

As Burgoyne told OneNewsNow, the danger posed to children by excessively violent video games is the fact that children are simulating violent behaviors, such as shooting people—or worse—and “rehearsing these behaviors over and over again.”

In his opinion, Justice Scalia wrote, “No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm. But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

Agreed. That type of restriction is already in place in our government controlled schools where intelligent design and creation science are dismissed out of hand. But the issue here is not the “ideas” that children are being exposed to, but the “behaviors” that they are imitating and acting out in a simulated environment.

Some of those behaviors were described by Justice Alito in his concurring opinion. “In some of these games,” he wrote, “the violence is astounding. Victims by the dozens are killed with every imaginable implement…dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire, and chopped into little pieces. They cry out in agony and beg for mercy. Blood gushes, splatters, and pools. Severed body parts and gobs of human remains are graphically shown.”

Justice Scalia, however, compared the video simulation of such horrific and gory acts of violence to the violence children and teenagers are exposed to in literature such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Homer’s Odyssey or even William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example are grim indeed,” he opined.

Although he concurred with the majority, arguing that the California law should be struck down because it was too vague, Judge Alito did caution, “The Court is far too quick to dismiss the possibility that the experience of playing video games (and the effects on minors of playing violent video games) may be very different from anything that we have seen before.”

And that is precisely what the “vague” California law was intended to take into account. The author of the bill is state senator Leland Yee, a 61 year old Democrat from San Francisco who is also a child psychologist. As Joan Biskupic reported in U.S.A Today, Sen. Yee’s concern in crafting the bill is the interactive component of video games. This interactivity makes them much more dangerous in their effects on gamers compared to the effects a violent movie might have on a viewer or a violence filled book has on a reader. The child psychologist claims that participating in video games that simulate killing or maiming of human beings is harmful to the psyches of young players and can even lead to violence.

Yee also points out that parents who want to screen violent games have difficulty doing so because the scenes of slaughter and brutal violence may only come after hours of strategic play. “No parent can just play the game and know everything in it.”

According to Biskupic, the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case generated a large number of friend of the court briefs—26 of 30 opposed the California law. Included among these was the  U.S.A Today,. The foundation argued that violence has always been part of children’s literature, and fairy tales are replete with stories in which the witch is burned alive or a grandmother devoured by a wolf.

But such arguments again miss the point. Children recognize that fairy tales are fantasy—they are stories of imaginary characters, and that is what makes them frightening, but ultimately safe.

Video game simulations, on the other hand, are appealing to young gamers precisely because they allow them to participate in a “virtual reality” in which they become one with the characters who act out the fantasy. The avowed aim of game designers is to blur the line between fantasy and reality in order to make their games more compelling and captivating.

The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of both common sense and good sense. The Court even ignored its own past decisions that had bearing on this case, such as the court’s 1968 Ginsberg v. New York decision in which the court upheld a law that regulated content that was deemed harmful to children because it was obscene.

Ultimately the good sense and the constitutional sense in this case came from the two dissenting Justices—an unlikely pair—Justice Thomas, known as a court “conservative”  and Justice Breyer, known as a “liberal.”

As Mark Walsh noted in Education Week, “Justice Thomas cited the history of parental control of children from the early days of the Republic and said, ‘The freedom of speech, as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.’”

Justice Breyer said that the California law “imposes no more than a modest restriction on expression. This case is ultimately less about censorship than it is about education.” “Sometimes,” Breyer added, “children need to learn by making choices for themselves. Other times, choices are made for children—by their parents, by their teachers, and by the people acting democratically through their governments.”

By their decision the Supreme Court has made sure that seven-year-olds are now free to make the choice themselves whether to purchase games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, regardless of what their parents may say.

About Karen Gushta

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Truth in Action Ministries, author of The War on Children, and co-author of Ten Truths About Socialism. As a career educator, Dr. Gushta has taught from kindergarten to graduate teacher education in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and Masters degrees in Elementary Education and in Christianity and Culture.


April 15, 2011

Cheating and Feeling Good About It

By Dr. Karen Gushta
Cheating doesn’t pay. Or does it? Most students today apparently think it does. Even though most say it’s wrong, 59 percent admitted cheating on a test, according to a 2010 survey of 40,000 public and private school students.
By contrast, only 20 percent of students surveyed said they had cheated at sports. This may say something about what kids are learning through academics versus the standards that are still upheld in athletic competition. Commenting on this phenomenon, John Fremer, president of a private test-security company in Midvale, Utah, said, “…on average, one of the things they are learning in school is how to cheat.”
The annual survey done by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics also found that 61 percent of students reported having lied to a teacher about “something important,” and more than 80 percent said they had copied homework.
If what students are learning is how to cheat, it’s worth noting what they are not learning. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, “The New Humanism,” David Brooks observed, “When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say.”
Since the Ten Commandments were removed from schools, the ninth commandment, which prohibits “bearing false witness,” is routinely ignored by students who are not being taught that the “lying tongue” is an “abomination” unto the Lord (Proverbs 6:16-17).
How does cheating affect students who do it? According to research published in the March Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the short-term benefits of higher scores seduce cheaters into developing inflated expectations for their future performance.
Reporting on this research in Education Week, Sarah D. Sparks wrote, “The Harvard-Duke research also showed that cheaters lied to themselves.” One of the doctoral students involved in the study said, “In our experiments, we find that social recognition reinforces self-deception… getting a high grade will lead ‘Alex’ to feel smart, and being treated as smart by the teacher will lead Alex to feel smarter still.”
Sparks commented that “the Harvard-Duke study adds to emerging research suggesting that the mental hoops that students must leap through to justify or distance themselves from cheating can cause long-term damage to their professional and academic habits.”
In other words, if you hire an employee who has cheated his or her way through school and lied to teachers, you should not be surprised to find that employee “cheating” by cutting corners and lying to you. As Dr. D. James Kennedy wrote in Why the 10 Commandments Matter, “Lies not only destroy people’s trust in us. They also label us as untrustworthy…. People do not trust a liar. How can they? There is always a question about a person’s truthfulness once he has been caught in a lie, and the stigma generally lasts a lifetime.”
Sad to say, however, many student cheaters do not see the gravity of what they have done, nor do they acknowledge the effects their actions have on their moral character. As noted above, parents have not been focusing on character. Rather, as author Colleen Carroll Campbell points out, baby boomer parents, teachers and media gurus have focused on increasing children’s “self-esteem,” resulting in a generation brimming with narcissism.
The rising generation excuse their rule breaking while claiming to be satisfied with their own ethics and character. The common view of today’s youth is, as The Josephson Institute found in their 2008 survey, “When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”
Nevertheless, there is no escape from the consequences of sin in our lives unless it is confessed and forgiven and renounced. As Dr. Kennedy wrote, “A lie is a very serious matter to God for the simple reason that He is truthful.”  Because God is truthful, His universe operates according to fixed and immutable laws. “If God’s Word were not absolute and firm forever,” Dr. Kennedy observed, “then neither would the laws of His universe be reliable and subject to scientific investigation. We would have only chaos.”
Likewise, when the words of men and women are not firm and governed by the standard truth, chaos ensues. Human relationships and societies based on lies and deception will ultimately disintegrate and collapse. And, lying has eternal consequences. Among those who will forever remain outside the heavenly city, as stated in Revelation 22:15 will be “whoever loves and practices a lie.”
Isn’t it time to set clear standards for truthfulness and develop a code of honor for students in our schools? Giving students examples of heroes who have stood for truth at the risk of their own self-interest and requiring students to adhere to a code of conduct that forswears cheating and lying would be a good addition to the standard curriculum in our schools.
And, while we’re at it, let’s post the Ten Commandments too. God’s eternal, absolute, moral law provides the best “character education” we can offer.

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Coral Ridge Ministries and author of The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk. Dr. Gushta is a career educator who has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate level teacher education, in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Dr. Gushta served as the first international director of Kid’s Evangelism Explosion. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Indiana University and Masters degrees in Elementary Education from the University of New Mexico and in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary.

The War on Children by Dr. Karen Gushta Request The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk, by Dr. Karen Gushta.

March 8, 2011

A Call to Dragon Slayers

By Dr. Karen Gushta

It would appear that the new Republican-controlled House is taking its 2010 election mandate seriously by cutting some education funding from the current year budget. But how seriously?


According to Education Week, the U.S. House of Representatives “slashed” this year’s U.S. Department of Education budget by more than $5 billion when it approved its funding bill by “an almost strictly party line vote of 235-189” on February 19.


Senate Democrats are already mustering their forces in opposition. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Chair of the Senate subcommittee that funds education, warned, “From crib to college, students will be at a disadvantage if the House proposal is enacted,” Harkin opined that “the smart way to bring down the deficit is for Congress to pursue a balanced approach of major spending cuts and necessary revenue increases while continuing to make investments in education.”


“Investing in education” has rhetorical appeal to parents, 46 percent of whom believe that schools need more money. But The Heritage Foundation has shown that over the past 25 years during which education spending increased by 138 percent, all indicators of educational improvement have remained flat.


Current spending reductions need to be put in perspective. In 2009, The Federal Department of Education (FDOE) received over $100 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the “Stimulus Bill.”


As The Heritage Foundation reported, some $80 billion in stimulus funds went “for K-12 education expenditures and nearly all of that is designed to help states ‘recover’ from budget shortfalls and prevent teacher layoffs.” Then in 2010 another $10 billion in “emergency” aid was dished out, presumably to save teacher’s jobs.


The additional $10 billion was approved by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate, without regard to the fact that by April 2010 over $36 billion of stimulus funding for education was still unspent. In the past two years, the FDOE received over $110 billion to distribute as it saw fit. Nevertheless, that apparently is not enough to feed the growing federal education leviathan. The current year’s budget request is $71 billion—$15 billion more than its 2010 budget of $56 billion.  Sen. Harkin’s crocodile tears not-with-standing, a cut in the current year budget of $5 billion still expands the ever burgeoning federal education budget by $10 billion.


It should be noted that Democrats have not been solely responsible for this monumental expansion of federal educations spending. It has been quietly growing under each succeeding president since Ronald Reagan.


The FDOE was set up under the Carter administration with a $14.5 billion budget and more than 4,000 employees, all transferred from other departments. As the Cato Institute noted in a handbook of policy recommendations produced for the 108th Congress (2003-2004), “Proponents claimed that cost savings would be realized, but opponents pointed out that a new department would require not only a new secretary but also the corresponding assistant secretaries, under secretaries, support staff, etc. . . . All of those would be necessary for the new department to look and act like a bona fide cabinet department.”


According Cato, “Critics of the department also pointed to the Department of Energy, formed two years earlier, which had been the subject of a tangle of regulations and confusing policies. Rep. John Rousselot (R-Calif.) said: ‘If you like the Department of Energy, you’ll love the Department of Education. You’ll have every bureaucrat in Washington looking at your school district.’”


Thirty-two years later, it’s clear whose predictions have come true. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and Barak Obama’s Race to the Top, have brought bigger budgets and more Washington bureaucrats looking at our school districts than ever before. As Cato reported, after the creation of the Department of Education, federal spending on education increased at twice the rate it had before.


President Bush and the 108th Congress ignored the Cato Institute’s policy recommendations to “abolish the Department of Education and return education to the state, local, or family level, as provided by the Constitution.” Instead, during Bush’s eight years in office, the FDOE’s budget grew by a whopping 33 percent, increasing from $42.2 billion in 2001 to $56 billion in 2008.


The notion of “investing in education” is appealing, but a hard look at previous investments shows little improvement for all the billions of taxpayers’ dollars that have been given to the federal educational establishment to distribute.


Federal money is the carrot each administration since President Lyndon Johnson has used to entice states to get on board with its particular educational goals. Now President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are pushing states to sign on to “Core Standards”—another term for a national curriculum—something the majority of states deplored in the past.


The Department of Education may be giving carrots to the states, but it’s larding its own trough with pork. There are now five thousand government workers running its programs and agencies. All of these workers, of course, receive salaries substantially higher than their private sector counterparts.


When will the American taxpayers rise up and say enough is enough?  It’s time to take back control of America’s schools and slay dragon FedEd with its voracious appetite by abolishing the Federal Department of Education and returning education to the state, local, and family level, as provided by the Constitution.

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Coral Ridge Ministries and author of The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk. Dr. Gushta is a career educator who has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate level teacher education, in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Dr. Gushta served as the first international director of Kid’s Evangelism Explosion. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Indiana University and Masters degrees in Elementary Education from the University of New Mexico and in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary.

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