“See What’s Really There”

I’m helping teach one of my young children to read, and it’s interesting to see her make the same mistake that the older children made.  Just as many children naturally write letters backwards, they also seem inclined to read the first letter or two of a word, and then assume it’s a similar word they’re already familiar with, so they just say that word instead of reading the rest of what it actually is.  A child may see the word “became” and, after puzzling through the first two letters, find it close enough to “begin” or “belong” or whatever other word they’re comfortable with; they’ll then confidently pronounce that word and move on. 

When this happens, I repeat the patient mantra they’ve each come to expect: “Read the word that’s there, not the one you want to be there.” 

That’s not just good advice for phonics, it’s good advice for life. 

How often do we tend to skim through the superficial aspects of something and then pronounce ourselves experts, and act accordingly?  How often do we look for the few comfortable things in a complicated issue, and then link it to a familiar pattern, congratulating ourselves on another success?

Consider Head Start.  I recently had a post here on wasteful government spending that sparked some interest, but since then, this perfect example has emerged.  Last week I read this article about the popular government education program Head Start, which has been around for more than forty years, has cost taxpayers $166 billion dollars…and has produced absolutely zero results. 

As any number of studies have demonstrated over the years, the effects of Head Start are modest to nugatory…. A 1969 study found that any gains participants displayed faded away in the early grades. By third grade, Head Start graduates were indistinguishable from their non-participating classmates….

Later surveys showed similarly dismal results. By 1987, even the program’s founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, “Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited.”

Remember that the next time someone tells you that increased spending on education is critical. 

See what’s really there, not what you want to be there.

An even better example of this anemic myopia was given by none other than Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. recently, who said (literally, seriously) that we could solve our country’s employment problems by amending the Constitution to guarantee every child an iPod and a laptop.  I swear I am not making this up (video below).  Such obnoxiously naive tunnel vision can only be the result of a wishful thinking that is far, far removed from reality. 

See what’s really there, not what you want to be there.

I’m a fan of many clichés; I think they became popular because they’re handy.  Of all the old sayings that I still find valuable, though, the one that my experience has best vindicated is this: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Politics is full of good intentions, but results are what really counts.  Compassion is a virtue, but effectiveness is a better virtue.  And you’ll never be effective with your head stuck in the ground.  Trying to help the world while blinded by your rose-colored glasses will only, as the examples above suggest, make things much, much worse. 

See what’s really there, not what you want to be there.

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5 comments on ““See What’s Really There”

  1. This semester I’m taking a class called Development Through the Lifespan, a nursing class, in which we spent a week discussing programs tried for “at risk” children to lessen the gap between them and their classmates in school and beyond. While we did discuss the failure that is Head Start, we spent a lot of time talking about the Carolina Abecedarian Program which focuses on early intervention. At risk children were identified early and some were randomly assigned to center-based early intervention. They did this again when the children reached school age and some of the children who were not given intervention early on received supplementation to their public schooling. The children given early intervention had higher IQ’s, more applied to college, and even had lower teenage pregnancy rates. The children who received the supplementation during school did little better than the control group.

    It is mentioned in the article that intervention should begin earlier and last longer. Duh. So I understand the increase in money to the program, but why on earth doesn’t anyone pay attention to the facts and modify the program?

    Too little, too late. (That’s my cliche for you.)

    Long, ramble-y agreement? Check.

  2. Alicia, fascinating info. Thanks!

    Wonderdog, huh. Mine works. Go to Youtube and search for “Jesse Jackson ipod laptop” and you’ll find it.

  3. Okay, a couple points here:

    1. Rep. Jackson, here, seems mostly be quoting someone else’s suggestion, not his own, although in the end it seems he agrees with it. He’s in fact quoting FDR…

    2. This is a case of seeing more than just the wingnut headline. He’s talking about freedom of worship, and such other useless things, too, in that 5-minute-or-so speech that was on C-Span.

    Talking about seeing what you want to see, how many see the name “Jesse Jackson” and start ROTFL before they see that “Jr” and realize that the perennial presidential candidate -Jesse Jackson is old enough to be Jr’s father? Hmmm…

    Not so much by way of saying, hey, it makes a lot of sense as in saying, let’s see what’s really being advocated by whom, okay.

    I wanted to make a sarcastic joke about how much sense it would make to educate ghetto kids, but since everyone always gets my sarcasm wrong, fuhgeddaboudit!

    • Velska, so FDR wanted Constitutional amendments to guarantee that every kid gets a laptop and an iPod? Does anything Jackson says in the rest of his speech negate his stated stance here about entitlements?

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