Thursday, August 19, 2010

America in the Theater of the Absurd

In the mid-20th century, European playwrights developed the 'Theatre of the Absurd,' a dramatic literary style that portrayed the world as a godless, meaningless place, and where logical process and communication are irrelevant.   While many of the plays from this movement are quite entertaining, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is one of my favorites,) recent political developments leave me wondering if we are living in the midst of an absurdist drama; a prospect I find more disturbing than amusing.

One example from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a 'theater of the absurd' in and of itself,  is the recent ruling that it is perfectly okay to lie about receiving a military medal.   If we can all lie about it, why have any criteria for receiving one at all?  Why not just hand each soldier a Medal of Honor upon graduating from boot camp? After all, we certainly wouldn't want anyone to feel bad for not having a medal.

Unfortunately, the Lone Star State is not immune to applied absurdity in government, and in 2009 the Texas Education Agency contributed the Texas Projection Measure. Under TPM, even a student who failed to answer a single question correctly could be considered 'passing' the TAKS, if the school predicts the student will pass within a few years.


According to the TEA:

A student who has failed TAKS/TAKS (Accommodated) in the current year, but is projected to be at or above proficiency in the projection grade, is counted as proficient in the AYP calculation in addition to those students who achieved proficiency in the current year.
While TEA Commissioner Robert Scott defends TPM, since many school principals and superintendents really, really like the way it boosts ratings, even some Democrats have pointed out the logical absurdity of the Texas Projection Measure. 

The result?  With the watered-down standards, every school is great!  Only 1.5% of Texas schools are rated 'Academically Unacceptable,'  and 68% are above average.  I had no idea Texas Public Schools were such an academic success story.  While I have no doubt there are some very good public schools in Texas, how does one know?  Even without the TPM, schools can employ a number of other exemptions to boost ratings.  While some districts have been honest about application of TPM, most simply sent out the annual press release touting the fantastically awesome job they are doing educating your children (even though they do need more money. )  

We can add to list of the absurd  "adopting the effective tax rate," "jobs created or saved," "The Fairness Doctrine," etc., ad naseum.  From a logical standpoint, these terms are misleading at best, and intentionally deceptive at worst.

I like to believe that America has not completely yielded to the 'truth is relative' mantra, that we still attribute value to concepts of right and wrong, fact and fiction.  Hopefully the audience of voters will reject these forays into the Theater of the Absurd, and demand clarity and simplicity in government.


Just for fun:
"A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself..."

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