It is no surprise adults feel compelled to try and engineer the lives of kids. Once adults have established a role for themselves in life they want to either encourage or warn kids about lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, in the schools we expose kids to smaller projects, often with little or no substantive support. Most of them are well intentioned, but often suffer from a a lack of information about the topic and demonstrate even less insight about kids.
Here are some of those social engineering projects I have witnessed over the years:
Recycling Gurus: Recycling is really about garbage pick up disposal. While people don't seem to have a problem with touching their own garbage at home, it takes on another dimension in public. It is a labour intensive task so there isn't a lot of extra money offered in this direction. Often, a unit of mentally handicapped kids will do the dirty work for the rest of us. As for the students, they leave their waste all over the school to be picked up by care staff. Teachers are better, but often they just throw recycle materials in the regular garbage. Too often recycling is presented as a solution to the problem of human refuse, but it is really just a band aid to a greater problem. Similar to most environmental issues, the solution resides in our constant consumption of non-biodegradable products. On the plus side, there is a certain amount of guilt and shame attached to the idea of not recycling, but that is the only a fraction of what we can be doing.
Anti-Music Critics: Adults have been cursing the music of teenagers for centuries now. In the 1920s it was Dixieland, the 50s it was Rock and Roll and after the 90s it has been Rap. What adults do not seem to 'get' is hating something as personal as music makes it that much more appealing to kids. Here are some of the disillusioned observations I have heard adults make about music over the years: Rap music causes kids to join gangs, heavy metal will cause kids to kill everyone in class, listening to Mozart will make your baby smarter, country and blues is melancholy music, dance music makes you want to have sex. The truth is: socially lost, angry, self destructive people join aggressive gangs, sad music is cathartic, dance music makes you want to dance; the sex starts when the music stops. It doesn't matter the choice of your tunes, shitty music is,well, shitty.
Grammar police: In Ontario, Canada, these people pine for the days of the colonies and the "Queen's English". Usually, pretty ridge thinkers who do not understand that all active languages are living breathing creatures and consequently, are always under construction. The grammar police probably know a dead language like Latin and quote it often. They love to show off their knowledge of classic literature by quoting mainstream masters like Billy Shakespeare. They have difficulty putting there own thoughts into some kind of metrical phrase so they'll quote people who can. The grammar police are always quick to point out anything that deviates from their beloved rules and that includes subterranean languages like slang, profanity or regional accents. Unfortunately, they miss out on the beauty of the language as a window to the wider human experience.
Smoking Nazis': The negative health results of smoking tobacco have been available to the public for well over a hundred years. In the early 1960s it was made official by the American government, smoking cigarettes are bad for you. Domestic tobacco has been processed with ugly chemicals that when repeatedly ingested might cause several diseases. In spite of the fact that multiple generations yell out the truth about smoking, kids are still becoming addicted. There is always a lot of finger pointing going on over the cause of this societal problem, but most never deal with the realities. Smoking isn't a habit, it's a drug addiction and billions of dollars are made by the public through taxes. If society wants to eliminate the addiction they should outlaw the drug and provide nicotine replacement centers as they do with other toxic drugs. We have banned it in public places, turned smokers into social pariah, but never dealt with eliminating the problem. Making it into societies dirty little secret will only encourage rebellious youth to seek it out.
Legalize Weed Zealots: The government will legalize weed when they figure out how to tax it. I don't understand what it is these guys want, the freedom to smoke it where and whenever they feel the urge? People do that now and have for decades. They have made progress though, there is more social acceptance toward this group than the tobacco addicts. One joint is like ten tobacco cigarettes, but that's "OK." They even have a flag, t-shirts, books, stickers, and tattoos with the marijuana leaves emblazoned them. Listen folks, there is a reason they call it dope, it makes you dopey.
Environmentalism: Over the past decade or so the project has evolved into a Western World phenomena. When I was in school it was called The Anti-Pollution Movement. There were advertisements on the TV, kids did school projects on it, and not much has changed. Locally, the really dedicated seem to be urban, upper middle income white people who drive imported cars, and dress in outdoor clothing made of petroleum products. I see them on the news expressing moral outrage when a tree is cut down on their street.
The real debate about defending the environment should be married to the unnecessary quantity of material goods we constantly consume. Without this factor, the argument becomes more about people with too much time and money on their hands, desperate to keep their immediate environment clean and orderly. Other than a few dedicated teachers, not much is done on this front in any of the schools I have worked in over the years. Everyone feels guilty about the what we do to the environment, but we just can't seem to stop abusing it. I have a confession, I use to own three acres of trees and in an effort to make way for a house I murdered about an acre's worth with a chain saw. And I don't feel guilty about it.
Anti-Sugar Patrol: Sugar is in just about everything we eat, it's even in toothpaste and it is highly addictive. In moderation it is OK, but if you are a sugar junkie, expect to buy new clothes on regular a basis. The Patrol usually don't know anything about where sugar comes from, how it is refined, or even why it is bad. They often can't tell the difference between fruit juice and fruit drink. Progress has been made in this department with the banning of the venting machine junk food business in schools. It's a goal scored for the obese and a loss to the sugar lobby.
The Education Prophets: You would think that some people in the education business would be a little more informed about the product they offer, but that is not the case. The Education Prophets have a blanket solution for everything that ails society, - education, of course! Some myths they perpetuate are that you need an education to make money and education will prevent crime. They never make the distinction between an education and training.
An education enlightens you about the world in which you participate; training will offer you an opportunity to pay your way through the world in which we all live. Education won't get you a job as easily as will marketable skills. It doesn't matter if you train as a proctologist or a plumber, you need skills to sell to society. After that hurdle is negotiated, get a job, a place to live and then go for an education.
Economy Slaves: These guys know the cost of everything and the value of nothing (sorry Oscar!). They are the ones who want you to go into debt at Christmas because "you need to be doing your part for the economy." They see schools as factories for the production of workers. They want corporate logos on every TV monitor and textbook just to let everyone know they are in charge. Governments would love to hand over the bill for school supplies to them, but fortunately the public is wise to the initiative.
The Fear Mongers: - These people play on the fear of the unknown. If we let them have their way, you will never leave the house and when you do, your body will be covered in protective gear. You'll never eat anything, have sex, get on a bus, drive a car, or ride a bike. Fear mongers are really about protecting their own ass from liability. They are in the schools, on the news, in your house; everywhere we go, the fear mongers are telling us not to take chance, the risks are too great. Personally, I'm more afraid of these guys than the real dangers in everyday life. They scare the shit out of parents and seniors when they advertise every rape and robbery. However, they excel at selling insurance and home security systems.
Kids are pretty resilient. They have the advantage and disadvantage of thinking they are invincible. However, their minds are still porous and easily misdirected. It is a legitimate question to ask, 'Well, what is the alternative to existing social engineering projects in the schools'? The alternative can sometimes be painful to face and expensive, but in the long run, the benefits out weigh the debts incurred. Consequently, we need to teach kids to be critical of the crooked finger being pointed at them on a daily basis.