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Top 5 Most Counter-Productive Political Ideas in Use in America

Sometimes, political ideas are so pervasive that they are unaffected by repeated examples of their failure. In politics, people can learn to rationalize anything, and thus even some of the worst ideas ever birthed by the system can wind up being embraced as valuable tools. Below are, as I see it, the five best examples of this in modern America. These are ideas so bad that they are not only pointless, but counter-productive; they do the exact opposite of what they set out to do. And yet, there are legions of fans for each one, and none of them appear to be going away any time soon.


5.
ZERO TOLERANCE
10 year old being arrested
That'll teach you to bring Altoids to school, you menace!


Taking cues from the "broken windows" theory of law enforcement, zero tolerance is a blanket term that relates to any enforcement strategy in which any violation requires the same strict punishment, regardless of severity or extenuating circumstances. While zero tolerance has only been around a little over a decade, it has already proven its ineffectiveness when it comes to education, immigration, drug policy, and even foreign affairs. Aside from being unnecessarily cruel and borderline inhuman, zero tolerance does not achieve what it purports to.

Take DUI laws, for instance. Zero tolerance has been applied to DUI laws in most states in order to clamp down on leniency from law enforcement officers and the courts. While few would argue that there could be any circumstances in which driving while intoxicated could be acceptable, consider the fact that a violater is punished the same regardless of whether their blood alcohol is at 0.08% or at 0.25%. There are three main problems with this: (1) a man who has a beer right before his wife goes into labor and chooses to drive her to the hospital is as guilty of DUI as a person who stumbles away from an all-night kegger, barely conscious because he is so ridiculously drunk, and drives to a bar where he plans to drink even more; (2) an alcoholic will figure that, if he's going to drive while intoxicated, he might as well get really drunk since it will make no difference; and (3) law enforcement officers are actually more likely to show leniency--because they know how serious a DUI conviction is--which defeats the whole purpose of the zero tolerance policy.

But the ridiculousness of zero tolerance is more well-known when it comes to education. We've all heard the story of the migraine-suffering kid who gets expelled for having an aspirin in his backpack or the kid who gets sent home because he brings an action figure in for show-and-tell (it's holding a fake gun, after all). While many of these stories are apocryphal, there are hundreds of other, equally infuriating stories that are the geniune response to a zero tolerance policy with drugs and weapons in schools. The schools, teachers, and schoolboards have tied hands, because they are not allowed to differentiate between a kid who brings an AK-47 into the classroom and the one who idly fashions a slingshot out of a rubber band and two pencils. Zero tolerance removes the common sense ability to look at each individual case and decide how serious it is. Besides, study after study after study has shown that, after executing a zero tolerance policy, at-risk schools tend to get more violent, drug-addled, or filled with whatever else the policy is designed to eliminate. And while we're on the subject of schools...


4.
ABSTINENCE-ONLY EDUCATION
Pregnant teenagers
Condoms are obviously to blame


Over 2,300 years ago, Plato pondered, "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" Judging by the fact that many repeat similar sentiments today, it would seem that the morality of young people has been on a steady decline for over two millenia. It's no wonder we've become so concerned with how much premarital sex they are having, because clearly, in another hundred years or so, people will be giving birth to deviant chimpanzees.

Sarcasm aside, abstinence-only education is a genuine effort to keep children from having sex at a young age. This effort is rooted in a noble cause, because if we could cut down on the fornications of youth, we could cut down on sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, unwanted children, abortions, and much more. The idea is that, when you teach children about sex, you teach them that abstinence is the only fool-proof method to avoid all those ills, which is an absolutely true statement. Still, abstinence-only education wouldn't be on this list if it weren't completely counter-productive. The problem is that, while pushing for abstinence, teachers are forbidden to talk about birth control, presumably because if kids know about birth control, they will be more likely to have sex.

Proponents of abstinence-only education make several fallacious assumptions like that. For instance, they might assume that if you teach children about condoms, they will become so sex-crazed that the world will come to an end. I don't know about you, but when I think back on my sex education classes, the last thing they did was get me excited about sex. At the same time, though, all that insistence on abstinence as the only solution to the evils of sex did absolutely nothing to change my hormonal teenage desire to have as much sex as possible as quickly as I could. The fact is--and I draw this conclusion from far more than just my own experience--teenage hormones are more powerful than anything a teacher can say (as Plato pointed out, they won't listen anyway), and there is absolutely nothing adults can do short of castration that will stop teenagers from playing with each other's naughty parts.

Therefore, since it is impossible to cut down on the fornications of youth, it follows that we would need another method to cut down on sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, and all that. The easiest way would be to teach about safe sex, like when to go see a doctor over an itch, why you should ask your partner certain questions, how you buy and then put on a condom, how to ask your doctor for birth control pills and when you should start taking them, etc. However, this is the method expressly forbidden by abstinence-only education. So, in a round about sort of way, abstinence-only education is making all the problems it seeks to control worse, not better. Again, study after study after study bears this out.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a recent study that concluded the opposite, much touted by the mainstream media and proponents of abstinence-only programs, but its conclusions are extremely exaggerated and its methods are questionable. For example, the teaching method in the study did not avoid the topic of contraceptives or portray them in a bad light, nor did it conform to the standards of nearly all abstinence-only sexual education courses throughout the country. In effect, the study proves the effectiveness of comprehensive sexual education, which is not the same thing at all. And speaking of comprehensive...


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-e. magill 6/29/2010










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