It all started with Dr. Spock



I find myself becoming mired in the “slough of despond.”   

 If you’re under about 60, you don’t know what I’m talking about because your government school teachers were functional illiterates.   

It’s a line from a book published in 1678, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Once upon a time, we would read books about our history and culture.

I’ll confess to having run away from the current state of affairs by delving into wonkish discussions of due process and other legalisms or retreating into my great love of history and telling stories of brave men in desperate battle.  Suzanne Downing, on the other hand, has actually confronted the current state of affairs with her pieces on corporate cowardice and our cultural weariness. Those are very good and very brave pieces.

So, let’s talk about the state of American culture and political life today; fasten your seatbelt.

We lost our ability to raise children in the 1950s and 1960s as we listened to Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world’s most famous pediatrician.  

We lost our ability to educate children in the 1970s when we decided, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.”  President George W. Bush was wrong when he talked of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”  The reality was the hard bigotry of no expectations.

In my last years with the State, I could hire a recently graduated lawyer for $60 – $80K/yr.  They were cultural and historical illiterates, but they could write a decent IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) memo for you, though it was dry as dirt. They had never read a book and their idea of culture was sports, movies, beer, and sex, but they were better “educated” than I was.

What I couldn’t hire was entry level employees. The front desk clerk and the paraprofessional was just an impossibility. I tried to be a good citizen and do the job-shadowing and that sort of stuff. The kids were clueless; they had no idea of the world of work. They’d never been directed, supervised, criticized, or evaluated in their lives, either at home or at school.

When I worked for the State, I thought it was a Juneau thing because Juneau had a youth culture right out of “A Clockwork Orange,” by novelist Anthony Burgess.

But then after I moved back to Anchorage, I decided it was unseemly to be sitting in front of the TV or computer at 10 in the morning with a glass of wine in my hand, so I decided to go back to work.

I learned how to walk in a retail store back when I was a toddler, and Cabela’s was opening a new store five minutes from my house. I didn’t need the money, but the employee discount was nice. This was a job I could do in my sleep. 

Some 450 of us were in the opening crew; a couple of years later 20 or so of us were left. 

Cabela’s was where I learned that it wasn’t just a Juneau thing; Anchorage kids were just as dumb as Juneau kids. They had no idea what work was; they’d never been graded, evaluated, or supervised in their lives.

One that comes to mind was a smart, hard-working, Christian, who was a UAA junior or senior.  Among the young ones, she was a good one.

I don’t remember the conversation really, but somehow she and I came to be talking about the U.S. Civil War as we folded those damnable Cabela’s sweatshirts in the hour or so before closing time. Now, I was in my late 60s at the time and to her, a 20-something, I was some prehistoric creature.

Ultimately, she asked me what I did in the Civil War.  

The Civil War ended 85 years before I was born.  They’re that damned dumb.  What have we done?


  1. Well written, too sad it’s got a lot of truth in it.
    But hey, they can do wonders with a phone……

  2. Art, what you have written is direct evidence of why raising the minimum wage is such a bad idea. Those kids you worked with are not worth 15 bucks an hour. But hire them at 8 or 9, supervise them, and train them. THEN, they become 12 dollar an hour. But having a minimum so high means businesses will NOT hire new kids. They are not worth it. A kid has to learn those skills of working (such as showing up, for example) somewhere. And to get fired from an 8 dollar an hour job just might teach a kid something too. GET FIRED at age 18, not 28 or 38. I agree, the schools likely are teaching very little of work ethic or accountability. Thanks for reflections, Art.

    • Between child labor laws and workers’ compensation costs, there is almost no part-time, after school work or summer vacation work for teenagers unless their family has a business and thus has some exemption from child labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Here in Alaska it is almost impossible to get a job if you’re under 18. Consequently, the people entering the job market as entry-level no-skill or low-skill workers are legally adults and have adult expectations.

      The reality is that there are almost no jobs that you can get at 18 and right out of high school with no real work experience that pay much above the minimum wage, and those that do pay above the minimum wage usually require both a background check and a drug test, both things that Alaskan young people aren’t notably good at. Many of the young people I worked with at Cabela’s were trying to shuffle two and three job schedules so they could make enough money to lived piled in with a bunch of room mates in an apartment in a bad part of town. The reality is that they’d have been much better off on welfare.

      We have an horrendous “brain drain” here; the bright, well-motivated kids go to college, usually Outside, and they leave Alaska or never come back except to visit. I raised my bio daughter as a single father from when she was 15 or so and saw her through hearing Pomp and Circumstance at UAS. My wife and I took her to dinner at The Baranof Graduation night at which she announced she had a ferry ticket to Seattle the following Friday; she’s been back to Alaska for a couple of visits in the ensuing 20 years. Two of my stepkids have post-secondary degrees and neither live in Alaska. One has an Alaska HS diploma, and let’s just say that its been a struggle with a lot of reliance on the New GI Bill – Good In-laws.

      I think it might help to take a look at our child labor laws and try to give more opportunity to work at a younger age. I don’t know what is going on that is causing so much of the hospitality/tourism industry to use foreign labor rather than recruiting young workers here, but it really may be that our labor pool is just so bad they don’t want to hire young Alaska residents, or maybe Alaska’s young trust-fund babies just don’t want to work – or it could be those pesky drug tests and background checks.

      • Interesting perspective there Art, I would say we are about the same age. Started working for my master electrician stepfather when I was 13 or 14 in North Dakota back in “63”. Had a chance to learn about working with tools and learning electrical materials and was always the youngest on the job and never heard a good word from him. Started working as an orderly at local hospital when I was 16 just to be in a cleaner more interesting environment and be with peers when I was 16. Recieved unforgettable tongue lashing from female RN when I was 19 for failing to show up for my shift on time because I wanted to work on my car. Find myself at 71 , retired and wishing I could go back and do it all of the above over again but this time much better!

        • We farmed when I was young, so I don’t remember not being a part of working the place, though I certainly didn’t work all that hard at that age. I worked enough to learn how to do all sorts of things that people now have to hire illegals to do. I could handle a horse or mule or a team and drive a tractor or a farm truck pretty skillfully by the time I was ten or so, though the pedals were still hard to reach. Like all country kids, I learned to shoot, rope, and ride, though I never was very good at roping and never learned to stylishly sit a horse because I never had a stylish horse. In the world of Southern subsistence agriculture, farm animals were things. I’ll never forget spending a winter down there in the early ’80s. My parents were getting too old to keep the place up so I spent the winter fixing fences, brushing, generally fixing things. I was trying to clear stumps and snags out of our lake and got tired of getting my tractor stuck, so I bought a mule, and quickly learned why everybody who had mules had gotten rid of them the minute they could afford a tractor. Anyway, it was mid-winter and the weather was getting what passes for bad in South Georgia, so we weren’t working much. My father walked with me to go get the mule into his stall and as I fed him, my father said, “Boy, why you feeding that mule; he ain’t working?”

          Anyway, we quit farming and subdivided the place in the mid-Sixties and I finally got to somewhat join the US middle class. My father managed and ultimately owned small town retail stores so I was expected to work with him. Every young person should spend some time working in retail to give them the motivation to learn to make a decent living. It is good experience, however, and more should be able to do it. Plus, if you know how to show up and act human, you’ll never lack for work; retail is pretty much always hiring; you won’t get paid well or treated well, but you won’t be unemployed or on welfare. Anyway, I learned how to show up and do what I was told at an early age; the rest just sorta’ falls into place if you can do that.

  3. Oh Art, you truly are a gift to Alaska and those of us who have read your wisdom and wit for years. This is especially timely and poignant. Thank you once again.

    • I totally agree with you Linda, I get a great amount of joy out of Art’s works of ART!

  4. We can always count on you for an entertaining piece, Art. It’s even worse than you think. 20s and 30 somethings text all day, exchange YouTube videos, email, Instagram, SnapChat, Tweet, and even watch NetFlix at work. How anything gets done in thecworkplace is beyond me. Most of these younger ones don’t know what the word cursive even means. They never write letters, penmanship is non-legible, and their signature is unascertainable. Their attention span is somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes. Are these stupid people? Not at all. But the communication toys and the networks and apps make it too easy for them. Welcome to the non-stop entertainment culture, where critical thinking and reflecting on history/philosophy/is all but gone.

  5. Art, Jay Leno taught us that the jaywalkers were a snapshot from society and we’re dumber than a box of rocks. It was funny to see how stupid California was. We used to get paddled in school. We used to be afraid of our parents if we misdbehav Ed in school. My dad’s weapon of choice was his belt. Spare the rod and spoil the child was his motto.i was raised old school. That is the way we raised our son although I never raised a hand on him. I didn’t have to or want to. He is ashamed of his fellow millinials. He is smarter than I am and at 27 years old knows more. You would have been proud to hire him

  6. They pulled down the statue of Fredrick Douglass, in Rochester along the route of the Underground Railroad. They’re that stupid.

    Probably thought he was a “colonizer”.

  7. I’m thinking more money thrown at the teacher’s unions should fix the job just fine…

    • Teachers aren’t the problem. The issue is with the parents. Just first hand knowledge. They aren’t involved in education, or raising their kids. Most, not all.

      • Talk with a history teacher about the US Civil War, ask them which party Jefferson Davis supported. Watch their head start to spin, it’ll be YouTube worthy.

      • I’ve heard that before – from teachers. I also empathize because I know the last two sentences to be true. OTOH, I have always told them, for decades now, if the teachers can not overcome the handicap, the society is doomed. Maybe we are there.

  8. I saw part of it coming in the mid 1960s while living with a bunch of guys in an Atlanta “apartment,” following the civil rights movement unfold and Congress’ response. My thoughts on what then had to be done with our education system were not welcomed by my peers – they told me to find another place to live. Little did I know, however, we would abandon education of all but the rich!

    • We don’t educate the rich either; we just expensively credential them and offer them membership in the credentialed social club.

      • Touché, Art. My summary statement WAS too broad. But, the fact is there are some critical individuals coming out of the overall system even today. The fraction, IMO, is way too low and the fraction (in Alaska especially) working at well below “grade level” is way too high. One aspect of education many seem to have missed which I consider to be fact – Learning is not a passive activity. My wife and I had the same teacher for sixth grade. We both heard, over and over, “If I could, I’d bore a hole in your heads and pour it in, but I can’t. You have to work to learn.” That’s part of what we’ve done wrong – low to nil standards, expectations. Social promotion, etc. I’m fearful that damage is done and can not be reversed. To your comment on your “20-something” and the civil war – one is ignorant if s/he hasn’t acquired some bit of knowledge but not necessarily dumb/stupid.

        • No, one week short of two years was all I could take of what passes for management in retail. I got more PC BS in two years than I got in over 20 with the State, half of which was under Democrat administrations. See Suzanne’s piece on corporate cowardice and thank you for the kind words.

      • Yeah, at my ‘exclusive’ college (76-80) the ‘Porsche Pals’ all joined frats or sororities and they had copies of previous tests. I think the professors were under pressure to let the rich (and the jocks on our “AAA” National Champion football and basketball teams) pass. It was almost possible to graduate without having learned much of anything except how to cheat! I wrote “almost” because there were two professors who were allowed to get tough. History 101 and Earth Science. They had to at least know when the civil war was and that Alaska wasn’t actually out in the ocean next to Hawaii! I thought that kind of cheating cheapened the degrees of everyone else who actually did the work. However I couldn’t say anything against it. I spent my senior year (H.S.) living in my $50 – 1962 Impala and so graduated dead last. The only reason they let me in their expensive college is that I’m a freak, intellectually, and they needed my IQ, ACT, and SAT numbers to balance some of the dead weight they were carrying. How ‘exclusive can they be if they let me in?! Yep, “credentialed social club” is exactly what I saw. Accurate insights Art, and I enjoyed learning about some of the people commenting on this one.

    • Parents stopped being allowed to be parents. The schools and social services agencies have had parental authority under continual assault for fifty years and more. Tell junior he can’t have the family car at midnight on a school night and he calls 911 and tells them that his father made him afraid. The father gets to leave the home without even his toothbrush and is going to have his life made a living Hell for weeks or months by the child protective services types and other government busy bodies. Oh, and their teachers give them comprehensive instruction on how to do that sort of thing in between the lessons about having anal sex.

      • Now you are being ridiculous. School beg parents to put their kids to bed before midnight. To do homework. The spank their butts for misbehaving. They get nothing but spoiled kids

        • If you spank a kid’s butt and they complain about it, you’re going to spend some quality with the nice lesbian social workers and the cops. Get real!

          • Not to mention having to hire an attorney for a civil assault or child abuse action. They taught us that in IRAC classes. Lol!!!!

  9. You are right on, Art. I could see it coming for many years also, as far back as the 60’s. When I graduated from high school, I had a well rounded education and appreciated being an America. So much so, I joined the military and served my country in Vietnam. After which I entered the aviation field and spent my entire adult life working a job I enjoyed. My point is, I made my own decisions and reaped the rewards and/or suffered the consequences. I didn’t blame others for my mistakes. Today’s juveniles are conditioned to blame others and to find fault because others have different ideas. Today’s young people are angry that they have been lied to by educators, and politicians and now they want what they deem to be theirs. What they can’t get for free, they are willing to take by force or intimidation. No wonder this people hate America when they have a worthless $200,000 liberal arts degree and no prospect of a job, no way to achieve the American dream. No wonder these people are liberal Democrats. And guess what, it all started in the classroom.

    • I’m not sure what lies you think teachers have been telling kids. Test scores in the bush are so low, most are just trying to teach comprehension so that the students can read and understand the test. Most don’t go to college even with a full ride scholarship. Just trying to help them to fill out a job application at McDonald’s or Walmart if/when they decide to move to town. I as a shop teacher tried to teach them construction but most don’t know how to read a tape measure. Don’t blame teachers. Sure, there are some bad apples but most are dedicated. There are successful stories out there. You just have to be willing to see them.

      • Greg, I’ve come to have respect for your common sense views on certain issues. I had eight years of Nuns whose methods would be problematic today, but by virtue of that discipline you got a really good education. That kind of thing will never be allowed again, and probably shouldn’t. I had one nun who, after breaking a couple of regular rulers over my hands or head, got a three sided drafting ruler! I had to steal it to prevent serious harm, but the fact that I still have that ruler, here in Alaska fifty years and 5,000 miles later, is a sign of long lasting damage. In high school (72-76) there was this televised show with hundred of schools competing…Academic Challenge. I went to tryouts where I scored higher than the next 3 combined! This was expected as I had three firsts and a second in State PSAT’s the year before. The teacher excluded me without a reason! This devastated me. My far future wife had a lunch pail purse that said: “Jesus Freak” and that was pretty much me before this incident. Afterwards…sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Worse, I was very popular, so when I fell I took half the school with me. They were spoiled rich kids who didn’t need much of an excuse, but still. It was a teacher who would help pull me out of it. It was a magnet class for “special” or “at risk” kids in the district. Art wouldn’t like him, we had couches and bean bags instead of desks! We were the ones who weren’t good at following orders, so they taught us to run our own businesses! If you or Art ever get in a position to affect change, you might keep this business oriented model in mind. It would attract kids and give them “job skills” without them realizing it! I’m trying to make a positive suggestion, but honestly Greg I think it’s too late. We allowed mediocrity to set in. Part of that is the “Trophy for showing up” BS, but a big part is the teaching system is geared towards mediocrity. Our support system for all teachers is lacking which prevents teachers to achieve excellence. And we do not reward that excellence…nor punish the incompetent…you end up with mediocre.

  10. Silly girl, everybody knows Art was with Xenophon in the March of the 10,000! Want to hear something scary? My fall back used to be dealing ancient coins. Years ago, at my moms’ house in Ohio, I was about to conclude the sale of a rare Athenian Tetradrachm (about 481 BC) via internet and phone. My client gave me his ‘real’ name and shipping address; Xenophon Anabasis at a small village in England. Having Sherlock Holmes like superpowers, but no common sense as to when to keep my mouth shut(!), I blurted out: “You’re the damn head of NATO”! Immediately the connection was broken followed about two minutes later by moms’ phone and internet going down. When it finally rang, it was “military intelligence” and I had to answer all kinds of questions including where I was physically at and what the weather was like outside. When I got to talk to the general again he told me that he’d been using that cover name for twenty years including with West Point and Academy graduates and no one had ever known who Xenophon was. They don’t teach THE greatest general who ever lived at our military colleges! The real shocker is ‘WHY’. It’s apparently deemed unrealistic that a modern American General would have to fight any prolonged defensive battles. That’s called arrogance! But the point is, we’re guarded by officers who only know what to do when everything is going their way. I think that because the primary education has become lacking that secondary schools have to make up for it, thus lessening the education actually received at college…including our military colleges

    • I assure you that 100 and 200 level classes at the UA are not demanding; pay and show up sometimes and you pass, yet between a third and a half of HS graduates cannot test into 100 level math and English classes and many spend a couple of years “in college” but taking remedial classes below the college level. A huge percentage of them drop out of college without ever even taking a college level class.

      When I was in exile from the Executive Branch back in the mid-Nineties, I took a bunch of classes at UA-Southeast, mostly History and Literature/English. I hadn’t read anything but Tom Clancy novels and other airplane riding books for twenty years other than books about my tradecraft. I quickly learned that all the bad thoughts I’d had about public education were wrong; it was far worse than I thought. A huge percentage of the kids coming out of Alaska schools with “Good Trying ” certificates and 3.something GPAs are functionally illiterate.

      They let these slugs evaluate their professors, and they actually pay attention to the evaluations by people who couldn’t write a decent English sentence if their life depended on it. Like most universities these days UAS relies heavily on adjunct professors for lower level classes. An adjunct isn’t tenured and is essentially a temporary employee who serves at the pleasure of the school administration, but what that really means is that they serve at the pleasure of illiterate children. If the children think a professor is too demanding, s/he becomes a former professor.

      I made one “B” in my five semesters at UAS, and I deserved it. It was in a 200 Logic class taught by an adjunct that I knew from the State and socially. He had a Ph.D in Philosophy and a J.D. from Gonzaga, one of the smartest people I’ve known, though not necessarily the most charming. Logic was considered a non-lab science course and could be used to meet your general education requirements. UAS was ending their old program that would give a teacher certification with only a bachelor’s degree and lots of Ed Majors piled into that class. 35 people, mostly Ed Majors registered for that class and seven of us took the final. It was Spring semester and finals are at the same time as the end of the Legislative Session, and I was trying to work about 27 hours a day between the Legislature and school, so I sorta’ mailed the final in. He graded on a strict curve, which meant that some who took the final failed it and thus failed the course. I didn’t quarrel with the B, but I would have liked to have seen the A paper. Anyway, that was the professor’s last course at UAS; next semester there was your basic lank-haired, hollow-chested, bespectacled lefty teaching a groovy class that mostly met out on the lawn, and the children loved him.

      • True words spoken here. I went through the entire education system and saw pretty much the same thing. The kids know who the easy profs are, and they flick to them. The conservative profs, who are usually tough graders, get a small handful into their classrooms.

        • The Education Racket abandoned “in loco parentis” in the Sixties and took over as the authority figure in children’s lives in defiance of parental authority in the Seventies.

          We are not a Nation of Enlightenment scholars and Renaissance Men, though we had some thankfully; we are a Nation of illiterate or semi-literate farmers, tradesmen, and frontiersmen. Even those from families of some substance weren’t the first born sons or the cultured, pretty, marriageable daughters.

          Our establishment of the academies in The South and the public schools in the North and West was to provide a unifying and socializing influence on a people who were not very unified or well-socialized. In loco parentis means in the parents’ place!

          The school was itself the “civilizing” influence and was intended to be just that.

          • Great point. But if the kids are adopted out to a pair of Lesbians, they become super-socialized. And if the kids are minorities and are adopted by White moviestars……..well……you know.

  11. I’m at the tail end of Generation X, I grew up logging and fishing and I know what work is. Many kids now-a-days have no clue what work is, even worse is they have no desire. There are plenty who are good at parroting what they see or hear, they can watch a YouTube video and follow along or repeat it after having watched the video. Most have no actual knowledge of anything and worse have no idea how to think, nor do they care to try and learn. The ability to think for oneself is very much overlooked in the world today.

  12. Yes, Mr. Chance is a fine example of someone who was raised properly – angry, bitter, gun-toting, and misogynistic by all accounts, and as demonstrated by the fine articles he pens for MRAK.

    • You know, I really got into with Art a couple months ago and I had a few choice words for him! However, THIS article is not that article. THIS article and his comments are spot on and it’s hard to find any error with what he said. Is that why you had to attack him personally?

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