“Character” Purists, Cleanse Thyselves

Mike Males

c Youth Today, June 2001

                Americans hate adolescents and never hesitate to let them know it. How else do we explain March’s ugly rush to typecast all teens by the tiny few who shoot up a school rather than by the record millions who volunteer to clean beaches or visit invalids? Adult bigotry, a serious threat to youths’ well-being, persists despite decades of research by respected scientists such as Daniel Offer, Joseph Adelson, and research reviewers debunking stereotypes of teens as impulsive, rebellious, hormonal, immortality-deluded, and violent.

                Modern authorities reinforce myths of adolescents as dangerous risk machines through unethical “behavior risk” surveys. Consider again the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”), which dismissed adult-imposed social disadvantage (race and poverty) as tiny factors in teenage risk compared to youths’ own misbehaviors.

                Contrary to glowing media reports, including Youth Today’s (2/01), there’s nothing original or “shocking” about Add Health’s claims. Researchers Robert Blum, Trisha Beuhring, and Peggy Rinehart of the University of Minnesota rigged the study to bury socioeconomic factors by creating absurdly broad “risk” categories:  carrying a pocketknife once was equated with shooting dozens; drinking one beer annually equaled getting drunk weekly; safe sex with a long-term partner equaled doing Dallas. Presto! By defining as “high risk” mild behaviors practically every teenager engages, Add Health made race and class differences “disappear.”

                Then, when evaluating teens’ personal habits, Add Health switched to complex behavior scales refined to enhance subtle “risk” differences. Abracadabra! “Adolescent health risk behaviors” are paramount! Blum et al then compounded their statistical malpractice by comparing social conditions evaluated by a method designed to minimize them with individual characteristics analyzed by another method designed to magnify them.

                Don’t expect criticism of such institutional “lying and cheating” from the Josephson Institute on Ethics. Founder Michael Josephson condemns young people as “moral illiterates,” but he’s “comfortable” with the morals of the rich and powerful like George Bush and Al Gore. Josephson conducts negative surveys of high schoolers featuring gotcha! questions such as, “Within the past year, I lied...” or, “I feel very safe at school.”  Then, when 92% of students admit lying (who hasn’t?) and 38% don’t feel “very safe” at school (how many American feel “very safe” anywhere?), Josephson issues inflamed press statements berating all youths as “serial liars,” “cheaters,” and “downright scary.” (When pressed, Josephson admits he’s lied, too!).

                Moral illiteracy? Take Josephson’s recent commentary: “This isn’t the first generation that has been bullied, taunted, and tormented, but this is the first that has resorted to mass homicide as a response.” This slur isn’t just false (students in past generations committed school shootings, and Josephson’s “scary” middle-aged generation commits more murderous rampages now), it would be rank bigotry if hurled at any other group. The younger “generation” didn’t pull the trigger at Columbine or Santee any more than the black “race” commits drive-by shootings or the Islamic “religion” bombs skyscrapers.

                Josephson’s survey projects eight million teens easily can get guns to take to school. Yet in March, when “school shootings” were headlined, only four of America’s 2,500 gun murders and suicides occurred at school. If accurate, Josephson’s survey shows schoolkids handle gun availability far more safely than grownups do. More died when one suburban Santa Cruz father shot four to death one typical family massacre in March than in all of America’s 50-million-student schools that month.

                Josephson’s one-sided “surveys” are just promos for his Character Counts! curriculum, which preaches “honesty,” “tolerance,” “self-restraint,” and “fairness.” But when his interests benefit, confessed “serial liar” Michael Josephson practices distortion, finger-pointing, alarmism, and prejudice. He lauds the super-rich Rockefellers for espousing “good values” amid “ruthless” business dealings, then berates lowly teens for “inconsistency in what they say they believe and how they act.”  Unfortunately, youths emulate not the pious platitudes, but the real behaviors and values they see luminaries like Josephson, Blum, and nearby adults practicing and profiting from. Please, kids: aim higher!


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