Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Making of a Nanny State

When I was a child, "mind your own business" was a regular admonition to meddling children and tattletales everywhere.  My mother, who raised ten children, had her own version of this saying, "Don't worry about what everyone else is doing, just worry about yourself."  That was the America of individual responsibility and individual accountability, where spying on others was considered almost as detestable as blaming every personal failure on the world around us.

Oh how times have changed!  This past weekend, Michelle Obama raised eyebrows, and a lot of people's blood pressure, when she suggested that students need to begin monitoring their older family members, friends and acquaintances for comments that are not "racially-sensitive".  We shared her remarks in a poster on The Liberty Project's Facebook page and the responses and comments were visceral.  The message was clear---older Americans, and by older I mean people over about 35 years of age--still remember when "mind your own business" was the social norm.  The poster is below and if you would like to add your own comments to the most shared and commented upon poster we have ever done, feel free:

Comment Here on The Liberty Project Facebook Page

The problem is that American students today are learning a doctrine very different from "mind your own business".  Today's students are being indoctrinated into both the nanny and police state model through school practices that teach them that part of their mission on earth is to report their fellow students while also teaching them that they bear no individual responsibility for their own success or failure.

In March of 2014, I came to Dallas to interview for a position as the director of an educational video training program that supplies educational videos for schools across the U.S. and Canada.  Twenty-five years ago I taught history and developmental education to freshman students at El Paso Community College for four years, and with that experience and my experience with media and video I was interested in the position and in the whole concept of teacher training and development through packaged videos delivered over a website.

This is what's wrong with America:

As I watched the videos I got a quick lesson in how community colleges educate our young citizens today.  In 2014 it apparently takes a village to get an Associates Degree.  Teachers are encouraged to volunteer for extra surveillance over their students--to not only note who is coming to class and who isn't as part of a normal attendance roster, but to follow up with students who are not attending, to call them, visit them and dog their steps to determine WHY they are missing class.  In fact, everyone is encouraged to follow up with each other.  The administrators of the program I saw stated proudly that they encourage the workers in campus housing to report the names of students they see who appear to be cutting class. (Why a community college would have campus housing I cannot even imagine since normally the student body is exclusively from the local community).  Students are encouraged to report the names of those who are cutting class.  Do you see a classmate crying in the hall or in the restroom?  Don't ignore it; don't even just talk to her yourself to find out what's wrong.  Tell a counselor.  This model of education is taking "see something/say something to a whole new level".  It is now everyone's responsibility to watch everyone else, report everyone else, and make sure that everyone else is where they should be doing what they should  be doing.

I watched the video in horror remembering my own teaching days.  Twenty-five years ago a lot of students fell off the roster during the first sixty days.  For a handful, their financial aid did not come through, but for most, they just did not want to attend class.  I did not need to pursue those students or track them down to find out why they stopped attending--I already knew.  At the beginning of every semester, during the first hour of the first class I asked every student to tell me his or her name, a little about themselves, and what they were hoping to get out of my class.  Every year a small but regular percentage answered the same way, "My parents (usually Mom) said I had to get a job or go to college, and I decided this was easier."  Invariably, those were the ones who quit attending.  Back in those days, students could smoke indoors and as I entered my classroom, I often saw them loitering in the hallway smoking and chatting with friends.  Funny, in four years I never met a student who after enrolling and securing the financial aid  somehow did not know that he/she was supposed to attend class.  Each of those people knew where they were supposed to be; they just chose not to attend.  And as far as I was concerned that was their own choice to make.  After all, whether or not they attended class neither harmed nor benefited me in any way--I already had my own degree.

It's Everybody's Fault But Mine

In the 2014 model, the student does not have the freedom to merely leave class without fear of harassment, but that also means that he/she does not have any of the final responsibility for personal success or failure.  The video I saw featured a young man who had enrolled in class and then immediately quit attending.  His reason was that this was his first time away from home, and "you do every bad thing you can think of."  Two months later he received a call from the counselor at the college who told him that he had not been in class for two months.  "No. I was there yesterday," this kid answered--and apparently he wasn't being flippant--he actually had two months of missing time and really thought he had been in class the day before.  Not to worry--his new surrogate parent, the community college district--scooped him up and brought him back to class.

As a teacher, I really have to wonder how much he has learned since returning to class.  Is someone whose only interest in leaving home for the first time is to do "every bad thing you can think of" really ready to learn anything?  Was he ready to learn when he came back--or just ready to sit in class and get a degree?  Why are we as a society wasting taxpayer money on this nonsense?

The System is My Parent

Lest my readers think I am being too harsh, consider that we are replacing the individual family unit with the concept of an all-powerful, all-resourceful bureaucracy as our family.  We saw this two years ago in Obama's "Life of Julia" Internet campaign.  Julia never has a husband--the government provides her needs and those of her child and essentially takes on the role of husband and provider.   In the same way, bureaucracy is taking on the parent role for young people.  In the old days prior to government intervention, people went to college because they paid for it themselves or their father paid for it.  If they paid for it themselves--worked their way through medical school waiting tables, for example, as did my father's ex-brother-in-law--they did not need any external motivation.  Grueling work and sacrifice motivated them to go to class so that one day they could have a better life.  If Dad paid for school, most of the time he set some minimum standard of achievement for his child.  If his kid's grades dropped below a pre-set standard he cut could off the financial support..  The parent made the student accountable.

Today, government financial aid flows to government schools and government sponsored programs creating a system where there is no internal motivation at all and no human parent figure to externally motivate the student.  So the bureaucracy is now the parent.  This system of government as a faceless, impersonal husband/father/head-of-household figure creates an illusion of independence while fostering a very real and growing dependency. In 2014, my success or failure in life is determined entirely by the world around me--it is someone else's responsibility to get me up in the morning, make sure I attend class, make sure I visit the counselor, make sure I am on "the right track."  Even though at age eighteen I am old enough to enter the military, marry, and, in some states, drink alcohol, I cannot and should not be at all responsible for getting an education. To expect that of me is unreasonable and unfair. And my government "parent" with its unlimited funds derived from the tax base, does not make the kinds of demands on me that a human parent who worked and saved to send me to college would, so I can be independent of the nagging demands of a real parent while growing ever more dependent on the system.

This new attitude of government as parent is permeating every part of student life.  When I graduated with both my undergraduate and graduate degree, I had to apply for graduation.  When my sister-in-law graduated from UTEP, she had to apply for graduation.  Applying to graduate was an odd but necessary step in the academic process.  It gave the registrar's office an opportunity to verify that all credits necessary for graduation had been completed.  To the graduating student, having actually done the work was just step one in the process; step two was application for graduation.

Now, however, the Texas Community College system has done away with application for graduation.  Graduation is automatic; just finish the credits and the community college will take care of the rest.  Students don't remember to apply for graduation, and they should not have to be burdened with the extra responsibility of an additional application.  No need to worry about anything; the bureaucracy will take care of it; after all, that's what it's there for.

Conservatives in America worry a lot about what their children are learning in school.  Parents are worried about secular curriculum, pro-socialist revisionist history and common core math that cannot teach a student how to calculate 32-12.  Some even worry about the influence of instructors like the aggressive atheist portrayed by Kevin Sorbo in the new Christian film God's Not Dead or the manipulative and diabolical Kevin Leeds in my newest novel The Force.  What many parents do not understand is that the most powerful lessons in big government, the nanny state, and even the police state, are being taught in more subtle ways--in the inner workings of a system that strips away personal responsibility, personal accountability and even personal freedom and privacy and replaces it with collective governance supported by widespread surveillance.  The young people graduating today from the school system will remember these subtle, underlying messages long after they have forgotten all of the lectures and the textbooks.  And part of them will always believe that it takes a village to accomplish every task and it is part of their civic duty to report to the authorities those who fail to fall into line. 

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Green Was My Valley

Fifteen years ago I relieved stress by strolling along the banks of  the rushing canals filled with water from the Rio Grande.  In Southern New Mexico, no matter how hot the day is, the evenings are generally about 20 degrees cooler.  When I finished work, I could go walking and hear the sound of the water.  Residents of the whole community could be seen near the levies--children played along side the canals and splashed and swam in the often very unsanitary water.  The smell of river water mixed with soil and chemical fertilizers filled the air with a distinctive, pungent perfume.  As the summer went on, the smells of the crops--onions in the fields, alfalfa in bloom, and chilies, added their own touch to the warm, spicy fragrance of the valley.   Ducks swam in pairs up and down the canals; shy water rats hid from view at the sound of human voices.  The river banks and the canals that carried precious river water to the farmers' fields teemed with life--human, fowl and animal.  The same river occasionally brought death--the canals were so filled with water and the currents so powerful that even strong swimmers occasionally drowned.   There might be only a few constants in life, but the rushing water entering the gates of the canals and the odor of the river were among them.

My memories of the river--the heat, the wildlife, the smells---are so vivid that it is sad for me to see what it has become today.  For the last few years, rather than a vibrant, rushing water source, we have had merely a dry riverbed.  An observer would think that this river had been dry for decades.  Yet it really only started a few years ago--when the federal government decided that water could not be released from the Rio Grande more than a few times a year because of drought conditions.   Year after year we heard the same story--excessively warm winters left too little snow on the Colorado Rockies which did not sufficiently replenish the river, so the Elephant Butte Irrigation District could not release the water to the farmers.  This led to the farmers putting down additional wells and pumping out the groundwater, just as it has in California. And just as it has in California, this pumping of groundwater has led to dropping water tables and water shortages.  I was horrified to see a story last month about how the pumping of groundwater in California is actually causing the ground to drop 1 foot per year.  I was particularly affected by the news that the sinking ground can actually prevent the underground aquifers from refilling.  When I shared this story, my brother Chris, who is a year younger than I, commented on Facebook, "A lot of young people don't remember when our river had water in it."  

 Photo of the Rio Grande riverbed taken April 2014. 

The area with the grass is the banks of the river.  The sandy area is the bed.

At first, I was shocked, but over the weeks that followed I heard his comments echoed by other residents of the valley--the young people don't remember when the river bed was not just a dry bed with tire tracks in the middle.  For them, there is no frustration with a government bureaucracy that is shutting off more and more access to water--they have no memories of a time when the water was plentiful.

For my part, I am amazed at the hypocrisy of an Administration that pretends to have unprecedented concern for the environment and yet takes so many actions that harm the environment.  In diverting the river, the government has not only harmed the residents and the farmers; it has also harmed the wildlife that depended on the river for survival.  And even though this past winter was extremely cold and much of the northern part of the country was blanketed with snow, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District announced in the spring that it would release water only once or twice through the irrigation season--forcing the farmers to continue to pump water from the river, dropping the water table and depriving small farmers and private residences of access to water for hours and sometimes days on end.

And the attacks on New Mexico's water are not limited to just those of us who have lived within walking distance of the river.  My brother Chris frequently camps in the Gila Wilderness and the National Forests in Western and Southern New Mexico, respectively, where farmers and ranchers have traditionally allowed their cattle to drink from the abundant streams.  But in the last few weeks, the U.S. Forest Service has set up gates in the Lincoln National Forest in Otero County locking out the cattle and forbidding access to the water.  Their grounds for doing so are that cattle are a "non-native species" and they need to protect the streams.  What nonsense!  Nearly all domestic animals are "non-native" but essential nevertheless.  Without water the cattle are dying.  The Otero County Commissioners are siding with cattle ranchers and are trying to get a resolution passed to allow the Otero County sheriff's department to cut off the Forest Service's locks on the gates.  Here's hoping they act quickly while there are cattle left to save.  The ABC affiliate in El Paso covered this story last week and their coverage can be seen here.

What is happening to the valley, and the state, I once called home is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy that is being played out all over the western states as the federal government seizes control of water rights, through dams and gates and locks.  Last month many of us watched in horror as the BLM sent snipers to Cliven Bundy's ranch to round up his cattle because of supposed unpaid grazing fees.  Bundy's story made international news, but for every Cliven Bundy there are thousands more unseen citizens who are being forced to sell their property and quietly leave because they cannot access water.  There are hundreds of ranchers who are being denied access to land and water they have traditionally used to sustain their livestock.  The American West is being transformed before our eyes from a place of hope, prosperity and opportunity into a desperate dust bowl by an Administration bent on controlling its most precious resource--its water--at the expense of everyone and everything.  And we who are watching are powerless to stop the destruction of what was once some of the most desirable land in our nation.  The green valleys of the west are soon to be lost except in the memories of the people of my generation, who will occasionally close our eyes and recall the sights and sounds of the river.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at