Monday, October 11, 2010

Miss Biddle

My second grade teacher, Miss Biddle of Chesapeake City Elementary School, was an absolute dictator.

She had rules, and God help her trembling charges who broke them. Students even had to pee on schedule, a stipulation that got Timmy Walston into a deep puddle of trouble when he wet his pants while sitting at his desk. He got punished by having his chair moved into a corner. The ancient upright piano—it was never played– was shoved catty-corner in front of the chair so he couldn’t get out. All the children then filed by him on the way to recess. He was sobbing his eyes out, but to no avail.

One of her favorite tactics was to stand an offending child on a stool in front of the class and encourage the rest of the class to ridicule the kid as a “cry baby.” “Look at her cry, class,” she would say. And, of course, the child would oblige by turning on the water works, crying her heart out.

Yes, Miss Biddle had rules.

Lots of rules.

One day she handed out a picture for us to color. It was of a robin sitting in a nest. By now, having experienced Miss Biddle’s wrath on more than one occasion, having spent time on the “fool’s stool” and having had my head thumped against the blackboard, I had learned to follow the rules exactly. I colored the robin orange and brown exactly within the lines as precisely instructed by our beloved teacher; and so did just about every other kid in the class. Heaven help the budding Jackson Pollack who dared to do anything free form–likewise anyone who wanted to color a Miro-like fantastical bird with rainbow wings and a purple tail.

Needless to say, Miss Biddle’s rules suffocated initiative and creativity.

But that’s what too many suffocating rules, regulations and punishments do to children. They stifle their spirits and dumb down their creativity.

Welcome to Miss Biddle’s world writ large, American “children.”

Our state and federal governments are having the same stifling effect as my second grade teacher’s plethora of rules and punishments—suffocation.

Few put the consequences of too many laws and punishments as eloquently as Philip K. Howard, who in a recent article in the NY Daily News, sums up the results of too many laws, rules and regulations: “Government is broken and the economy is gasping.”

Did you know that a new governor of most states, including Delaware, will come to office and find that about 90% of the state budget is “pre-committed to entitlements and mandates enacted by politicians long dead;” and that, among other things, in stark contrast to Miss Biddle’s cruel authoritarianism (but equally a pox on creativity and learning), “Teachers no longer have authority to maintain order in the classroom?” Heck, they can’t even hug a crying student without fear of a law suit claiming they are pedophiles.

And what about small businesses, the engines of our economy?

There is so much legal sludge to slog through that it is impossible for small businesses and entrepreneurs to wade through the legalities. Innovation has been stifled by impossibly complex laws and an incomprehensible tax code.

To make things worse, “Hardly any social interaction is free of legal risk”—and consequent punishment. Legalities are so pervasive that any given American at any given time is automatically guilty of breaking the law and thus open to persecution from governmental entities armed with platoons of lawyers anxious to put an offender on the equivalent of Miss Biddle’s “fool’s stool.”

What is the answer to the “Biddleization” of our country?

As Howard points out, “Changing leaders or parties will not solve [the] problem…What’s required to revive America is a major structural overhaul. This is a task of historic proportions—not unlike the simplification of law by Justinian in ancient Rome. Our founding fathers never imagined that democracy would become a one-way ratchet—always adding laws but never repealing them. Nor did they intend law to be a form of central planning. The Constitution sets forth our governing goals and principles in only 16 pages.”

Yet despite the need to simplify, the new healthcare bill—as one example—adds 2,700 pages of new regulations, agencies and requirements. This is to say nothing of what would happen if “Cap and Trade” were to be enacted. Imagine what small businesses would groan under if yet another 2,000 or more page monstrosity was to be enacted?

The truth of the matter is that there will be no going forward until America gets free of the Miss Biddle authoritarian mentality. The “color between the lines” mentality has meant a legal straight jacket that paralyzes the American spirit, suffocates the entrepreneurial spirit and vitiates the body politic.

Those we send to Washington or to the Delaware State House must be committed to radical reform of the law of the land.

We need Justinians.

Miss Biddle has got to go.

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