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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Catherine Vogt Experiment on Diversity of Thought

John Kass in the ChicagoTribune.com writes of an eighth grader who conducted an experiment by wearing a McCain shirt to school one day and an Obama shirt the next. The results were electric.

"McCain Girl."

"I was just really curious how they'd react to something that different, because a lot of people at my school wore Obama shirts and they are big Obama supporters," Catherine told us. "I just really wanted to see what their reaction would be."

Immediately, Catherine learned she was stupid for wearing a shirt with Republican John McCain's name. Not merely stupid. Very stupid.

"People were upset. But they started saying things, calling me very stupid, telling me my shirt was stupid and I shouldn't be wearing it," Catherine said.

Then it got worse.

"One person told me to go die. It was a lot of dying. A lot of comments about how I should be killed," Catherine said, of the tolerance in Oak Park.

But students weren't the only ones surprised that she wore a shirt supporting McCain.

"In one class, I had one teacher say she will not judge me for my choice, but that she was surprised that I supported McCain," Catherine said.

The next day, switching allegiances to Obama:
"People liked my shirt. They said things like my brain had come back, and I had put the right shirt on today," Catherine said


This episode has garnered a lot of media attention. I saw this on "Fox and Friends" where Catherine was interviewed in the morning. She was amazingly bright and composed for her age.

From the Liberal side we have some clucking about the lack of civility. Katie Granju (a favorite link of Glenn Reynolds) remarks on incivility and blames it on...(your guessed it) the parents:
Its prevalence is a sad commentary on the way we're raising the next generation of voters. I mean, where do you think they hear this stuff to begin with? At home.

I could not help but reply:
Katie,

You omitted a very, very important part of the story. When the girl went back the next day with an “Obama Girl” shirt she was praised. That is the way pets – and people – are trained. They are punished for “bad” behavior but rewarded for “good” behavior. It does not take long for reasonably intelligent people to know what to say and in order to earn the tolerance or respect of people around them.

And it’s the way the media, including TV shows and movies are training people. It’s the way you are doing your little part. You just wrote about incivility and suggested we all get along, but failed to point out the larger lesson. The girl did not have to wear a T-shirt to school to know what attitudes were approved and which were not approved. She just needed quotes for her thesis. She may have been surprised by the vehemence of the response to her McCain shirt, but she was under no illusions which shirt would get a negative reaction and which would get a positive reaction. Those signs were all around her, in school, in the press, in the movies and TV shows she watched. It’s a total immersion experience. It’s something most people don’t notice like fish don’t notice the water.

I wonder if you even thought about it as you wrote your column.

Oh, I'm sure the home has some influence on the kids, but children spend much more time out of the house than inside. They are awash in messages, in school, watching TV, going to the movies, listening to music, talking with their friends.

"The home" is a facile and ever-ready explanation of why people do what they do, and it's simply wrong as "The Answer." It is, on even a moment's reflection, one of those clich├ęs that is obviously wrong, but, like jokes, probably goes back thousands of years.

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