Edward Said’s Wild Pitch

Baseball fans will argue through the winter about exactly why Roger Clemens picked up a shattered baseball bat and hurled it towards Mike Piazza in Game 2 of the World Series. Was it an accident, or were his motives malicious?

There is no such uncertainty about Columbia University professor Edward Said, a major-league agitator who was photographed throwing a rock at an Israeli guardhouse from the Lebanese border in July. This display shocked more than a few people on campus, but Mr. Said will not suffer any consequences. The university recently announced that the professor was exercising his academic freedom, and thus may not be penalized, lest the great Western tradition of free inquiry collapse.

This is absurd. Imagine if an equally prominent Jewish professor were photographed hurling a rock, or aiming a weapon, at a Palestinian. University administrators would be beside themselves. Professor Said got off with not even a slap on the wrist.

It is worth noting that Mr. Said was a longtime adviser to Yasir Arafat-until, that is, Mr. Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords. Mr. Said is an opponent of the now-shattered peace process, and so aligned himself with the terrorist militias who are now waging a low-level war against Israel. If Mr. Said wishes to be a propagandist for Palestinian terrorists-the sort of people who send fanatics out on suicide missions against American targets-that’s his affair.

Once he starts throwing rocks, however, it should be the university’s business. He is supposed to be an educator. What sort of lessons are he, and the university’s spineless administrators, teaching Columbia’s student body?

The High School Solution

If you are a New York City parent who, unlike your own parents, doesn’t want to flee to the suburbs, but also cannot afford a private school, you have a problem. And your problem becomes the city’s problem, since a city that cannot retain its solid middle-class population is headed for trouble. And even if you can afford private school, the competition, starting with nursery school, has become ridiculous. Which is why Schools Chancellor Harold Levy’s new plan to bring back the old neighborhood high school is an innovative attack at the root of a disgraceful system. For there is no reason why a city, especially one with the intellectual resources of New York, must have only a handful of superb, selective high schools while the rest suffer.

Mr. Levy’s plan would confine each high school’s enrollment to students from the surrounding neighborhood or district. The current situation is a mess. Every weekday morning, 65 percent of New York City public high school students travel like nomads across the five boroughs, which means neither they nor their parents develop the bond with a local school that counts for so much when one looks at suburban schools. And with the exception of those students who attend selective public schools such as Stuyvesant High School or the Bronx High School of Science, there is no academic payoff at the other end of the subway or bus ride. The neighborhood high school became a relic 30 years ago, when school zones were remapped to desegregate the high school population. While that admirable goal was reached, the lack of committed parent involvement, of the sort previously fostered by a neighborhood school, contributed to a shocking decline in academic and social standards.

This effort to renew the high schools of New York is a logical consequence of having middle-class households of all colors and races stay in the city. The time to act is now, since the state will be requiring students to meet tougher standards by 2003. And if the candidates angling for the next mayoral race, in the fall of 2001, are looking for an early hot-button issue, this looks like a winner.

Parents Who Love Too Much

Are Manhattan parents turning their young ones into praise junkies, setting them up for a lifetime of disappointment when they grow up and no longer get their fix of daily adulation? Indeed, New York parents who have spent the last decade in their therapist’s office expressing their misery at not being loved enough as a child, and who feel guilty over their reliance on nannies to raise their own children, often vow not to let their kids get through a single day without heaps of love. But that “love,” child psychologists are now saying, too often takes the form of unconditional, flagrant praise, and this may very well end up doing much more harm than good.

“Praising every time lowers a child’s motivation,” Manhattan psychologist Ron Taffel recently said in The New York Times. “It cheapens the praise, and children become dependent on praise.” An over-praised child will become numb to praise, so that compliments offered later in life are disregarded and thus do not contribute to a healthy sense of adult self-worth. Insecure parents may be terrified of their child not being the best at everything. “Being a whole human being means … realizing that others may be better tennis players or better clarinetists,” Fretta Reitzes, director of the Goldman Center for Youth and Family at the 92nd Street Y, told The Times. “When kids begin to really experience their own frailty, parents are often disappointed-’What did I do wrong? I praised you and praised you. I told you you were wonderful and you’re falling apart.’” And some child-rearing experts see a parent’s reflexive praise as an effort to control the child, rewarding him or her with “verbal doggie biscuits,” as author Alfie Kohn told The Times.

So what’s a parent to do? Many child researchers suggest avoiding praise that evaluates a child (“You’re brilliant!”) or that refers to the parent’s own feelings (“I love the way you’ve cleaned your room.”). Better simply to be descriptive and specific, as in, “I see you’ve cleaned your room-that will make it easier for you to find your toys.”

The subtext here? The children being smothered in praise are actually a lot smarter than their parents think.