Stupid White Men and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation

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1. Hire only black people.

I’m done hiring white people. Nothing against them personally, of course. They’re a dependable, hardworking lot. Those I’ve hired for my films and TV shows have been a great bunch.

But they are white.

How can I write what I’ve already written in this chapter when I’ve done little or nothing to correct the problem in my own backyard? Oh, sure, I could give you a hundred excuses for why it’s so hard to find African-Americans in this business—and they’d all be true. So what? So it’s hard? Does that absolve me of responsibility? I oughta be leading a picket of myself.

By giving jobs to white people—for many of them, their first job in this medium—I’ve enabled them to go on and have successful careers on shows like Politically Incorrect, Dharma and Greg, David Letterman’s show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and more. A dozen other former staffers have gone on to make their own independent films. One became an executive at

Comedy Central, and two others created shows for that network. Some of our editors have worked at HBO, and one of them has gone on to edit many of Ang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Lee’s films.

I’m happy for them all, but there’s a question that gnaws away inside my head: What if I’d done the same for a hundred black writers, editors, field producers, and cinematographers on my projects over the years? Where would they be today? My guess using their talent to affect a hundred shows or movies, having their voices heard. And we’d all be better off for it.

The more I think about it, white employees can be a lot of trouble. Right now, the white person in the office next to me is playing an Eagles CD. That person’s got to go. They can also be a pretty lazy bunch—especially those who grew up with a lot of money and went to the nicer schools. They’re the ones who’ve spilled crap an over our carpets, leaving huge, ugly stains, and who’ve scratched up all our furniture. Their genetically encoded sense of privilege whispers in their ears, “Someone else (someone black?) will pick up after you.” Another employee just came in and told me she wants to take Friday off “to go out to the Hamptons.” Sure—and why don’t you take the rest of your life off while you’re at it?

So they’ve all gotta go. From now on, whitey don’t work here no more.

I suppose some government agency is going to pay me a visit over this, as I’m legally prohibited from denying employment to an entire race of people. I don’t care. Bring it on! And you better not send me some white guy, or I’ll have him fetching me burgers and scrubbing my toilet.

So if you’re African-American and you’d like to work in the media—or already do but haven’t been able to get out from behind that damn. reception desk—then I encourage you to drop me a line and send me your résumé.

Our lone white receptionist will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

2. If you own a business, pay people a living wage, provide day care, and make sure all your employees have health insurance.

This survival tip is for those of you who consider yourselves conservative and are great believers in capitalism. If being conservative is all about looking out for number one, I have a radical, but simple, idea that will guarantee you larger profits, a more productive workforce, and no labor problems.

Our black citizens are disproportionately our poorest citizens. Yet without them to do the hard labor, white society would be crippled. You want them to work even harder? You want them to help you make more money?

Here’s what you need to do:

Make sure the amount you pay your employees is enough for them to own their own home, have reliable transportation, take a vacation, and send their kids to college.

How does paying people more money make you more money?

It works like this. The more you pay workers, the more they spend. Remember, they’re not just your workers—they’re your consumers, too. The more they spend their extra cash on your products, the more your profits go up. Also, when employees have enough money that they don’t have to live in constant fear of bankruptcy, they’re able to focus more on their work—and be more productive. With fewer personal problems and less stress hanging over them, they’ll lose less time at work, meaning more profits for you. Pay them enough to afford a latemodel car (i.e., one that works), and they’ll rarely be late for work. And knowing that they’ll be able to provide a better life for their children will not only give them a more positive attitude, it’ll give them hope—and an incentive to do well for the company, because the better the company does, the better they’ll do.

Of course, if you’re like most corporations these days announcing mass layoffs right after posting record profits—then you’re already hemorrhaging the trust and confidence of your remaining workforce, and your employees are doing their jobs in a state of fear. Productivity will drop. That will hurt sales. You will suffer. Ask the people at Firestone: Ford has alleged that the tire company fired its longtime union employees, then brought in untrained scab workers who ended up making thousands of defective tires—and 203 dead customers later, Firestone is in the toilet.

Open an on-site day care center for employees with children ages two to five.

Now, I can hear your first reaction already. “No way I’m having a bunch of little brats running around here—THIS IS A PLACE OF BUSINESS!” I understand. Those little ones can cause quite a distraction, especially when you’re trying to close a big deal with that German bank and little LaToya speeds by, dragging Kasheem around by the hair like a stuffed animal.

But here’s a greater distraction to consider: if your employees are spending all their time at work worrying about their kids, they won’t be as productive as they should be. Parents will always worry about their children before their jobs. That’s just human nature. And single parents? They’ve got no help. When somebody needs to cut out of work to go pick up their sick kid at the babysitter’s, or needs to split the second the clock strikes five because the day care center charges a penalty for late pickups, they’ve got no choice but to drop what they’re doing.

Imagine if your workers didn’t have to spend time on the job worrying about the kids, and instead focused 100 percent on making you money? If they no longer had to miss work just because the babysitter flaked out, and got to spend all day long making you money?

A day care center on the premises doesn’t cost that much and most parents would be willing to share that cost with you if it meant a reprieve from worrying about the kids. Think of how relaxed it would make your workers, knowing that their children were safe and secure—and nearby! Man, they’ll be working their butts off!

Translation: More dough for YOU!

Provide good health care insurance for everyone, and give workers enough paid sick days.

Do I even need to explain this one? How much efficiency is sacrificed every year by employees who come to work sick because they can’t afford to go to the doctor or avoid doing so until they’re near collapse? With no other choice, they bring their viruses to work—and infect everyone in their path. It’s far more profitable to pay for health insurance for your workers, so they can get better quick and start busting their humps for you again—at full speed. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce. With health insurance, it’s one afternoon off work to see the doctor, a speedy diagnosis and prescription, and—look!—back to work in a couple of days, instead of lingering at home for a week or two waiting for the condition to clear up.

The good news is, all of the above is in the interest of your own bottom line—no bleeding-heart, bleeding-money liberalism required. You can stay as regressive and greedy as you want—I don’t care. If it means life will get better for some of the millions of African-Americans who work hard for little pay, scanty benefits, and no security, then I’ll be happy.
3. Don’t buy a handgun.

What sense does it make to have a gun in the house? If it’s for hunting, then it’s simple: keep your rifle or shotgun unloaded and locked up in the attic until hunting season.

If you’re thinking of buying a handgun for protection, on the other hand, let me give you a few statistics. A member of your family is twenty-two times more likely to die from gunfire if you have a gun in your house than if you don’t.

The idea that having a gun is the only way to ensure “home protection” is a myth. Fewer than 1 out of 4 violent crimes is committed while the victim is at home. Among all the instances when guns are fired during a break-in while the owner is at home, in only 2 percent are guns used to shoot the intruder. The other 98 percent of the time, residents accidentally shoot a loved one or themselves—or the burglars take the gun and kill them with it.

Nonetheless, we have almost a quarter-billion guns in our homes.

The vast majority of guns in America are purchased and owned—that is, introduced into society—by white people. Each year about 500,000 guns are stolen, mostly from these same white people in the suburbs. And the vast majority of those guns end up in the inner city, sold cheaply or traded for legal or illegal goods and services.

These white guns have caused an enormous amount of death and suffering among African-Americans. Gunfire is the number one cause of death among young blacks. Black men between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four are almost six times more likely to be shot to death than white men in that same age group.

No African-American owns a gun company. Cruise through the part of your town where African-Americans live: there are no gun factories there. At prices that range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, most African-Americans can’t afford to buy a Glock, Beretta, Luger, Colt, or Smith & Wesson. No black guy owns a plane that’s smuggling automatic weapons into the country

All of this is done by whites. But sooner or later, thousands of these legally purchased guns end up in the hands of desperate people who live in poverty and who live with their own set of fears. To introduce guns into this volatile environment—which we white people have done little to improve—is a deadly proposition.

So if you’re white, and you’d like to help reduce the number one cause of death among young black men, here’s the answer: Don’t buy a gun. Don’t keep one in your house or car. No guns laying around means no guns stolen to be resold in poor black neighborhoods. Wherever you live, chances are that crime is at an all-time low. Chill out, sit back, and enjoy the good life an unlevel playing field has given you. If you’re truly concerned about your protection, get a dog. Bad guys generally don’t want to tussle with a crazy barking animal with sharp teeth.

You don’t need a gun.
4. Lose all the liberal “concern” for black people.

Really. Black people are onto us. They know we say and do things to make it look as if progress has been made. They see us working hard to show how not-prejudiced we are. Skip it. We haven’t made real progress. We’re still bigots—and they know it.

Cut the crap about all your “black friends.” You don’t have black friends. A friend is someone you have over for dinner regularly, someone you go on vacation with, someone you ask to be in your wedding party, someone you go to church with on Sunday, someone you call often to share your most intimate secrets. That kind of friend.

Your black “friends” know that the chances of your dropping your toddler off with them in their part of town while you go on a weekend trip is about as good as your inviting them to go on the trip with you.

I’ve heard liberals say dumb things like, “There are no black people on Friends.” I like it that there are no black friends on

Friends, because in real life friends like that don’t have black friends. It’s an honest, believable show.

So let’s dispense with this ruse that blacks and whites are now all part of that big multi-cultural quilt we call America. We live in our world, they live in theirs. And that’s what we’ve grown comfortable with, like it or not. This wouldn’t be so bad if their world existed on a financially and socially parallel plane. If it did, then we could just mix and mingle however we saw fit—as equals, the way we already do with other white people. For instance, I don’t have much desire to hang out with Young Republicans. That’s okay, because they’re going to do just fine without me, and my decision not to associate with them doesn’t affect their standard of living or quality of life. (In fact, it probably improves it.)

Isn’t it better not to coddle each other with the delusion that African-Americans are finally part of the mainstream? Isn’t it smarter to lift the veil of false hope we give African-Americans, so that we don’t waste any time fooling ourselves? The next time you’re talking to one of your “black friends,” instead of telling him how you’re really “down” with the new Jay-Z CD, why not put your arm around him and say, “I love ya, bro, you know that, so I gotta tell you a little secret we white people have: Your people aren’t ever going to have it as good as we do. And if you think working hard and trying to fit in is going to get you a seat on the board of directors when we’ve already got our black seat filled well, friend, if it’s equality and advancement you seek, try Sweden.”

The sooner we all start talking like that, the more honest a society we’ll all be living in.

5. Look in the mirror.

If you’re white, and you really want to help change things, why not start with yourself? Spend time with your fellow whiteys talking about what you can do to make the world a little better for whites and African-Americans alike. Stop the next white person you hear make a stupid racist comment and set him straight. Quit your whining about affirmative action. No black person is ever going to ruin your life by getting the job you “deserve.” The door will always open for you. Your only duty is to hold it open for those who have less of a chance simply because they aren’t white.

6. Don’t marry whitey.

If you’re white and you don’t like any of the above ideas, or you think they’re impractical, then there’s always one surefire way to help create a colorblind world—marry a black person and have yourselves some babies! Blacks and whites making love with each other—instead of whites just screwing blacks—will eventually give us a nation of one color. (And Hispanics and Asians can play, too!) Who’s your daddy? Everybody!

And when we’re all one color, we won’t have anything to hate each other for—other than who gets stuck at that damn reception desk.
1. Driving While Black:

• Make yourself a less likely target for drive-by racial profiling by placing a life-size, inflatable white doll in the passenger seat (the kind people use so they can drive in carpool-only express lanes). The cops will probably think you’re a chauffeur and leave you alone.

• Try to avoid drawing any additional attention to yourself when Driving While Black. Keep your hands in the classic “10 and 2” position on the wheel. Buckle your seat belt; in fact, buckle all seatbelts, whether or not there’s anyone else in the car. Remove any “Honk If You’re Black Too!” bumper stickers; replace them with “I LOVE Hockey!”

• Avoid renting or driving any car with New Hampshire, Utah, or Maine license plates—these states have virtually no black residents, and it will of course be assumed that you’re driving a stolen vehicle and/or running drugs and/or carrying weapons. On second thought, cops make the same assumptions about black drivers in states with sizable black populations. Better idea: take the bus.

2. Shopping While Black:

• If you want to avoid being followed by shopkeepers who assume you’re going to shoplift or hold a gun to their heads while emptying the cash drawer, the solution is simple: catalogs and on-line sbopping! The beauty part? No need to leave the comforts of your home—and no more long waits for a parking spot at the mall!

• If you must enter a store, for God’s sake leave your coat outside! All those pockets will surely end up getting searched for stolen goods—you’re just asking to be arrested. Needless to say, lose the purses, shopping bags, and backpacks, too. Better yet, do your shopping in the nude. Sure, you might be subjected to the occasional body cavity search, but that’s a small price to pay to exercise your God-given right as a black American to buy stuff and contribute some of the $572 billion in your pockets that goes to the white economy every year.
3. Voting While Black:

• Because whites have rigged our elections by ensuring that the most ancient, ill-functioning voting machines all find their way to the black precincts in town, don’t leave the polling place unless you’ve personally seen your ballot marked the way you intended and placed in the locked ballot box. If you use a voting machine, ask the poll worker to check the machine after you’ve voted to make sure your vote gets counted.

Bring whatever tools you think you may need to see that your vote is recorded: No. 2 pencil, black marker, knitting needle (to make sure you don’t just impregnate the ballot but actually punch the holes all the way out), 3-in-1 oil, pliers, the rest of your Sears Craftsman tools, a magnifying glass, a copy of the local election laws, a copy of your voter registration card, a copy of your birth certificate, a copy of your second grade report card, any other proof that you’re still alive, a camera to record any funny business, a local reporter to show her firsthand that you weren’t kidding when you said your polling place was shipped in from Bolivia, duct tape, string, paraffin wax, a Bunsen burner, Wite Out, Shout stain remover, a lawyer, a minister, a justice of the Supreme Court. Get all those ducks in a row, and there’s half a chance your vote will be counted.

• In the 2002 elections, vote for the Democratic or Green candidate for Congress. If just five seats change party hands in favor of the Democrats, the Democrats will not only control the House, but through seniority nineteen black congressmen and women will become chair of their House committee or subcommittee. Nineteen! That’s a black takeover of the House of Representatives! (Where Green Party candidates have a chance of winning, or in districts where the Democrat behaves like a Republican, an elected Green Party congresswoman will caucus with the Democrats to make up the majority.) Don’t tell too many white people about this one—the idea of a “Black House” might really spook them out!

4. Having a Good Laugh While Black:

• Bring back those Whites Only signs from the 1950s. When nobody’s looking, place them on the doors of businesses that don’t hire blacks.

• Nonchalantly put one on the front-row seat in First Class next time you get on a plane.

• Hang one on the front office of any major league team, or anywhere in the better seats at any NBA game.

• Plant one in the lawn in front of the United States Supreme Court, and when Clarence Thomas walks by, just throw up your hands and say, “What?”
5. Breathing While Black;

You may just get to the point where you can’t take it anymore—the harassment, the discrimination, the resentment, the utter sense that you don’t belong in a nation so deeply rooted in intolerance. You may just feel like it’s time to get the hell out and move to a place where being black doesn’t make you a minority a place that feels like home.

Africa? Better think twice.

Here’s what Amnesty International has to say about Africa: “Armed conflict, mass displacement of people, torture, ill treatment and endemic impunity continue to be rife in the African region.” And 52 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1 a day. In 1998 the average monthly expenditure was only $14 a person. That IS worse than living in Detroit.

Life expectancy in the region is, at best, fifty-seven years that is, if you live in Ghana. If you’re stuck in Mozambique, you get to live to the ripe old age of thirty-seven and a half.

Couple this with seemingly never-ending droughts and famine and an overwhelming percentage of the world’s AIDS cases (and deaths), and suddenly it might look a lot easier just to dig up some old naked photos of Trent Lott at a men’s-only 0l’ Miss mixer and force his resignation (photos of Orrin Hatch, Tom DeLay, and others would do just as well).

Amy McCampbell, one of the numerous African-Americans I’ve hired since I started writing this chapter (five of my last five hires have been black—hey, take this book out of the humor section, I ain’t kidding around!), suggests that for those who want to return to their “black roots,” there’s only one way to go—the Caribbean! She says: “How about Barbados? It’s a tropical paradise; the people are peaceful, and crime is nonexistent. Life expectancy is well into the seventies. Eighty percent of the population is African, so we’d feel right at home. They even speak English! And here’s the weird part—we’d get to call Queen Elizabeth our head of state. Whoa!” Sounds nice, huh?

It’d be nicer, though, if we could make Amy and others feel more at home right here where they were born. I’m open for suggestions....

Chapter 4 notes

Excerpt from the Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due, process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Excerpt from the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (suitable for laminating and carrying in your wallet)

Section 2: No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied to any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.


Idiot Nation
D0 YOU FEEL like you live in a nation of idiots?

I used to console myself about the state of stupidity in this country by repeating this to myself: Even if there are two hundred million stone-cold idiots in this country, that leaves at least eighty million who’ll get what I’m saying—and that’s still more than the populations of the United Kingdom and Iceland combined!

Then came the day I found myself sharing an office with the ESPN game show Two-Minute Drill. This is the show that tests your knowledge of not only who plays what position for which team, but who hit what where in a 1925 game between Boston and New York, who was rookie of the year in 1965 in the old American Basketball Association, and what Jake Wood had for breakfast the morning of May 12, 1967.

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions—but for some reason I do remember Jake Wood’s uniform number: 2. Why on earth am I retaining that useless fact?

I don’t know, but after watching scores of guys waiting to audition for that ESPN show, I think I do know something about intelligence and the American mind. Hordes of these jocks and lunkheads hang out in our hallway awaiting their big moment, going over hundreds of facts and statistics in their heads and challenging each other with questions I can’t see why anyone would be able to answer other than God Almighty Himself. To look a these testosterone-loaded bruisers you would guess that they were a bunch of illiterates who would be lucky if they could read the label on a Bud.

In fact, they are geniuses. They can answer all thirty obscure trivia questions in less than 120 seconds. That’s four seconds a question—including the time used by the slow-reading celebrity athletes who ask the questions.

I once heard the linguist and political writer Noam Chomsky say that if you want proof the American people aren’t stupid, just turn on any sports talk radio show and listen to the incredible retention of facts. It is amazing—and it’s proof that the American mind is alive and well. It just isn’t challenged with anything interesting or exciting. Our challenge, Chomsky said, was to find a way to make politics as gripping and engaging as sports. When we do that, watch how Americans will do nothing but talk about who did what to whom at the WTO.

But first, they have to be able to read the letters WTO.

There are forty-four million Americans who cannot read and write above a fourth-grade level—in other words, who are functional illiterates.

How did I learn this statistic? Well, I read, it. And now you’ve read it. So we’ve already eaten into the mere 99 hours a year an average American adult spends reading a book—compared with 1,460 hours watching television.

I’ve also read that only 11 percent of the American public bothers to read a daily newspaper, beyond the funny pages or the used car ads.

So if you live in a country where forty-four million can’t read and perhaps close to another two hundred million can read but usually don’t—well, friends, you and I are living in one very scary place. A nation that not only churns out illiterate students BUT GOES OUT OF ITS WAY TO REMAIN IGNORANT AND STUPID is a nation that should not be running the world—at least not until a majority of its citizens can locate Kosovo (or any other country it has bombed) on the map.

It comes as no surprise to foreigners that Americans, who love to revel in their stupidity, would “elect” a president who rarely reads anything—including his own briefing papers—and thinks Africa is a nation, not a continent. An idiot leader of an idiot nation. In our glorious land of plenty, less is always more when it comes to taxing any lobe of the brain with the intake of facts and numbers, critical thinking, or the comprehension of anything that isn’t ... well, sports.

Our Idiot-in-Chief does nothing to hide his ignorance—he even brags about it. During his commencement address to the Yale Class of 2001, George W. Bush spoke proudly of having been a mediocre student at Yale. “And to the C students, I say you, too, can be President of the United States!” The part where you also need an ex-President father, a brother as governor of a state with missing ballots, and a Supreme Court full of your dad’s buddies must have been too complicated to bother with in a short speech.

As Americans, we have quite a proud tradition of being represented by ignorant high-ranking officials. In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s nominee as ambassador to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was unable to identify either the country’s prime minister or its capital during his Senate confirmation hearing. Not a problem—Maxwell Gluck was confirmed anyway. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan’s nominee for deputy secretary of state, William Clark, admitted to a wide-ranging lack of knowledge about foreign affairs at his confirmation hearing. Clark had no idea how our allies in Western Europe felt about having American nuclear missiles based there, and didn’t know the names of the prime ministers of South Africa or Zimbabwe. Not to worry—he was confirmed, too. All this just paved the way for Baby Bush, who hadn’t quite absorbed the names of the leaders of India or Pakistan, two of the seven nations that possess the atomic bomb.

And Bush went to Yale and Harvard.

Recently a group of 556 seniors at fifty-five prestigious American universities (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Stanford) were given a multiple-choice test consisting of questions that were described as “high school level.” Thirty-four questions were asked. These top students could only answer 5 3 percent of them correctly. And only one student got them all right.

A whopping 40 percent of these students did not know when the Civil War took place—even when given a wide range of choices: A. 1750-1800; B. 1800-1850; C. 1850-1900; D. 1900-1950; or E. after 1950. (The answer is C, guys.) The two questions the college seniors scored highest on were (1) Who is Snoop Doggy Dog? (98 percent got that one right), and (2) Who are Beavis and Butt-head? (99 percent knew). For my money, Beavis and Butt-head represented some of the best American satire of the nineties, and Snoop and his fellow rappers have much to say about America’s social ills, so I’m not going down the road of blaming MTV.

What I am concerned with is why politicians like Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin want to go after MTV when they are the ones responsible for the massive failure of American education. Walk into any public school, and the odds are good that you’ll find overflowing classrooms, leaking ceilings, and demoralized teachers. In 1 out of 4 schools, you’ll find students “learning” from textbooks published in the 1980s—or earlier.

Why is this? Because the political leaders—and the people who vote for them—have decided it’s a bigger priority to build another bomber than to educate our children. They would rather hold hearings about the depravity of a television show called Jackass than about their own depravity in neglecting our schools and children and maintaining our title as Dumbest Country on Earth.

I hate writing these words. I love this big lug of a country and the crazy people in it. But when I can travel to some backwater village in Central America, as I did back in the eighties, and listen to a bunch of twelve-year-olds tell me their concerns about the World Bank, I get the feeling that something is lacking in the United States of America.

Our problem isn’t just that our kids don’t know nothin’ but that the adults who pay their tuition are no better. I wonder what would happen if we tested the U.S. Congress to see just how much our representatives know. What if we were to give a pop quiz to the commentators who cram our TVs and radios with all their nonstop nonsense? How many would they get right?

A while back, I decided to find out. It was one of those Sunday mornings when the choice on TV was the Parade of Homes real estate show or The McLaughlin Group. If you like the sound of hyenas on Dexedrine, of course, you go with McLaughlin. On this particular Sunday morning, perhaps as my punishment for not being at Mass, I was forced to listen to magazine columnist Fred Barnes (now an editor at the right-wing Weekly Standard and cohost of the Fox News show The Beltway Boys) whine on and on about the sorry state of American education, blaming the teachers and their evil union for why students are doing so poorly.

“These kids don’t even know what The Iliad and The Odyssey are!” he bellowed, as the other panelists nodded in admiration at Fred’s noble lament.

The next morning I called Fred Barnes at his Washington office. “Fred,” I said, “tell me what The Iliad and The Odyssey are.”

He started hemming and hawing. “Well, they’re ... uh ... you know ... uh ... okay, fine, you got me—I don’t know what they’re about. Happy now?”

No, not really. You’re one of the top TV pundits in America, seen every week on your own show and plenty of others. You gladly hawk your “wisdom” to hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting citizens, gleefully scorning others for their ignorance. Yet you and your guests know little or nothing yourselves. Grow up, get some books, and go to your room.

Yale and Harvard. Princeton and Dartmouth. Stanford and Berkeley. Get a degree from one of those universities, and you’re set for life. So what if, on that test of the college seniors I previously mentioned, 70 percent of the students at those fine schools had never heard of the Voting Rights Act or President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives? Who needs to know stuff like that as you sit in your Tuscan villa watching the sunset and checking how well your portfolio did today?

So what if not one of these top universities that the ignorant students attend requires that they take even one course in American history to graduate? Who needs history when you are going to be tomorrow’s master of the universe?

Who cares if 70 percent of those who graduate from America’s colleges are not required to learn a foreign language? Isn’t the rest of the world speaking English now? And if they aren’t, hadn’t all those damn foreigners better GET WITH THE PROGRAM?

And who gives a rat’s ass if, out of the seventy English Literature programs at seventy major American universities, only twenty-three now require English majors to take a course in Shakespeare? Can somebody please explain to me what Shakespeare and English have to do with each other? What good are some moldy old plays going to be in the business world, anyway?

Maybe I’m just jealous because I don’t have a college degree. Yes, I, Michael Moore, am a college dropout.

Well, I never officially dropped out. One day in my sophomore year, I drove around and around the various parking lots of our commuter campus in Flint, searching desperately for a parking space. There simply was no place to park—every spot was full, and no one was leaving. After a frustrating hour spent circling around in my ‘69 Chevy Impala, I shouted out the window, “That’s it, I’m dropping out!” I drove home and told my parents I was no longer in college.

“Why?” they asked.

“Couldn’t find a parking spot,” I replied, grabbing a Redpop and moving on with the rest of my life. I haven’t sat at a school desk since.

My dislike of school started somewhere around the second month of first grade. My parents—and God Bless Them Forever for doing this—had taught me to read and write by the time I was four. So when I entered St. John’s Elementary School, I had to sit and feign interest while the other kids, like robots, sang, “A-B-C-D-E-F-G ... Now I know my ABCs, tell me what you think of me!” Every time I heard that line, I wanted to scream out, “Here’s what I think of you—quit singing that damn song! Somebody get me a Twinkie!”

I was bored beyond belief. The nuns, to their credit, recognized this, and one day Sister John Catherine took me aside and said that they had decided to skip me up to second grade, effective immediately. I was thrilled. When I got home I excitedly announced to my parents that I had already advanced a grade in my first month of school. They seemed underwhelmed by this new evidence of my genius. Instead they let out a “WHAT THE—,” then went into the kitchen and closed the door. I could hear my mother on the phone explaining to the Mother Superior that there was no way her little Michael was going to be attending class with kids bigger and older than him, so please, Sister, put him back in first grade.

I was crushed. My mother explained to me that if I skipped first grade I’d always be the youngest and littlest kid in class all through my school years (well, inertia and fast food eventually proved her wrong on that count). There would be no appeals to my father, who left most education decisions to my mother, the valedictorian of her high school class. I tried to explain that if I was sent back to first grade it would appear that I’d flunked second grade on my first day—putting myself at risk of having the crap beaten out of me by the first graders I’d left behind with a rousing “See ya, suckers!” But Mom wasn’t falling for it; it was then I learned that the only person with higher authority than Mother Superior was Mother Moore.

The next day I decided to ignore all instructions from my parents to go back to first grade. In the morning, before the opening bell, all the students had to line up outside the school with their classmates and then march into the building in single file. Quietly, but defiantly, I went and stood in the second graders’ line, praying that God would strike the nuns blind so they wouldn’t see which line I was in. The bell rang—and no one had spotted me! The second grade line started to move, and I went with it. Yes! I thought. If I can pull this off, if I can just get into that second grade classroom and take my seat, then nobody will be able to get me out of there. Just as I was about to enter the door of the school, I felt a hand grab me by the collar of my coat. It was Sister John Catherine.

“I think you’re in the wrong line, Michael,” she said firmly. “You are now in first grade again.” I began to protest: my parents had it “all wrong,” or “those weren’t really my parents,” or ...

For the next twelve years I sat in class, did my work, and remained constantly preoccupied, looking for ways to bust out. I started an underground school paper in fourth grade. It was shut down. I started it again in sixth. It was shut down. In eighth grade I not only started the paper again, I convinced the good sisters to let me write a play for our class to perform at the, Christmas pageant. The play had something to do with how many rats occupied the parish hall and how all the rats in the country had descended on St. John’s Parish Hall to have their annual “rat convention.” The priest put a stop to that one—and shut down the paper again. Instead, my friends and I were told to go up on stage and sing three Christmas carols and then leave the stage without uttering a word. I organized half the class to go up there and utter nothing. So we stood there and refused to sing the carols, our silent protest against censorship. By the second song, intimidated by the stern looks from their parents in the audience, most of the protesters joined in on the singing—and by the third song, I, too, had capitulated, joining in on “0 Holy Night,” and promising myself to live to fight another day.

High school, as we all know, is some sort of sick, sadistic punishment of kids by adults seeking vengeance because they can no longer lead the responsibility-free, screwing-around—24/7 lives young people enjoy. What other explanation could there be for those four brutal years of degrading comments, physical abuse, and the belief that you’re the only one not having sex?

As soon as I entered high school—and the public school system—all the grousing I’d done about the repression of the Sisters of St. Joseph was forgotten; suddenly they all looked like scholars and saints. I was now walking the halls of a two-thousand-plus inmate holding pen. Where the nuns had devoted their lives to teaching for no earthly reward, those running the public high school had one simple mission: “Hunt these little pricks down like dogs, then cage them until we can either break their will or ship them off to the glue factory!” Do this, don’t do that, tuck your shirt in, wipe that smile off your face, where’s your hall pass, THAT’S THE WRONG PASS! YOU—DETENTION!!

One day I came home from school and picked up the paper. The headline read: “26th Amendment Passes—Voting Age Lowered to 18.” Below that was another headline: “School Board President to Retire, Seat Up for Election.”

Hmm. I called the county clerk.

“Uh, I’m gonna be eighteen in a few weeks. If I can vote, does that I mean I can also run for office?”

“Let me see,” the lady replied. “That’s a new question!”

She ruffled through some papers and came back on the phone. “Yes,” she said, “you can run. All you need to do is gather twenty signatures to place your name on the ballot.”

Twenty signatures? That’s it? I had no idea running for elective office required so little work. I got the twenty signatures, submitted my petition, and started campaigning. My platform? “Fire the high school principal and the assistant principal!”

Alarmed at the idea that a high school student might actually find a legal means to remove the very administrators he was being paddled by, five local “adults” took out petitions and got themselves added to the ballot, too.

Of course, they ended up splitting the older adult vote five ways—and I won, getting the vote of every single stoner between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five (who, though many would probably never vote again, relished the thought of sending their high school wardens to the gallows).

The day after I won, I was walking down the hall at school (I had one more week to serve out as a student), and I passed the assistant principal, my shirt tail proudly untucked.

“Good morning, Mr. Moore,” he said tersely. The day before, my name had been “Hey—You!” Now I was his boss.

Within nine months after I took my seat on the school board, the principal and assistant principal had submitted their “letters of resignation,” a face-saving device employed when one is “asked” to step down. A couple of years later the principal suffered a heart attack and died.

I had known this man, the principal, for many years. When I was eight years old, he used to let me and my friends skate and play hockey on this little pond beside his house. He was kind and generous, and always left the door to his house open in case any of us needed to change into our skates or if we got cold and just wanted to get warm. Years later, I was asked to play bass in a band that was forming, but I didn’t own a bass. He let me borrow his son’s.

I offer this to remind myself that all people are actually good at their core, and to remember that someone with whom I grew to have serious disputes was also someone with a free cup of hot chocolate for us shivering little brats from the neighborhood.

Teachers are now the politicians’ favorite punching bag. To listen to the likes of Chester Finn, a former assistant secretary of education in Bush the Elder’s administration, you’d think all that has crumbled in our society can be traced back to lax, lazy, and incompetent teachers. “If you put out a Ten-Most-Wanted list of who’s killing American education, I’m not sure who you would have higher on the list: the teachers’ union or the education school faculties,” Finn said.

Sure, there are a lot of teachers who suck, and they’d be better suited to making telemarketing calls for Amway. But the vast majority are dedicated educators who have chosen a profession that pays them less than what some of their students earn selling Ecstasy, and for that sacrifice we seek to punish them. I don’t know about you, but I want the people who have the direct attention of my child more hours a day than I do treated with tender loving care. Those are my kids they’re “preparing” for this world, so why on earth would I want to piss them off?

You would think society’s attitude would be something like this:

Teachers, thank you so much for devoting your life to my child. Is there ANYTHING I can do to help you? Is there ANYTHING you need? I am here for you. Why? Because you are helping my child—MY BABY—learn and grow. Not only will you be largely responsible for her ability to make a living, but your influence will greatly affect how she views the world, what she knows about other people in this world, and how she will feel about herself. I want her to believe she can attempt anything—that no doors are closed and that no dreams are too distant. I am entrusting the most valuable person in my life to you for seven hours each day. You, are thus, one of the most important people in my life! Thank you.

No, instead, this is what teachers hear:

• “You’ve got to wonder about teachers who claim to put the interests of children first—and then look to milk the System dry through wage hikes.” (New York Post, 12/26/00)

• “Estimates of the number of bad teachers range from 5 percent to 18 percent of the 2.6 million total.” (Michael Chapman, Investor’s Business Daily, 9/21/98)

• “Most education professionals belong to a closed community of devotees ... who follow popular philosophies rather than research on what works.” (Douglas Carminen, quoted in the Montreal Gazette, 1/6/01)

• “Teachers unions have gone to bat for felons and teachers who have had sex with students, as well as those who simply couldn’t teach.” (Peter Schweizen, National Review, 8/17/98)

What kind of priority do we place on education in America? Oh, it’s on the funding list—somewhere down between OSHA and meat inspectors. The person who cares for our child every day receives an average of $41,351 annually. A Congressman who cares only about which tobacco lobbyist is taking him to dinner tonight receives $145,100.

Considering the face-slapping society gives our teachers on a daily basis, is it any wonder so few choose the profession? The national teacher shortage is so big that some school systems are recruiting teachers outside the United States. Chicago recently recruited and hired teachers from twenty-eight foreign countries, including China, France, and Hungary. By the time the new term begins in New York City, seven thousand veteran teachers will have retired—and 60 percent of the new teachers hired to replace them are uncertified.

But here’s the kicker for me: 163 New York City schools opened the 2000-2001 school year without a principal! You heard right—school, with no one in charge. Apparently the mayor and the school board are experimenting with chaos theory—throw five hundred poor kids into a crumbling building, and watch nature take its course! In the city from which most of the wealth in the world is controlled, where there are more millionaires per square foot than there is gum on the sidewalk, we somehow can’t find the money to pay a starting teacher more than $31,900 a year. And we act surprised when we can’t get results.

And it’s not just teachers who have been neglected—American schools are literally falling apart. In 1999 one-quarter of U.S. public schools reported that the condition of at least one of their buildings was inadequate. In 1997 the entire Washington, D.C., school system had to delay the start of school for three weeks because nearly one-third of the schools were found to be unsafe.

Almost 10 percent of U.S. public schools have enrollments that are more than 25 percent greater than the capacity of their permanent buildings. Classes have to be held in the hallways, outdoors, in the gym, in the cafeteria; one school I visited even held classes in a janitor’s closet. It’s not as if the janitor’s closets are being used for anything related to cleaning, anyway—in New York City almost 15 percent of the eleven hundred public schools are without full-time custodians, forcing teachers to mop their own floors and students to do without toilet paper. We already send our kids out into the street to hawk candy bars so their schools can buy band instruments—what’s next? Car washes to raise money for toilet paper?

Further proof of just how special our little offspring are is the number of public and even school libraries that have been shut down or had their hours cut back. The last thing we need is a bunch of kids hanging out around a bunch of books!

Apparently “President” Bush agrees: in his first budget he proposed cutting federal spending on libraries by $39 million, down to $168 million—a nearly 19 percent reduction. Just the week before, his wife, former school librarian Laura Bush, kicked off a national campaign for America’s libraries, calling them “community treasure chests, loaded with a wealth of information available to everyone, equally.” The President’s mother, Barbara Bush, heads the Foundation for Family Literacy. Well, there’s nothing like having firsthand experience with illiteracy in the family to motivate one into acts of charity.

For kids who are exposed to books at home, the loss of a library is sad. But for kids who come from environments where people don’t read, the loss of a library is a tragedy that might keep them from ever discovering the joys of reading—or from gathering the kind of information that will decide their lot in life. Jonathan Kozol, for decades an advocate for disadvantaged children, has observed that school libraries “remain the clearest window to a world of noncommercial satisfactions and enticements that most children in poor neighborhoods will ever know.”

Kids deprived of access to good libraries are also being kept from developing the information skills they need to keep up in workplaces that are increasingly dependent on rapidly changing information. The ability to conduct research is “probably the most essential skill [today’s students] can have,” says Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians. “The knowledge [students] acquire in school is not going to serve them throughout their lifetimes. Many of them will have four to five careers in a lifetime. It will be their ability to navigate information that will matter.”

Who’s to blame for the decline in libraries? Well, when it comes to school libraries, you can start by pointing the finger (Yes, that finger) at Richard Nixon. From the 1960s until 1974, school libraries received specific funding from the government. But in 1974the Nixon administration changed the rules, stipulating that federal education money be doled out in “block grants” to be spent by states however they chose. Few states chose to spend the money on libraries, and the downslide began. This is one reason that materials in many school libraries today date from the 1960s and early 1970s, before funding was diverted. (“No, Sally, the Soviet Union isn’t our enemy. The Soviet Union has been kaput for ten years....”)

This 1999 account by an Education Week reporter about the “library” at a Philadelphia elementary school could apply to any number of similarly neglected schools:

Even the best books in the library at T. M. Pierce Elementary School are dated, tattered, and discolored. The worst—many in a latter stage of disintegration—are dirty and fetid and leave a moldy residue on hands and clothing. Chairs and tables are old, mismatched, or broken. There isn’t a computer in sight.... Outdated facts and theories and offensive stereotypes leap from the authoritative pages of encyclopedias and biographies, fiction and nonfiction tomes. Among the volumes on these shelves a student would find it all but impossible to locate accurate information on AIDS or other contemporary diseases, explorations of the moon and Mars, or the past five U.S. presidents.

The ultimate irony in all of this is that the very politicians who refuse to fund education in America adequately are the same ones who go ballistic over how our kids have fallen behind the Germans, the Japanese, and just about every other country with running water and an economy not based on the sale of Chiclets. Suddenly they want “accountability.” They want the teachers held responsible and to be tested. And they want the kids to be tested—over and over and over.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the concept of using standardized testing to determine whether kids are learning to read and write and do math. But too many politicians and education bureaucrats have created a national obsession with testing, as if everything that’s wrong with the educational system in this country would be magically fixed if we could just raise those scores.

The people who really should be tested (besides the yammering pundits) are the so-called political leaders. Next time you see your state representative or congressman, give him this pop quiz—and remind him that any future pay raises will be based on how well he scores:
1. What is the annual pay of your average constituent?

2. What percent of welfare recipients are children?

3. How many known species of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction?

4. How big is the hole in the ozone layer?

5. Which African countries have a lower infant mortality rate than Detroit?

6. How many American cities still have two competing newspapers?

7. How many ounces in a gallon?

8. Which do I stand a greater chance of being killed by: a gun shot in school or a bolt of lightning?

9. What’s the only state capital without a McDonald’s?

10. Describe the story of either The Iliad or The Odyssey.

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