The Let's-Fix-It Philosopher

JAMES J. KILPATRICK

September 24, 1991|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- Thirty-odd years ago, newspaper readers delighted in a feature called ''There Oughtta Be a Law.'' The feature came to mind the other day, thanks to an interview in Time magazine with Myriam Miedzian. Time identified her as a social philosopher.

Mrs. Miedzian seeks to rear boys in ways that will make them less prone to violence and sexism, a worthy aim. The interview focused on boyhood sports. She properly criticized coaches and parents who are obsessed with winning at any cost. This obsession ''is frequent enough that it is a serious problem.''

Perhaps so. All of us have heard of sports dads who dragoon their sons into pitching sliders before they learn the fastball. An extreme level of competition, as she said, ''is just not good for a 7- or 8-year-old boy.'' But I am sure that the social philosopher's approach can also be carried to extremes, and I wonder especially at the remedy she would apply. She feels there oughtta be a law.

''I advocate regulation of youth sports,'' she says. ''There are 30 million American children involved in youth sports programs, and there is absolutely no control over the coaches or what is going on.''

Mrs. Miedzian has all kinds of worries. She fears that young athletes who are overly concerned with conquering the other team will grow up with a desire to conquer women. They will develop a negative attitude. Boys look at violent movies. They absorb violence from television. It is completely unrealistic to expect parents to monitor their children's viewing habits. She has a better idea. There oughtta be a law.

''Parents also should be writing letters to their member of Congress, asking for the creation of a children's public television network dedicated to pro-social, non-violent programming.''

By reducing the emphasis on winning, and by curbing violence in movies and on TV, she would ''redefine masculinity.'' We must encourage boys from the youngest age, she says, ''to be empathetic, to get in touch with their own feelings, to tell them they can be nurturing and masculine at the same time.''

Much that Mrs. Miedzian says about our violent society is undeniably true. By her count, American youths will have watched 26,000 murders on TV alone by the time they reach 18. Common sense tells us that when the screen is filled with tales of sex and crime, young people are bound to absorb a notion that sex and violence are acceptable. A horror film is art. Life imitates art, if ''art'' it may be called.

Yet I doubt that the situation would be greatly relieved by recourse to ''there oughtta be a law.'' One envisions a new bureaucracy, created in the name of the general welfare, that would govern the training and licensing of Little League coaches. Their schooling would include compulsory courses in Graceful Losing 101. Opposing teams would not be known as ''opponents.'' The word smacks of violence. Opposing teams would be known as the Friendly Others.

The lady's proposal for a public TV network for children is equally suspect. She insists she is not talking about ''goody-goody, boring programming,'' but in fact she is talking about government control of a broadcast medium financed with the taxpayers' money. We have quite enough of that, thank you, in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.

Let a gaggle of social philosophers run a TV network for children, and the kids will not get Bambi, Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin. I don't know what they would get, but I would be wary of conning my grandchildren into watching what the government says is Good For Them. It was said of the Jesuits that if they got to a child before the child was 5, they would have the child for life. Indoctrination comes in many forms.

Some months ago, out of curiosity, I watched the Saturday morning cartoons. They didn't seem awful to me. There was plenty of violence, as I recall. Roadrunner was always falling off a cliff or smashing into a stone wall, but the 6-year-old beside me was not impressed. Children are not dummies. They know ketchup, and they know blood, and they know the difference.

We ought to teach boys and girls to play fair, but we ought also to teach them to play hard. The object of a game is to win it -- not at any cost, of course, but to win it if one can. Show me a good loser, said one philosopher, and I will show you a loser. This was not a social philosopher. This was a garden-variety philosopher. He learned his trade by coaching third base.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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