Thursday, March 23, 2006

Off Base
In the spring and the fall, I teach classes to help students get ready for their ACT and SAT college entrance exams. (It's what I'm doing on the road this week.) Most of the kids are juniors. They're not exactly a representative sample of the entire junior population--they're college-bound, and their families have enough money to pony up $75 for the class. A lot of the groups I'm assigned to are in affluent suburbs and/or at private schools, which also tends to filter out the hoi polloi. So they're representative of the upper middle class--the favored children of America, who will grow up to be the same kind of people their parents are, and who will be anxious to raise their own families in the same affluent suburbs they grew up in.

At one point in the class, I demonstrate different types of test questions. One example goes like this:
Which president added a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine?
A. Ronald Reagan
B. Hillary Clinton
C. Theodore Roosevelt
D. George W. Bush
I ask the students which choices can't possibly be the right answer. The kids generally land on Hillary first, to which I respond, "Right--she's never been president." (One-beat pause.) "Not yet anyway." Then they land on Bush, because he's president now, and they can usually remember that the Monroe Doctrine goes way back in history.

I like to watch their reactions to Hillary and Bush. Nobody's ever said anything politically negative about Hillary--even when I'm in stone Republican areas, like the counties around Milwaukee, where I am again today. However, every once in a while some testosterone-addled boy will say that Hillary can't be the answer "because she's a woman." (One said it last night, and he did it with such a self-satisfied smirk that I stepped out of my usually affable teaching demeanor and responded coldly, "That has nothing to do with it.") Occasionally somebody, usually a boy sitting in the back of a large group, responds to the mention of Bush with a sort of cheer--"Bush, yeah!" But that response was more common a year or two ago then it is now. Today, I get a lot more eye-rolling, especially from girls, when Bush's name is mentioned. More than once this spring, when I have asked, "Why can't Bush be the right answer to the question?," somebody has said, "Because he's an idiot."

Well, I'll be damned. In the bright-red suburbs of Milwaukee, yet. Bush's base must be even shakier than we thought.

Recommended Reading: Several bigtime bloggers are noting a story from the Toronto Star this week reporting on a University of California study that suggests kids who are whiny and insecure grow up to be conservatives, while those who are confident, resilient, and self-reliant grow up to be liberals. (The article, by Kurt Kleiner, is fair and balanced--in a good way--by suggesting that the numbers are more ambiguous than they appear to both conservatives and liberals.) It's an interesting notion--that personality traits formed before we knew anything about politics may have more to do with our political opinions than rational choices made in adulthood.

But even if the numbers are more ambiguous than they seem, the idea that rigid, self-righteous adults were more likely to have been obnoxious kids seems plausible enough.

(A version of this post also appears at Best of the Blogs.)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?