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Rules, laws and proportion: Where’s the common sense?

REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
An eight-second conversation with this man might have broken one or more NCAA recruiting rules.

Ever get the sense too many laws, regulations, and rules are causing us to leech common sense from a pipe bigger than the one Keystone foes don’t like? Prohibitions which, if they are not absurd on their face, are frequently interpreted that way. 

Mitch Pearlstein
Mitch Pearlstein

Here are five recently reported examples, four of them from right here in Minnesota, but let’s start at Ohio State, where football coach Urban Meyer a while back was having lunch with his old quarterback from Florida, Tim Tebow, when a kid Meyer was trying to recruit called him, as is perfectly acceptable under NCAA rules. In the course of their brief conversation, Meyer told the high-school athlete that Tebow was at the table and the kid understandably asked if he could speak to the former Heisman Trophy winner. 

Based on FBI phone records (I may be making up the FBI part), the kid was on the phone with Tebow for about eight seconds. Nonetheless, Ohio State officials fearful that they might have broken one or more NCAA recruiting rules, felt compelled to self-report the possible violation. Or perhaps it was just a quorum of OSU lawyers who felt compelled, but either way, the kid found the whole situation hilarious and decided to play ball at Louisiana State. 

Upwards of 40 years ago (I’ve been using numbers like 30 and 40 too often), I had reason to write that NCAA rules are a “Rube Goldberg contraption gone mad.” A venerable institution the NCAA is.

Meanwhile back home, and as extensively reported, school and law enforcement officials double-teamed another high-school athlete, in Rogers, at the very real risk of curtailing his future because of a dumb but surely not grave two-word tweet he had sent — a social-media mistake that he was quick to acknowledge and for which he sought to quickly apologize. But good riddance to the last seven weeks of his senior year, they declared, and also threatened a possible felony charge before being embarrassed back to some semblance of proportion, though by that time the young man had decided to transfer to another school out of the Elk River school district. I would like to say his departure is Rogers High School’s loss more than his own, but that unfortunately is still to be determined, as when for example he goes job hunting.

Then there was the story in the Star Tribune about a woman in St. Cloud who got fired for doing what she had to do when she was denied a bathroom break at the factory where she was a line worker.  The good news is she got her job back after 11 months and the better news is she’s suing the company. Yes, there’s much too much litigiousness in this country, but not when it comes to this case.  May the people who enforced the bathroom break rule the inhumane way they did all have prostate problems in their future.    

Out in the cold — in a swimsuit

And then there was the truly angering story about how educators at Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul forced a 14-year old girl to stand outside in frigid weather, in bare feet and wearing only a swimsuit, during what turned out to be a non-fire. But even if there had been a fire, there was no reason why a teacher or administrator couldn’t have her sit in their car. 

No, wait.  WCCO-TV reported that there is some school-district rule against such things, so the girl stood there with a sweatshirt under what came to be her frost-bitten feet before some grownup had the sense to say hell with the no-car rule, no matter how reasonable it might be when it’s 72 degrees, and let her in a vehicle.    

I would like to think I have a decent understanding of bureaucratic complexities and similar empathy for the people who have to make intricate organizations work. I recognize that many rules that might sound strange on their face actually have sound reasons behind them. I’ve read far more than any healthy share of organizational theory in my life, and for heaven’s sakes, I have a doctorate in educational administration. But how can I put this diplomatically: The educators who forced that 14-year-old girl to freeze were idiots that day, incapable of recognizing that while there are times for dogmatically following what the manual says, this emphatically wasn’t one of them. 

Could you imagine if that girl had been your daughter?  If she were mine, after screaming my head off I’d be out for theirs.    

Aren’t there ways short of a new law?

And finally, as my American Experiment colleague Kathy Kersten noted in the Star Tribune again last week, there’s the bullying bill currently being considered by legislators in St. Paul. Lest there be any confusion Kathy and I, and everyone in this shop, are rigorously opposed to the bullying of anyone in school, and by anyone we mean everyone. But are we really so lacking in tools to stop jerks from bullying that we need a whole new bureaucratic superstructure? 

I don’t want to be terribly unprogressive about this, but at what point is it insufficient for a principal to send a bullying student to detention for two weeks, and if he bullies again to inform him and his parents he’ll be watching all the daytime ESPN he’s always fantasized about because he won’t be a student at that school anymore? Sounds fair and effective to me. 

Oh, shoot.  I just remembered, back from graduate school. There are already loads of mandated rigamarole against taking those steps, too. 

Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of Center of the American Experiment.


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 03/05/2014 - 01:48 pm.


    What’s the solution?
    These “Community Voices” sections are turning into rantey complainey low information high disgruntlement areas to blow off steam.

    It’s really easy to go on and on about the problems. I didn’t read a single proposed solution in this article. Oh, other than the (hopefully?) facetious suggestion to take a juvenile bully out of school permanently and sit him in front of cable television.

    I’m all for robust public discussion, but please, minnpost, let us discuss in the comment section on articles with sources and editing and research and stuff. Don’t just start publishing opinion based rants.

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/05/2014 - 04:23 pm.


    I’m with you there, Luke. I used to come to the Perspectives section frequently because there would be some good articles with excellent information and lively discussions. Now it’s just, as you say, low information writers saying “I hate this” or “my opinion is such-and-such” without any real thought or facts to back them up. That’s the knuckle dragger approach to public discourse.

    Case in point is this opinion piece above. This guy cherry picks four minor anecdotes, tries to weave it into a narrative about as strong as thrice used tea bags, and then finishes with a weak appeal to Do Something, although what that something is, he has no idea.

    My guess is Minnpost is short on quality material and they’re simply filling the space with whatever comes along. Personally, I would rather see white space than this literary wet noodle.

  3. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 03/05/2014 - 05:33 pm.

    This guy is way overexposed…

    We hear way too much from Mitch Pearlstein and others at the Center of the American Experiment. You could give me the topic and I could write the opinion piece they’re going to write about it. We’ve heard it all from them before. These folks are tiresome. If you’re trying to attract readers, printing these people is not the way to do it.

    And about that bullying bill that Pearlstein and Kersten are ranting about – their rants never bother to explore the gaps in the current law the bill is trying to address and why. All we get is “it’s bad” and too much trouble. Not very helpful.

    As someone who went to school before anyplace had anti-bullying policies in place, I suffered merciless bullying and physical abuse in school. There is a need for this bill. It’s hard not to suspect that Kersten and Pearlstein were on the other side of school bullying in their day. They haven’t strayed far from it yet.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/05/2014 - 07:41 pm.

    Common sense

    I agree that these situations lack common sense. But, you said it yourself, we are a litigious society. We can’t rely on common sense because someone will sue the pants off someone who relies on it. Take, for example, your rant about the proposed anti-bullying law. Because we’ve taken so much authority away from teachers and relegated them to the role of glorified babysitters who have more to fear from the kids and parents than actually failing to do their jobs, if a teacher enforced anti-bullying measures based on common sense, they’d find themselves fired, sued, or both, because NO ONE’S KID IS A BULLY (even if they are). So, by laying out the rules as law, there might actually be a chance that a teacher could enforce anti-bullying measures because it’s legally required to do so. On the other side of the coin, no amount of common sense will force a poor teacher to prevent bullying if they don’t wish to, particularly if there is already an environment that fosters it. In fact, some teachers ARE the bully.

    With regard to the bathroom break issue, it’s very unlikely that common sense would have prevailed. It’s very likely that the person/people doing the enforcing are sadistic jerks. Common sense would have been ignored for the pleasure of making someone suffer. And I’m glad she’s going after them legally.

    Yes, I do agree that sometimes the reactions go to far–suspending a kid for a long period of time for a lack of brain activity is silly. Teenagers often have a problem with thinking things through. Not that they shouldn’t be reminded of the fact that they SHOULD think things through, especially with regards to social media, but the punishment should fit the crime/intent/damage. If this is the case I’m thinking of, I do agree that the punishment should have been more severe than just any 2 words because it introduced a very real risk for completely ruining someone’s career, but it could have been handled better.

    The swimsuit thing–yeah, that was dumb. But, see above re glorified babysitters.

    By the way, I think all this talk about common sense doesn’t really fit the issues you raise. I think it has more to do with the fact that we’ve raised a generation and a half to believe that they’re the most special snowflake out there and allowed that attitude to result in fear of doing the right thing because no good deed goes unpunished if the “victim” of the right thing (or their parents) believe they’re so incredibly special.

    Also, I agree with the other commenters. This piece really isn’t terribly informative or insightful. Maybe there’s a dearth of potential pieces to publish. If so, maybe some recruiting needs to happen.

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