The New York Times infiltrates schools — but it’s not all bad, just somewhat, sometimes bad

I have the deepest disrespect for the New York Times, which I consider to be little more than a mouthpiece of the Democratic party.  There’s actually nothing wrong with being such a mouth piece, if you acknowledge the fact.  What gets me about the Times is it’s relentless squawking about its journalistic impartiality.  Fortunately, between my husband’s frugality and my hostility, there is no Times subscription in this household, which I thought spared my children any exposure.  I was wrong.

The kids’ school apparently subscribes to (or gets for free?) a New York Times publication (in association with Scholastic) called Upfront : The Newsmagazine for Teens.   It’s now one more thing for me to vet in terms of the information being put into my children’s dear little heads. So far, the verdict isn’t awful — indeed, it’s fairly good — but I still plan to monitor this one.

Right now, I have sitting in front of me the October 25, 2010 edition of Upfront, and it’s a weirdly mixed bag.  Some of it is just fluff, such as articles about Halloween costumes, unusual animals, hand-washing failures, etc.  Some of it is more interesting substantively, though, with grades ranging from A (yes, A) to D.

The one that bugged me most, interestingly, and the one that earns that D is what should be an innocuous article about plagiarism. It examines the fact that plagiarism is rife in American schools, and correctly notes that the internet makes plagiarism easy.  Although the article acknowledges that there is a “problem” that can have serious consequences, its tone is exculpatory:  “[M]any students, so used to the free flow of information online, simply don’t grasp that it’s a serious misdeed — one can lead to suspension, expulsion, and a permanent blemish on their academic record.”  The article quotes a German woman who explained away her rampant plagiarism by saying “‘There’s no such thing as originality anyway.'”  A challenge to that notion comes from a student at Indiana University, who condemns plagiarism as “laziness,” which runs counter to true creativity.

None of the above is inaccurate.  What bugs me is that there is nothing in the article — which is written for a youthful audience — that explains why plagiarism is wrong.  The article says it’s common, easy, can have serious consequences, and impairs creativity, but nothing goes to the morality of stealing someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own.  That’s really a two-tiered wrong, isn’t it?  There’s the initial theft and the subsequent lie.  You’d think the editors could have thrown in at least one line about the moral implications.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Years ago, back in the mid-1990s, when I was still an avid NPR listener, there was a segment about a school’s efforts to deal with rampant crime amongst the student body (crime by students against fellow students).  The reporter attended an ethics class the school sponsored.  To get a discussion going, the students got a hypothetical:  What do you do if you find a wallet with money it, and it’s possible to locate the wallet’s owner?  The reporter described how most of the students justified a “finders keepers, losers weepers” approach to that wallet.  The careless person deserved to lose his money.

When the hypothetical was turned around — the students had lost their own wallet and someone else had found it — they suddenly became advocates for the wallet’s return, because they would “feel” bad.  Because moral relativism apparently hadn’t eaten away completely at the reporter’s brain, he closed his report on the seminar by saying something along the lines of “At no point did the instructor ever touch upon the morality of returning the wallet, focusing instead s0lely on the student’s feelings.”  I credit that NPR report, incidentally, with being one of the stepping stones in my slow journey across the Rubicon that led me to becoming a conservative.

Apparently the Times editorial board (and the article’s writer too) can’t arouse any heat in themselves when it comes to the notion of right and wrong regarding intellectual property.  Of course, I’m willing to bet that, if it was Times‘ own intellectual property being stolen, the editors (and author) would find it within themselves to feel some level of outrage.

From the D to the A, or maybe even an A+.  Reporter Lizette Alvarez writes about Brendan Marrocco, an Army infantryman who, in 2009, lost both arms and legs in Iraq.  (Weirdly, I can’t find a link for that article.)  Marrocco, who is 23, has been learning to live again, with help from his family (including a brother who walked away from his own life to care for Brendan) and from the folks at Walter Reed.  Within its four corners, the article is not anti-war, it is not condescending, it is not demeaning.  It speaks neutrally of the war and with great admiration of Marrocco’s courage and spirit.  (If you’re interested, you can read the Brendan Marrocco blog here, and contribute to his fund here.)

While an article about the devastation that can be wrought against the human body in times of war certainly won’t send most kids out to enlist, the article, on its own terms, is still even-handed and, in its own way, uplifting.  I’ll be interested in seeing if future Upfront editions look at non-wounded warriors, examining acts of courage or humanitarianism, or if the magazine always presents our troops as victims.

As for the rest, of the magazine, it wanders in the gray area of Times-ness.  One decent, but somehow pointless, article notes that time is running out to solve the racially motivated murders that took place in the south in the 1950s and 1960s.  Another article, without mentioning Jeff Goldberg, riffs of his interview with Castro (the one where Castro apparently said socialism has failed, a quote Castro then denied) to question whether change is coming to Cuba.  The article is good in that it acknowledges that the Cuban economy is a mess and that the state is a prison, so that definitely gets kudos.

A “history” article looks at the environmental movement that began in the 1970s.  It accurately describes the pollution that characterized the landscape of my childhood.  But then it swings into climate change, bemoaning the fact that, because climate change is invisible, expensive and challenged, it’s just not being addressed.  Another article addresses the fairly low key conflict arising from the University of Mississippi’s efforts to replace “Colonel Reb,” its mascot.  And the end page has, believe it or not, a cartoon showing the Democrats’ desperate efforts to avoid associating with Obama this election season.  It balances that Democrat cartoon with a cartoon showing the Tea Partiers as a King Kong run amok, threatening the Republican elephant.  (It’s not a bad cartoon actually.)

Overall, it’s not a bad magazine.  It’s carefully neutral to the point of inanity, except when it comes to climate change, but I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye on things as the school year progresses.