The Herald Bulletin

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May 15, 2013

Jim Bailey: Just what does it mean to be created equal?

ANDERSON, Ind. — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So goes the famous line penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It elaborates on the American ideal of a society in which no one is considered inherently superior to anyone else. Or does it?

Ever-increasing legislation and legal rulings have reinforced Jefferson’s words in such far-flung realms as race, religion, education and monetary entitlements.

But is everyone created equal?

If that’s the case, why wasn’t I a star basketball player in the NBA? (Hey, I wasn’t even a starter on my Sunday school team.) Or a straight-A student? On the plus side I have never been interrogated as a suspect in a criminal investigation. I had a number of job applications rejected back in the day and a few manuscripts returned from magazine publishers.

Of course, it’s a laudable ideal that everyone should have a fair chance of proving himself or herself without the handicap of stereotyping. But when you allow for differences in intellectual capacity, opportunity and motivation, one person’s version of being all you can be simply may not measure up to someone else’s.

Thus we have all manner of quotas, catch-up programs and educational mainstreaming designed to fit everyone into a cookie-cutter existence. We worry about leaving a child behind. But in the process we too often neglect the opportunities being sought by the ones who are way out ahead. Often we champion the rights of accused or convicted lawbreakers without equivalent consideration for the victims.

There’s sometimes a Robin Hood mentality of taxing the rich to subsidize the poor. The problem with that is there simply aren’t enough of the former to bring the latter up to a level of economic comfort.

Urban school systems face increasing dilemmas of statistics that paint them as educational failures. It should be no mystery why their ISTEP scores and graduation rates are far worse than their suburban counterparts. A much larger segment of their students come to school each morning without even having breakfast, some of them having slept in a different bed – or no bed – every night, and some of whose parents aren’t even around or sober. And special education students not only are mainstreamed, arguably a good idea, but are expected to pass standardized tests some of them can’t even read much less comprehend. Then those scores are averaged in with the rest of the students, and you get the idea.

So-called minimum-wage jobs are frowned upon by labor advocates, even though many people working those jobs can barely sign their name to their paycheck.

All this raises more questions than it answers. But it gives an idea of why even a level playing field isn’t enough to ensure an evenly-matched game.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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