Ross Douthat reflects on Charlie Gard

Ross Douthat reflects on Charlie Gard July 25, 2017

Here.  As I said, I understand that people of goodwill can disagree.  But I still fall on the side of the parents, not the State or the Courts or even the established experts, making the final call.

The above film was made known to me during the Terri Schiavo case.  It’s a powerful, inspiring movie, well worth the watch.  As for Ross’s article, this part especially struck me:

The second institutional temptation is not toward active wickedness but toward sclerosis, groupthink and stagnation. Establish an iron triangle of doctors, insurers and government boards, tell them they must establish predictable standards for what treatments will be covered, and they will inevitably resist many of the experiments through which medical progress advances.

That made me think of the event that pushed us into homeschool.  Granted, compared to the Charlie Gard case, this was peanuts.  But there was a similarity.

All of my sons did well in school.  My second boy, however, was on what they called the ‘gifted’ track.  I didn’t care for that label, since I felt the other boys were just as gifted in their own ways. Nonetheless, I had to admit our second boy had a little more golly-gee-wiz when it came to school.  Especially science.  In fourth grade, he was selected to take a science exam at a local university in which he outscored 78% of high schoolers.  Science was his darling.

In 6th grade they had to take another battery of standardized tests.  These tests determined their upcoming placement in middle school.  These tests also occurred when my Dad died – the first time my boys had experienced the death of a close relative. Despite it all, he made it through.  He scored a 91 on his math, and ranked 3rd highest on science in a class of almost 500 students.

Regardless of this, he was kicked out of the advanced science track.  Why?  Because the metrics for the track required at least a 94 in science and math.   To be in the advanced math track, ironically, they only needed a 90 in math. So he qualified for that.  Because he didn’t make the math requirement for science, however, he was removed from the advanced science course.  That meant he was wrenched from the path he had taken the previous four years, where he had been with the same students and gotten to know the same friends.  He was removed from the science program that would take students with an aptitude for science and encourage them through special projects, classes and exposure to higher level scientific learning.

We fought the good fight, but ultimately met with ‘it’s the rules.’  I met with the State Board of Education, and they explained each school district had to pick its metrics for determining the advanced track qualifications.  It could be anything, but once picked they had to stick with it.  I appealed to our local school board, met with teachers, counselors, principles and the superintendent.  But to no avail.  They sympathized.  They admitted he obviously had a gift and a love for science.  They even conceded that this wasn’t the desired outcome for the program.  But in the end the metrics were the metrics (I came to hate the word ‘metrics’ during those months).

Finally, at one meeting, they offered him the chance to retake the tests.  At that point, however, he got his dander up, as the old timers used to say.  He asked why, when he was an all A student, when he had aced every other standardized test, and by any standard even did great on these, that the body of his work wasn’t good enough.  That’s when the head of our district’s advanced track program made the fateful, bone-headed statement: “Your grades in class don’t really matter.*”

If you know our second oldest, you’d predict what happened next.  Halfway through his seventh grade year, where he once cried over an A-, he was getting low Bs and even Cs.  When we talked with him about it, you can almost guess his reaction.  “I’m sorry Dad,” he would say, “did you say my grades matter?  I have it on the best authority that nothing I do in school matters.  It’s only the latest test.”

That was the primary cause of looking to homeschool.  We discovered the fatal flaw in government centered solutions, the one flaw that skeptics of goverment always cite.  Sure, the market has its problems.  But when you get screwed up in the market, you can always turn to the government for help.  But when it’s the government – the State – that has screwed you up, where do you go?  And the government is by no means flawless.   Just as in our little case, that legendary red tape and bureaucracy can become the be all to end all.  And if you get steam rolled by it, then where do you turn?

When Ross wrote that, this came back to me – the problem with turning to the State.  You never have reason to doubt its experts, until you’re the one who the experts fail.  And when it’s the government’s experts that fail, your options are severely limited.  In a case like ours, it can lead to life changing decisions.  In a case like the Gards’, it can mean life itself.


*She was right about that, but not for reasons she would admit.


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