In view of the fact that many states in America now evaluate teachers on their students' performance, I wish to suggest five proposals that, if adopted by the appropriate agencies, would transform our country and, if adopted by other nations, would change the world.
First, I propose that parents be evaluated on their children's behavior. If their children act responsibly and enjoy good repute in the community, their parents should receive a good rating. These parents are clearly doing their job.
If, on the other hand, their children are disrespectful and rowdy, if they cause annoyance and trouble or raise Cain in their town, their parents should receive a poor rating. Parents like this aren't doing their job.
Never mind that these parents may be beacons of righteousness, setting their offspring a shining example; that they may have strained like galley slaves to instill in them proper values and virtue; that they may have spent untold hours poring over child-raising books and a small fortune consulting psychologists.
Never mind all this! If they can't control their children, they're clearly bad parents, otherwise why would their children behave in this way? If they can't train their children, they should get out of parenting!
Second, I propose that doctors be evaluated on the health of their patients. It wouldn't matter that there was no known cure for a particular ailment, or that the problem stemmed from heredity, poverty, or childhood neglect.
Nor would it matter that these doctors might have repeatedly implored their patients to take their meds or warned them of the link between smoking and cancer, overeating and heart trouble, drinking and liver disease.
Nor would it matter that they told their patients that if they ignored their advice, they would bring on a stroke, or perhaps even die. No! These doctors simply aren't motivating! They're ineffective! They should lose their licenses!
Third, I propose that the clergy be evaluated on the lives of their flock. It would be beside the point that these men and women of the cloth were saints, whose goodness and humanity inspired all whom they met; that they preached with the tongues of angels, possessed a faith to move mountains, and consumed themselves in urging all to lead a good life.
No! This wouldn't count! If there were reprobates or malicious gossips in their folds who destroyed reputations, they should be defrocked!
Fourth, I propose that these ratings be made public. Knowledge of parental accountability would insure immediate improvement in their children's behavior. What better incentive to good behavior than for children to know that parents were now at their mercy, and that their misconduct would be blamed on their parents, and not on themselves!
Sons and daughters would shrink back aghast at the very thought of blackmailing their parents, embarrassing or even punishing them! Such dark imaginings would be sufficient to transform even the most lawless of children into veritable models of rectitude. It is plain how the interests of parents would thereby be served!
Furthermore, knowledge that doctors were now held publicly responsible for their patients' health would instantly move people to take scrupulous care of themselves.
And for those who mightn't quite find it possible to reform their bad habits, there would be other consolations. The chain smoker on his deathbed could take comfort in the fact that it wasn't his fault that he lay dying of cancer, but that of his doctor who had failed to convince him of the dangers of smoking.
What a relief to know that one's heart attack wasn't the result of one's own lack of restraint while at table, but of the doctor's failure to appear each night and padlock the refrigerator.
Likewise, the certainty that the clergy would be held publicly accountable for the lives of their congregations would inflame their flocks to vertiginous heights of sanctity.
Even the incorrigibles would be vouchsafed their own form of deliverance. What solace to know that it wasn't their wrongdoing that had put them in jail, but their lackluster clergy who hadn't succeeded in reaching them!
How many gossips would no longer need reproach themselves for ruining lives, since it wasn't their own malice that had given free rein to their tongues, but rather their clergyman's refusal to muzzle them?
Fifth, let us now proceed to the politicians! Well, on second thought, I'll leave that to you.
Absurd proposals? Of course they are! But why are they any less absurd than singling out teachers alone and evaluating them on the performance of their students, who after all are only children, when society has been trying to make adults behave responsibly since Adam and Eve?
What is it about America that makes it take leave of its senses in imposing on teachers alone such absurd expectations which it wouldn't dare impose on any other profession that deals with adults, let alone with immature, rebellious, and defiant children?
If doctors, the clergy, and the other helping professions must battle these traits in adults, how much more must parents and teachers combat them in children?
Is America so desperate for scapegoats that it willfully ignores the nature of children and the many outside influences upon children's learning and behavior beyond teachers' control?
Every parent and teacher is aware of these elementary facts about children, so why aren't politicians and educational "reformers," many of whom also are parents?
Which leads to the Machiavellian question: What is this policy of evaluating teachers on their students' performance really about?
(This piece is a revised version of an article published in the Times of Trenton in 2014.)