The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on April 3, 1997 · 17
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · 17

Publication:
Location:
Boston, Massachusetts
Issue Date:
Thursday, April 3, 1997
Page:
17
Start Free Trial
Cancel

THE BOSTON GLOBE THURSDAY, APRIL 3, 1997 A17 JON KELLER The shameful baby boomers i Come on, baby boomers, sing along: "We are Stardust We are golden," as Crosby, Stills and Nash put it in their 1970 ode to Woodstock. J Time to add a new lyric for the cohort with a Igold touch for self-promotion but a tin ear for truth: "W are unbelievably selfish and self-indulgen-tjJid we're making hash of the next generation." JThis week's Globe stories on unchecked abuse of the state's special-education law documents its 'gteggering cost in resources denied the scores of ; disabled kids who truly need special help. And it ; fjngers a variety of culprits, among them greedy lawyers, shortsighted legislators, cynical teachers, ;ana timid, tail-covering administrators, t But one set of villains stands out. Irresponsible hoamer parents - some of them affluent swine forging themselves at the public trough, others so-t exiled victims at the expense of their children and the taxpayers - are driving the special-ed bus right j5ffa cliff. For a generation that still bores everyone Sjhp'U listen with tales of its unprecedented sense of "(immunity, compassion for the needy, and social 'justice, details of its scamming provide a grim reali-tyjeheck. -""'Baby boomers grew up during the golden age of overlitigation, and it shows. If Boomer Mom and Bad don't think little Stardust is achieving her legally mandated "maximum possible development" and the school dares balk at whatever outrageous demands they make, it's on to a second opinion from the boomers' chosen "expert," paid for by the scnbols to the tune of $60 million in 1995-'96. The financially squeezed school still won't shell out tn'ousands for special services that may or may not b'&iieeded? Enter the lawyer, perhaps one of those ' A'ell-groomed $200-per-hour models from the numerous firms that specialize in such extortion. At this point, more than 9 of 10 cases are settled (jut of court by the schools. They have enough trou-''rae" providing teachers adequate to handle out-of-" control enrollments. They can't afford to blow the ' average $40,000 they'll need to defend these nuisance suits, an amount equal to the typical salary of L Massachusetts teacher. '"And guess who suffers most at the end of this ''sad charade? Globe reporter Kate Zernike found that Marblehead and Lexington alone account for more complaints to the Board of Special Education ' Appeals than Chelsea, Holyoke, Fitchburg, and Lawrence combined. Messages are being sent here. "From boomer parents to schools: We want you to ' snoulder a ridiculously large share of responsibility 'for our kids' development but won't give you any ' authority to judge the results. From affluent ' boomers to poor and middle-class people raising ki'ds with real problems: Gimme what should be yours. ,;""The domino effect of their greed is devastating "tb 'public education. Over the years, in combination with other fiscal constraints, special-education 'plundering has forced budget cuts, larger teacher-! student ratios, and the evaporation of extracurricu- ter offerings and opportunities for gifted students. Ironically, the final domino often falls on Star-"crost and her special-ed peers. Once they acquire the cherished label "disabled," schools often drop 1 any real standards for fear of further litigation. Does being allowed to watch the movie version of ""Moby Dick" rather than read Melville's prose, take untimed exams, be given notes taken by oth- er, really help set up Stardust for future success? i But then, while the pursuit of special-ed perks is always alleged to be in the interests of the children, it's obvious Mom and Dad. Boomer care far more -'about their own self-image than Stardust. "It's far I eSsier for parents to say their child has a disability I'tftah to Say the child is a slow learner," says Marga- ret Reed, who handles special education for the Holliston schools. " i" "It's more socially acceptable to say that a child ' -hlas ADD than to say the child is spoiled," adds 'Robert Doyle, special education administrator in "Sharon. r Yet another boomer message, this time to its i own offspring: What really matters isn't you, or us -'it's me. "These children aren't academically needier," concludes Swampscott High School Principal Peter Sack. "We're dealing with the first generation that hasn't been raised." Jon Keller is political analyst for WLVI-TVs "Ten O'clock News." JOHN OVERMYER ILLUSTRATION A cult's tangled web ELLEN GOODMAN The "experts" are parading across my television screen again. A full entourage of authors and researchers and professors are there, following the psychic bread crumbs, the clues that led 39 people from their separate lives to their Rancho Sante Fe deaths. We are far now along the familiar media route. Last week's tragedy becomes this week's analysis and then - as surely as black humor survives horror - next week's entry in some David Letterman routine. Surfing across the channels now, I can put together a collage of such experts trying to explain why some three-dozen souls would willingly, maybe even eagerly, leave their "containers." There is a hapless pursuit of any common thread that brought a wmmmm former massage thera pist, a choir leader, a postal worker to the conclusion that if they packed their flight bags and drank their potions, they would be lifted to "the kingdom level above human." But this time the incomprehensible event has a new name. Someone labels Heaven's Gate an Internet cult. Someone else calls it a cyber-cult. What jars the minds of many people is that the folks in Heaven's Gate were technologically sophisticated. And yet stunningly gullible. They worked skillfully in a field that we associate with computer science. And yet believed in science fiction. , Calling themselves Higher Source, they made home pages by day. And read ancient portents from the comets in the night sky. They had skills that outstrip those of us who barely navigate the Internet. But believed there was a spaceship in Hale-Bopp's tail. Millennialism and megabytes? The World Wide Web and unidentified flying objects? It doesn't compute, many say, as if computing were the ultimate proof of rationality. It doesn't compute, they say, to find 39 bodies - pockets filled with quarters and $5 bills, videotape filled with excited talk of spacecraft -in a lush home crammed with desktop terminals. Compared with this, the Jonestown jungle 'Cybercult' provides more proof about how fast technology can overtake understanding. made perverse, horror-tale sense. Maybe indeed "cybercult" should be an oxymoron. But today, it stands as one more word of proof about how fast and far technology can streak ahead of understanding. At times like this we are reminded of a vast disconnect between the new tools we create and the old mind-sets they may serve. It's as vast as Heaven's Gate's home page that used electronic talent to post the tacky tabloid portraits of an alien creature. As vast as the megabyte transmission of a message, and the gibberish of the message itself. The Internet is the latest, but hardly the only, example of this gap between high tech and low us. After all, we are the people who niade television and show sitcoms on it. We split the atom and made a bomb with it. We built cars that can go beyond 120 miles an hour for people who cannot control the wheel over 80. And in Hollywood, the most advanced technology is used to blow up a min iature White House or imitate a volcano. To see how much faster technology can move than the human mind, all I need to do is look at the cursor on my screen blinking impatiently for the next sentence to form. To see the gap between skill and understanding, you can talk about life with the 13-year-old installing your Windows 95. So too, the remarkable new turf of the Internet can, as well, be just another place to show people having sex with each other. Cutting-edge software can be used by people recruiting others to an antiscientific creationism. It can hook up Marshall Applewhite to a young mother surfing the new way for an age-old way out. What strikes me about the Heaven's Gate members is not that they were so advanced but so far behind, not that they were part of the great new world of computers but that they were lost in the world of people. Cut off from family and reason, the authors of these home pages had already left their earthly home. With all due respect to those who dub this a cybercult, the connecting thread isn't in the' tools these people used, but those they lacked. In the end, cyberspace was easy. Life was too hard. Ellen Goodman is a Globe columnist The Kennedys and women Sheila Kennedy says she 'rarely stood up to Joe.' JEFFJACOBY Kennedy men tend to be vile, and never more so than when they are abusing women. It is one of the revolting truths of our age that the most flattered and fawned-over family in American politics breeds men who treat women like dirt. It is even more revolting that women reward them for it. In her new book "Shattered Faith," Sheila Rauch Kennedy has very little to say about her 12-year marriage to US Representative Joseph Kennedy. Most of the book is an unsparing dissection of the American Catholic Church's annulment policy, which each year declares tens of thousands of former marriages to have never existed in the sight of God. But the few words she does devote to her former husband evoke the familiar Kennedy misogyny. "My former husband was powerful and popular," she writes. "I was, as he so often reminded me, a nobody; and nobody in his town would be on my side." During her marriage, Sheila Kennedy recalls, she "rarely stood up to Joe." She "kept quiet." Not because she had no spine -her ongoing battle to keep the church from annulling her marriage shows' spine aplenty - but for a more elemental reason: "I had sim ply become afraid of him." Time after time, this is what women have experienced at the hands of Kennedys: fear, and being treated as a nobody. "We have known for decades," the acclaimed Boston novelist (and Globe columnist) James Carroll wrote a few years ago in the New Republic, "how Kennedy males are encouraged by the family ethos to regard women." Indeed we have. The first Joseph P. Kennedy - the thieving, bigoted one - treated his wife Rose with humiliating disdain, rubbing her nose in his nonstop philandering. The swinishness of the father was perfected by the sons, above all Ted Kennedy, whose womanizing has been crude, notorious, even lethal. And what the sons perfected, grandsons carry on. For example, William Kennedy Smith - as Dominick Dunne reported at some length in Vanity Fair in 1991 - had a well-honed reputation for sexual assault long before he and his Uncle Ted and Cousin Patrick spent that "traditional Easter weekend" prowling the bars in Palm Beach. Sheila Kennedy's book has made news here, and for good reason: Women hurt by the Kennedys usually say nothing. Kennedy says she, too, would have remained si lent had it not been for her ex-husband's attempt to have their marriage, which was entered into after a long courtship and which produced two sons, declared a moral nullity. "When we separated, I moved out of the house and borrowed money from my parents I stayed in Massachusetts to facili tate his visiting the boys, and perhaps most important for someone such as Joe with political ambitions, I kept quiet." Just like Rose. Like Jackie. Like Joan. Like the friends of Mary Jo. They kept quiet, too. Yet despite their silence, everyone knows. The Kennedy record of abusive sexism is no secret. It is sordid. It is everything pro- gressive women claim to find repellent. Nevertheless, each time Ted z Kennedy runs for the Senate again, progressive women line up to cheer him. If Joe Kennedy runs for governor, progressive "women will be his biggest boosters. The senator is a boor who mauls waitresses and trashed his first mar-' riage? The congressman, ill-bred! and ill-tempered, tells his wife h she's a nobody and kept her in .5 fear? Never mind: When campaign season rolls around, the women's advocates will be out in force, singing the Kennedys' praises. ',( In 1993, as Ted was gearing up for reelection, the five women then serving in the Senate flew to BoS' ton to fund-raise for him. Several of these women had been pro-pelled into politics by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings - & hearings during which Kennedy, the Senate's foremost sexual pred ator, had sat mute. He is the last politician these women should have wanted to reelect - yet there they were hailing him as their ' knight in armor. "A beacon of light and hope," Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois called him. "One of the Galahads in the US Senate," gushed Maryland's Barbara Mikulski. 1 It has been the same for Joe. He may treat women as inferiors' but they swoon for him. A brandy new Massachusetts poll confirms; it: Among men, Joe Kennedy's favorable rating is 48.8 percent. Among women, 60 percent. Likewise Ted Kennedy: 50 percent approval among men, 61 percent ' among women. "I was, as he so often reminded me, a nobody." That is what women are to the Kennedys, especially women they have damaged. Sheila Kennedy's words bring to mind the fate of Pam Kelly, a young woman paralyzed for life in a jeep wreck caused by Joe Kennedy in 1973. Kennedys are expert at prettying up their messes, and the crippling of Pam Kelly was no exception. While she was still in "a hazepf pain killers," Peter Collier and David Horowitz wrote in their 1984" history of the Kennedys, Joe's 1 family descended on her hospital room - even Ted, "sun-tanned arfd salty from having just finished 1 sailing." They came with flowers,' cookies, and iced tea, and hired ar projectionist to screen a movie, r "Everybody would gather there, even the nurses," Kelly lat er recalled. "While they were l watching, I'd ease into the wheel? chair I was trying to get used to,) and go out into the hall and smoke a cigarette They never misseil me." Of course they didn't. She was just another bump in the Kenne- . dys' road. Just another woman. ' Just a nobody. .v j JeffJacoby is a Globe columnist ' As medical titans battle, what happens to the patients? LOWELL E. SCHNIPPER A little girl has died. Despite the best of efforts and heroic intentions, Colleen McCaffrey's quiet struggle ended recently in the presence of family and loved ones. She died in the course of a bone marrow transplant necessitated by the development of an otherwise fatal bone marrow disorder termed myelodysplasia. Myelodysplasia is much more common in older adults but occasionally occurs in younger people as a consequence of prior chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Eight years earlier, at the age of 2, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for brain cancer. And she survived for a while. Colleen's dad is my colleague, an oncology social worker who spends his days doing the Lord s work. Caring for the afflicted who are destined to return to the ranks of the well, his best talents are reserved for those ypse burdens he Ifyhtens as they stare into the jaws of the tiger. The victories he shepherds others toward was not to be Colleen's. Her salvation, her treatments as a child, became her undoing. So many mysteries, so much to learn, so much to do, so far to go. A shocking juxtaposition. As Colleen's days wound down, it was impossible not to notice, and resent, the hysteria surrounding the ever-increasing corporatization of the academic medical centers in Boston. This little girl, and many like her, lay sick and dying while medical titans are distracted by struggles for personal hegemony, institutional primacy, and the very survival of our august institutions. The language of the medical center, formerly the somewhat arcane "doctor and scientific speak," now includes market forces, P&L statements, corporate wars, raiding the other's faculty, networks, insurers, and managed care. We are led to believe that what we do at these centers costs too much, saps theprofitability of our corporations, and costs American jobs. Fourteen percent of the GP is too much to allocate to health cai- slice it, dice it, get it down. And who says this? The economists, the analysts, the Fortune 500 - have you ever known any of them to be wrong? This is not to say that there are not excesses in health care, economies to be found, and appropriate shifts in priorities to be Dollars are at the heart of the struggle. made. But do our constituents, the patients of today and tomorrow, know what is happening in the academic health center? Remember, that's the place we all rely on to shape the ethics and skills of tomorrow's doctors, study today's diseases, and configure treatments for our next generation. Here's-what's happening; Support for train- -ing doctors is dwindling, and research is under great financial pressure. The quality of delivered health care services is being squeezed, inexorably, by insurers who insist on paying less and less, because that's what their corporate clients insist on; financial incentives are being provided to reward "doing less"; fewer Americans have access to health insurance; institutions that were once collaborators, sisters in a medical complex, are now locked in struggles that are primarily economic in origin. Which of these shall survive and which shall not? Dollars are at the heart of the struggle, but they are not where it stops. These institutions, Boston's academic medical centers, are finding it harder and harder to interact with one another over science and clinical advancements. The word is out. Even in our nonprofit centers, scientists are business assets, and training opportunities are proprietary matters. Just ask them, and they'll even justify it to you. Doesn't Colleen's tragedy teach us? Medicine is not a commodity well suited for the unfettered marketplace - unless you believe that a quest for short-term gain instead of taking the long view and thj substitution of business ethics for medical ones is tfie right prescription. How long will it take usjto learn? It is outrageous that so much medical and scientific intellectual capital is misdirected toward configuring competitive business strategies and hospital-to-hospital corporate warfare. That's what is happening, and in this climate each institution can justify its behavior as survival tactics. Deans, university presidents, and senior faculty appear to be incapable of reversing the tide. My guess is that it will run its course until it reaches' an "angle of repose," the idealists will then resurface, and a new synthesis will emerge. the meantime valuable time and effort Will be vasted. There is so much to learn and so many mountains to climb. '1 A little girl has died. i n Dr. Lowell E. Schnipper is chief of medfeal oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medial Center.

Get access to Newspapers.com

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 18,100+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Boston Globe
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free