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FIRST PERSON: Lowering the bar
by Tim Ellsworth
Date: Jan 12, 2008

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–During the telecast of the Music City Bowl between FSU and Kentucky, ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham made a statement that left me shaking my head.

Cunningham was pontificating upon the academic scandal involving about three dozen Florida State players who cheated on a music history test and earned suspensions from the team in the process. A shorthanded FSU team lost the game 35-28.

FSU coach Bobby Bowden got it right in his comments about the matter, and placed the blame squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the players who cheated.

“It’s not physiology,” Bowden said. “It’s a music course, open book, online [test]. Anybody can pass an open book test. Gee whiz.”

But to Cunningham, the fault doesn’t lie primarily with the players who cheated, but with the professor. He pointed out that the test hadn’t been changed in seven semesters.

“Kids will be kids,” Cunningham said. “Change the test. That’s the big lesson here.”

Did you catch that? The “big lesson” is not that students should have enough integrity to study hard, do their own work and pass a test. The “big lesson” is that the professor shouldn’t have given the same test so many times. The professor is the one to blame.

I wonder if Cunningham would excuse burglary if the house were unlocked, because that’s the same logic at work.

Maybe I should try employing that line of reasoning the next time I get pulled over for speeding. “You know, officer, the big lesson here is that the speed limit has been the same on this stretch of road for way too long, and it’s too low to begin with. It’s not my fault.” Somehow I doubt that I’d get a sympathetic hearing.

Why is it that we as a society have thrown out all reasonable expectations of behavior, especially for young people, and have instead embraced a lowest common denominator mindset that “kids will be kids”?

The higher the standard of behavior, the closer people will come to meeting that standard. If your employer tells you that you’re expected to work only eight hours per week, guess how many hours you’re going to work. Similarly, when you expect kids to act immaturely and irresponsibly, guess how they’re going to act.

Take the example of King Middle School in Portland, Maine, which recently started offering birth control pills at the school health clinic. Students need their parents’ permission to use the services of the clinic, but they don’t have to get specific permission from parents to receive birth control.

Proponents will argue that middle school girls are getting pregnant, so they might as well have access to birth control. But the message they’re sending is obvious, even to the students.

“I think it’s stupid because what people are saying is that it’s OK to be sexually active,” said 13-year-old Carissa Porcaro, a student at King Middle School, in a New York Times article.

If 13-year-old Carissa is sharp enough to pick up on that, it’s a shame more adults are not. Instead of upholding a high standard and expecting teenagers to refrain from sexual activity, we throw up our hands in abject resignation. Instead of fighting for our children’s purity and laboring to instruct them about the dangers of premarital sexual activity, we stoop to treating them like animals in heat – like they have zero control over their passions and impulses.

And if we treat teenagers like animals, it shouldn’t surprise us when they act that way. We hand out birth control and condoms willy nilly. We tolerate their overexposure to a sex-saturated media. Our actions tell them we expect them to have sex. And then we scratch our heads when we look at the teen pregnancy rates.

In short, we remove the moral compass, and then wonder why our kids act immorally. And we blame our professorial culture, because it’s easier to lower the bar than to hold ourselves and our children accountable.


Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University. Write to him at

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