Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Everyone Is Approved Here

As you drive along the busy boulevard, an A-frame sandwich board all but shouts, "Everyone is approved here!!!" It is an unabashed, traditionally American, free-enterprise invitation to buy “pre-owned” automobiles. The sign says, in effect, "No matter what your financial history is, no matter how reckless or foolish or disastrous or triumphantly capitalistic, we can lend you the money to buy a vehicle." (Naturally, such generosity has its own price. That price goes by the code words “interest rate” and “months.”)

Which got me to thinking.

Imagine if "Everyone is approved here!!!" referred to real people. What if actual living humans were approved “here” just as unconditionally and with the √©lan of three exclamation points as a used-car dealer approves all?

"Everyone is approved here!!!" could be a statement of credit beyond financial history, and instead it could apply to redemption that reverses personal misdeeds and waywardness.

Does unconditional approval get the cold shoulder in our society because of our puritanical past? One can reasonably argue that the reward of virtue and the punishment of transgressions is the right path. It’s wholesome for society. It sets the right balance and the right example.

But is that notion more cultural than theological?

After all, the New Testament offers ample weight and rich testimony for what we will call the Mercy Rule, as opposed to the Justice Rule.

In the early Seventies, when I was a fledgling English teacher, a colleague just as new to the profession announced to his social studies students on the first day of class for that marking period: “You all have A’s. That’s it. You have an A.” This was not contract learning. It involved no quid pro quo. The students were dumbstruck at first. Looking back, I would venture to say the teacher risked disciplinary punishment or job loss for this daring, if not foolhardy, move.

The teacher later trumpeted the success of his gambit. He said no class collectively or individually ever produced more or learned better. They rose to the occasion and justified someone’s belief in them, however dreamy or utopian. All were not merely approved. They were rewarded in advance, unconditionally.

Not being a sociologist, I cannot safely draw any generalized conclusions from this small sample. I cannot go from point A to point B to establish a theory of education or a social construct rooted in unconditional “all are approved here.”

But being a columnist, I can pose leading questions, and draw inferences till the cows come home — home from wherever they wandered to in the first place.

Taking literally the declarative sentence “All are approved here” (with or without accompanying punctuation denoting interjection, surprise, or excitement) yields a multitude of questions, the answers to which will remain speculative.

Could you successfully apply this approach to child-rearing?

What about the justice system? Would the Radical Advance Approval Method cause chaos and imperil public safety? (Incidentally, my former teaching colleague went on to become a top official at the U.S. Department of Labor. I was shocked to see him one evening making a comment on the evening’s national news.)

Speaking of labor and industry, what if supervisors and managers gave employees automatic A’s on annual performance reviews? (I had a manager do that; I loved working for him.) Would quality and production improve?

Consider the implications for the alcohol and substance rehabilitation industry. Would outcomes be better or worse than those produced by current methods?

I’m just a columnist. I get to grade myself with an A no matter what anyway.

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