At Large

Scaredy-Cats

According to some therapists, grief counselors and quacks, the ''far right'' is the only danger our country and our children still face this September 11.

By 9.6.02

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Granted that this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but it is really too good to pass up. So let us assume that the New York Times quoted Jerald Newberry, director of the Health Information Network for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, correctly. Defending the lesson plans that school districts across the country have drawn up for use on September 11, he said:

"If you boil down the concerns of the opposition, what I would call the far right, ultimately it boils down to: 'I am not comfortable with my child being in school with someone who's different. I want to keep my child surrounded by people who are identical to me. The world is getting too diverse, and I'm scared.'"

Mr. Newberry's priceless quote appeared in a page-one story about the argument over whether to use the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center to immerse the kids in diversity, tolerance and touchy-feely stuff, or whether to give them a class in American history or civics. The teachers' union favors the diversity, tolerance and touchy-feely approach, but the opposition does not. In Mr. Newberry's reckoning that means the opposition is far right. It may be unfair to be picking on him this way -- maybe the Times really did misquote him -- but Mr. Newberry seems like the quintessential, post-9/11 liberal. Disagree with their cherished assumptions, and you are not merely right, you are far right.

Meanwhile, the teachers' union and other organizations that have drawn up lesson plans for September 11 say they have done so at the request of teachers and parents who insists that children still suffer emotionally from the attacks. But children have always been remarkably resilient, and whether a great many of them are still suffering emotionally is questionable. Indeed most of the thinking and virtually all of the public statements about the plight of the children seems to be coming from therapists, grief counselors and social workers. They have a vested interest, of course; dealing with emotional stress, real or imagined, is how they make their livings.

Certainly September 11 left in its wake bereaved and torn children -- the sons and daughters and nephews and nieces of the people who died. They need all the love and affection and help they can get. It may also be argued, even if not compellingly, that post-9/11 trauma among children may have something to do with where they lived. That is, the closer they were to Ground Zero the more they were upset. Thus the school children in New York City would have suffered most, and therefore they may benefit from the help of mental-health professionals.

So assume now that new York is special, and that the children there need help. But note that the same story in the Times that quoted Mr. Newberry also quoted one Rona Novick, the clinical director of the School Mental Health Alliance. Ms. Novick helped write the lesson plans for the New York City schools, and she told the Times about her problems. As she said:

"How do you teach people that racism and killing people based on their outsides is evil, and not face the history of evil in this country, where African-Americans were routinely mistreated, belittled and hung? Where do you draw the line?"

But this is left-wing politics, and the connection with mental health is doubtful. Ms. Novick is an apostle of moral equivalence, and for all we know deep in her heart she may believe that a racist America brought September 11 on itself. She may also think, as Mr. Newberry has suggested, that only the far right thinks otherwise. Meanwhile, I imagine that on September 11 most sensible parents will ignore the mental-health professionals. They are more likely to give their kids a hug, and tell them they are lucky to be living in America.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.