The Morning Jolt


Fifth-Grade Teacher Fuels the War on Grammar with List of “Preferred Pronouns”

Making the click-through worthwhile: A math teacher in Florida demands the rules of grammar change in her classroom; how the prominent role of Jimmy Kimmel in our current health care reform debate illustrates how Americans don’t want to think too hard about the problem; and Lawrence O’Donnell explodes – metaphorically, not literally.

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar

Oh, here we go again.

A new fifth grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.”

“ . . . my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”

The letter also asks that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.

The note alarmed some parents.

I suppose we should be relieved that this teacher instructs students in math and science, and not English. Then again, we have a math teacher with some confusion on distinguishing between one and more than one.

As with the argument about whether it’s wrong to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he,” we have a blurring of the line between manners and propriety – the generally good rule that you should call someone by the name they prefer – and preexisting socially-established rules for identification.

If my child’s teacher wants to be called “Mix Surname,” that’s unusual, but fine. Be respectful, kids. But the words “they, them, and their” already have particular meanings in the English language, and they are used when referring to a group, more than one. This teacher is one person, and thus “they,” “them,” and “their” are not the appropriate pronouns.

Using a plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun is grammatically incorrect, as editors remind me on a frustratingly regular basis. You can’t just decide that in one classroom, the grammatical rules are one way, and in another classroom, they’re different. Grammar isn’t sexist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, racist, or somehow otherwise sinister; it’s just grammar.

You do have a right to ask others to call you by the name you prefer. You don’t have the right to demand schoolchildren use incorrect grammar just because you feel like it.  The rules of grammar are not set by personal preferences.

The school district seems to just want everyone to calm down and go about their business:

Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.

“According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach,” Hanna wrote.

Fun question: Would the English teacher down the hall mark a paper incorrect for referring to Bressack as “they” in a sentence? Or would the school district insist that it is correct to refer to Bressack as “they” but not to refer to other teachers as “they”?

Do Not Let Late-Night Comedians Write Your Health Care Policy

You would like to think that at some point, the country would realize that the skills required for successful policymaking and governing are different than the ones needed to be a celebrity. Instead, we’ve got Donald Trump and Jimmy Kimmel leading the argument about what our nation’s health care policies ought to be.

Our Theodore Kupfer:

Is Jimmy Kimmel worth listening to beyond monologues or celebrity chats? He can make people laugh, sure, and coax conversation out of the most vapid stars. But on health care? “Health care is complicated, it’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing,” the comedian allowed last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! But not, apparently, confusing enough to lower Kimmel’s self-confidence. Graham-Cassidy would “kick about 30 million Americans off insurance” and is “actually worse than” the skinny repeal the Senate rejected in July, Kimmel said. He even added the humble parenthetical, “This is not my area of expertise.” That, at least, is truth on display: Anyone who figured being a comedian and talk-show host was a natural fit with policy expertise has been duly warned.

Comedians have become public intellectuals in the popular imagination, so maybe some charity is in order. We should be open to the possibility that Kimmel has deep and hidden reservoirs of knowledge on risk-adjustment programs, the Medicaid expansion, or per capita caps. After all, Kimmel has, in the words of CNN, become the “conscience of the health care fight.” It’s not hard to see why: Kimmel has a moving family story to tell, a huge audience, and an unmistakable gift for the big screen. His infant son Billy has a heart condition that required surgery soon after birth and, like any father, Kimmel takes his son’s well-being seriously.

What Kimmel does is what a lot of voters do: they don’t think about the issue much; they just have strong feelings about it, and believe that those emotional reactions are sufficient to find the right solution. They conclude, “health care is a right!” and don’t think about what health care is – i.e., a doctor’s time and expertise, obtained at great cost and effort; an office, clinic, or facility, and X-rays and MRI machines and every kind of specialized equipment, designed and obtained at considerable cost, and of course, prescription drugs. All of that adds up to a value measured in trillions of dollars. Many Americans assert they have a right to all of that, and often they imply that they have a right to it for free, or a right to it without paying anything resembling the actual cost of the good or service.

About 70 percent of doctors accept new Medicaid patients, about 66 percent of general practitioners. (A few studies found much lower percentages.) These doctors have this policy not because they are mean or cruel or greedy or selfish, but because they find the government’s reimbursement rate is too low. For example, most hospitals take a loss on every Medicaid patient they treat; the money to make up that gap has to come from somewhere.

Medicaid pays roughly 80 percent of what a private insurer charges. The government expects doctors and caregivers to do the job for 20 percent less than other patients; unsurprisingly, doctors limit the number of Medicaid patients they’re willing to see. (This isn’t even getting into the bureaucracy, paperwork, and other hassles.)

A lawmaker in Hawaii came up with a simple solution: “Physicians who refused to take Medicare patients wouldn’t be able to reapply for their state medical license, which must be renewed every two years.” In other words, force doctors to see patients at the reduced government rate. This is where “health care is a right!” always ends: the state requiring a doctor to see a patient for reimbursement that the doctor deems unfair. The doctor stops being a independent citizen free to enter into agreements with patients on mutually-agreed terms; the doctor becomes a tool of the state who must obey the rules set by faraway lawmakers who know nothing about their practice and who they’ll never meet. Lawmakers rarely think too far down the road and ask how many people would want to become doctors under this sort of arrangement.

Anyway, the Senate could end up voting on Graham-Cassidy in the near future. “According to the chamber’s parliamentarian, senators only have until the end of the month to pass a bill with just 51 votes under the procedure known as reconciliation.” A huge question is whether John McCain is willing to be the deciding vote to kill off a healthcare reform bill cosponsored by his good friend Lindsey Graham.

O’Donnell Smash!

Those of us with long memories remember back in 2004 when Lawrence O’Donnell, then a talking head on MSNBC, flipped out on John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Vets for Truth, and just started shouting “LIAR!” over and over again during an appearance. Television debates get heated, passions and tempers flare, but it entered the realm of unprofessional. Then there was the furious outburst on Morning Joe in 2010 and various other moments over the years suggesting that O’Donnell is one burst of gamma radiation away from becoming the Incredible Hulk when he’s angry.

Thirteen years later, Lawrence O’Donnell’s anger surfaces again as a newly-released video shows him raging over technical issues during commercial breaks. To his credit, he apologized: “A better anchorman and a better person would’ve had a better reaction to technical difficulties. I’m sorry.”

John Sexton: “The fact that this tape apparently leaked suggests some of the people on his staff are sick of working for a rage-a-holic. I wonder what they’ll decide to leak next.”

ADDENDA: Once again, we hope you will join us on Wednesday, October 25 for NRI’s fourth annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner at Gotham Hall in New York City honoring our close friends, Tom Wolfe and Bruce and Suzie Kovner. 

The annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner brings together an audience of conservative leaders, philanthropists, and friends of National Review Institute from around the country to celebrate the lasting legacy of William F. Buckley Jr and our esteemed honorees. The William F. Buckley Jr. Prize was created to honor those who advance the principles Buckley championed during his lifetime and foster the conservative movement that he helped launch.


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