FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 12, 2007
Do new laws regulate our lives too much?
Newspapers regularly publish health and safety news so that readers can made informed decisions about exercise, diet, purchases and medical matters. Assign students to find at least one article with useful information to help them live better.
Sensible arguments exist on both sides of the debate over how far government should go to protect us from potential risks. Using recent coverage of the trans fat, cell phone use or spanking issue, begin a classroom discussion of the pros and cons.
Behavior laws don’t affect just today’s adults. Students also are divers and consumers, or soon will be, so their voices should be heard. Invite the class to join the discussion about any proposal affecting personal activities or restaurant meals by contributing comments to a newspaper forum or letters page.
City council members and state legislators across our country are considering – and often enacting – laws that regulate personal behavior. Restrictions aim at restaurant ingredients, cell phone use, earbud wearing, smoking and even parental discipline of kids.
New examples make headlines regularly. Nineteen states have proposals to restrict or ban trans fat in restaurants and school cafeterias, or at least provide health warnings about that processed cooking oil. A New York State senator wants to prohibit use of personal electronics on the streets of major cities to avoid what he calls "iPod oblivion," which endangers pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. Numerous states ban drivers from using cell phones without a headset, and some may extend that to cover other distractions. In California, meanwhile, an assemblywoman this month plans to submit a proposal to outlaw spanking of kids under 3, as well as any physical punishment designed to inflict pain.
All this makes critics say lawmakers act like Big Daddies or nagging nannies by trying to protect us from ourselves. “The list of things big daddy government can fine us for because of the carelessness of a vast minority is endless. And it’s for our own good, of course,” says writer and blogger J.J. Jackson, who calls himself a libertarian conservative. On the other side, defenders note that government already regulates restaurant sanitation, smoking in workplaces and public sites, seat belt use, motorcycle helmets and other safety steps for the good of society.
Lawmaker says: “You can't be fully aware of your surroundings if you're fiddling with a BlackBerry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy, or listening to music on an iPod." – Carl Kruger, state senator from New York City who wants fines for electronics use on sidewalks and streets
Critics say: Government shouldn’t decide what’s best for us. “It's a slippery slope because what's next? Butter? Bacon? Lard?" the California Restaurant Association’s president says.
What’s at stake? “Politicians and bureaucrats will be more than willing to exert as much control over our lives as we let them.” – J.J. Jackson, author, editor and columnist
Front Page Talking Points Archive