(’76 Editor) A friend emailed his list praising the Palin putdown article from Tuesday’s Denver Post (“The Sarah: A classic teenage type,” by Mark Moe, see link and full text below.) I found Moe’s patronizing tone not only offensive in political terms, but quite revealing as to his overall persona. Where in the smugness of this piece is there any glimmer of respect or caring for the students of whatever “type” that he taught in the classroom? Who would want to have this guy for a teacher? So I used the dreaded reply-all button to comment as follows:
Friends, here’s my problem with Mark Moe’s piece. Objectively in terms of personal achievement, public impact, and civic benefit, former Gov. Sarah Palin has done far more with her life than retired teacher Mark Moe has done with his. And I confidently predict she will continue to achieve rings around him in whatever remains of life for the two of them. Gimme a break.
Beyond that, if you read Moe’s commentary looking for instances of him doing exactly what he accuses her, or her type, of doing, the whole thing becomes hilariously self-referential. Point a finger at someone and three point back at you, as the saying goes. But this is typical with liberals – they project their own attitudes and behaviors accusingly onto others.
What is he doing, in eagerness to please fellow liberals and in utter ignorance of the arts or demands of politics and statesmanship, but manifesting a “tendency to parrot for validation with imperfect understanding of the information”? The piece is replete with his own redhanded commission of the other two alleged “Sarah” failings as well. What a hoot.
I find the analysis of Jack Kelly on Real Clear Politics, citing liberal columnist Clarence Page in praise of Palin, much more persuasive.
In more than 30 years of teaching, I’ve seen all sorts of student “types,” from the manic grade calculator, to the obsequious over- achiever, to the brilliant but dysfunctional slacker.
It recently dawned on me that one of the most predominant types — especially among female students — has as its avatar a political celebrity who has made a raucous re-entry onto the national stage. Therefore, I’m calling it The Sarah.
The Sarah has three basic characteristics: a lack of self-evaluative skills; a tendency to parrot whatever she thinks her immediate audience wants or needs to hear to gain validation, and the mistaken belief that popularity implies importance.
The Sarah is short on self-evaluative skills, that is, the ability to realistically assess one’s capabilities. Many are the times I had weeping, semi-hysterical girls (and some red-faced boys, it’s true) in my office at grade time, stunned to find that instead of that A or B they were so sure of, they had earned a C or worse.
Even when I showed them their point totals, there was this blankness of non-recognition, as if they were in shock that I would be so cruel as to use basic math to crush their dreams. In fact, their cluelessness shocked me, just as Palin’s did when she accepted the nomination as vice president when anyone could have told her that doing so would put her so far over her head that it would be a dangerous disservice to the country she so proudly denied wanting to secede from.
The Sarah also craves acceptance and validation from whomever happens to be her audience at the moment. Thus, The Sarah attends to information not to necessarily evaluate it critically, but so that she remembers to parrot it later to seem knowledgeable to the right people. Student essays are rife with this sort of confused regurgitation of lecture notes and secondary source material.
Many times The Sarah believes that repeating whatever the teacher or critic said is sufficient to earn a good grade, even if the context is wrong or, worse, its use is contradictory.
This tendency to parrot for validation with imperfect understanding of the information is one of the real Sarah’s hallmarks, seen in her many interview retractions, Facebook flip- flops, “death panel” rants, and her recent confusion over the cause of global warming.
Finally, The Sarah believes that popularity implies importance. It’s been my experience that certain high school girls view popularity as a way to gain preferential treatment, the benefit of the doubt, and a kind of unspoken “rounding up” of their efforts, especially grades. They confuse popularity with the kind of status that can only be earned by hard work and actual accomplishments. Sarah herself is similarly confused. Her current media blitz and Facebook shout-outs, while bolstering her popularity with her base, aren’t nearly as important as finishing the hard work of governing Alaska would have been. Writing a self-aggrandizing tell-all isn’t an accomplishment as much as a way to Oprahsize herself and dive into the mosh pit of her gushy Real-American groupies. Both Sarah and The Sarah mistakenly see popularity as the foundation of importance, and not vice-versa.
I know that others don’t see Palin as I do. Certainly she has gumption and a kind of flair, even if that flair is more celebrity than cerebral. But if The Sarah in her is dominant, and I think it is, then her rise in the serious business of governance seems more like a deluded teenage girl’s bid for acceptance to a position of authority for which she is neither ready nor qualified.
Mark Moe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired English teacher.