It’s time again I addressed a number of commonplace beliefs held in the United States which, while they often sound great in sound bites, are almost always based on flawed reasoning. I call these beliefs “American myths.”

And here is the sound bite that echoed around when President Obama addressed the nation’s students on Sept. 14th, 2010:

Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing. I believe that.

Pres. Obama says that if you have a dream, you can achieve it through hard work and study. On a simplistic level, it sure sounds good and conveys a wonderful message of hard work and education to students. But in reality, it’s not true. Telling kids that “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach” with the panacea of hard work is actually doing some of them a disservice. Not all human beings possess the gifts and talents necessary to achieve equally well in any field. While hard work will certainly help the students succeed in their goals, hard work and education alone will not make “nothing — absolutely nothing” beyond their reach. Some goals require physical and mental abilities far beyond that which studying and hard work can provide.

You agree with Pres. Obama and don’t believe me? Fine. If I study and work really hard, will I ever succeed in flying F-22s as a fighter pilot for the Air Force? Nope. I’m too old to successfully compete with fighter pilot hopefuls two decades my junior, and my imperfect eyesight also disqualifies me. Hard work and study will not succeed in landing me that job.

Likewise, my almost 14-year-old niece will probably never become an Olympic-level gymnast, even if she puts in 18-hour days of training. She certainly could improve whatever natural ability she has, but she doesn’t have the right body type to be a world-class gymnast, and she would be starting far too late. Looking at the U.S. women’s gymnastic team who won the team silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I notice all the team members started studying gymnastics or dance by age 4 or earlier, so they were able to be world-class a decade later because of their hard work. But starting at age 14 is just too late.

My mother-in-law once taught a student with an IQ of 85. He once told her that he wanted to be a teacher when he grew up, but his low native intelligence made that impossible. No amount of studying would bring his IQ up to average. Another guy I met told me how he was studying to become a doctor, but after taking Biology 101 for the third time, he still only managed to scrape up a C. Neither student had the mental candlepower sufficient to make his worthy goal a reality. Hard work and education will take these two only so far, but some things are just beyond their reach.

And then there’s this interesting poll by Marist:

Nearly one-third of U.S. residents — 32% — say they would like to be an actor or an actress. Following closely behind are 29% who dream of becoming a professional athlete. 13% report they would like to list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their working address and be President of the United States. An additional 13% say they could see themselves as a rock star. 13% are unsure.

So hard work and education will make 32% of Americans into successful actors? Will hard work and education make the 29% who want to become professional athletes successful? Will the 13% who answered that they wanted to become President all succeed with just hard work and education? It should be pretty obvious that hard work and education, while very important, are not sufficient to place “nothing — absolutely nothing” beyond their reach. Certain physical and mental qualities, age, luck, and other assorted issues or events may be critical necessities in achieving some dreams.

Sure, it sounds great to tell school kids that they can succeed at anything they wish if only they work hard enough to get it. But reality shows us that success comes from more than just desire and study. Physical and mental abilities are important. Kids may dream about becoming astronauts, but unless they have the physical and mental capabilities as well as the desire and hard work — not to mention some kind of working space program when they’re adults — it’s not going to happen. And that’s why I label this idea as one of America’s myths.

You can't be an astronaut

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about how Theresa Schmidt was unable to march with the rest of her class valedictorians. She had the required four years of straight A grades, but she lacked only one thing to qualify as a valedictorian: a chemistry class.

Rather than taking the chemistry class her senior year, Schmidt chose to take a physiology class instead. That class was sufficient to fill the science requirements for graduation, but it didn’t meet the requirements for valedictory honors. Schmidt first realized that she was in the running for valedictorian at the beginning of her senior year, when a friend pointed it out to her. But there was a snag when she tried to transfer to a chemistry class: it was the 14th day of school, and the rules at her high school don’t allow students to change classes after the 10th day of the semester.

Although Schmidt finished the year with straight A grades in physiology and the rest of her classes, her father was unable to get the school board to change the valedictorian requirements. He even filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, seeking an exception for his daughter because she suffers from narcolepsy. This medical condition was diagnosed in her sophomore year, and her doctor ordered Schmidt to take two short naps daily.

While I do feel sorry that Theresa Schmidt has to deal with narcolepsy, what does that have to do with her failure to qualify a valedictorian? If you answered “nothing,” move to the head of the class. Because she chose not to take a required class, she did not qualify as a valedictorian.

But this is far from a tragedy for Theresa Schmidt. She has exemplary grades and has already been awarded a scholarship to McKendree College. Not bad for someone who slept through school.

John Stossel wrote an excellent article at about school vouchers.

One exciting thing about the free market is that you can’t predict what the market will create. Big-government advocates tell you exactly what will happen when their plans work (as if they actually would work!), but we who trust the free market can only say that people will compete and good ideas will win. We don’t set out to make all your choices for you, and, not being psychic, we can’t predict what decisions you’ll make.

Take education. Bureaucrats like to say, you will go to this school, because we said so, and you will be taught according to this program, because we said so and we know best. Those of us with confidence in markets think you could do better deciding for yourself. Neither the bureaucrats nor the freedom lovers can judge what’s in your interest better than you can. One big difference is, we know what we don’t know, while they think they know everything.

We do know that competition works. It works because it gives people the chance to be creative. Educational experts, freed from the massive regulations that snarl the public schools, can come up with new and better ideas for teaching. Competition works because it gives people incentives to produce — it inspires them to work constantly at trying to find better ways to please their customers. The bad producers lose their jobs — but the best ones gain new customers. Bad schools will close and better schools will open.

What are you waiting for? Go read the whole thing!

With a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court overturned the Third Circuit District Court’s previous ruling on the Solomon Amendment. The Solomon Amendment says that colleges and universities that take U.S. government money must allow military recruiters on campus.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that colleges that accept federal money must allow military recruiters on campus, despite university objections to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays.

Justices rejected a free-speech challenge from law schools and their professors who claimed they should not be forced to associate with military recruiters or promote their campus appearances.

The LA Times quotes two comments by Chief Justice Roberts about this case:

“The Solomon Amendment regulates conduct, not speech,” Roberts said. “It affects what law schools must do — afford equal access to military recruiters — not what they may or may not say. ..(It) neither limits what the law schools may say nor requires them to say anything.”

“We have held that high school students can appreciate the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits,” he wrote, referring to a decision that allowed a Bible study group to meet on campus at a high school. “Surely students have not lost that ability by the time they get to law school,” Roberts said.

Let me say again that this was a unanimous decision. This is the Supreme Court calling the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania a bunch of legal hicks.

To quote the old truck in Pixar’s upcoming movie Cars: