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The balance between ability and need has been a guiding principle throughout my life, but it needs a considerable element of commonsense to make it meaningful.

We are all guided somewhat by this concept, but a doctor writing this month in the Wall Street Journal thinks we may be going too far.

When his premature son was charged $375,000 for a two-month stay in the hospital for routine care with no surgery, Dr. John Stewart, Lakeway, Texas, investigated the charges and wrote this comment:

“As a staff physician/surgeon at this (and other) hospitals, I requested an accounting of the costs of my son’s care. I learned that at least 50 percent of patients paid nothing for services rendered, that Medicare paid far below the hospital costs for services rendered and that illegal immigrants paid little or nothing as well. I was told, Doctor, we must charge more for those able to pay to offset the losses from those who don’t pay our basic, nominal, continually increasing costs.”

From the Christian Bible and from the Communist Manifesto, we are told to expect from each according to his ability and to give to each according to his need, but a small element of common sense must be inserted into the equation.

Fifty percent who do not pay seems a little far out to me. What I have described is a general trend that I see in the area of education and many others walks of life.

Teachers award top grades (A’s) to students to satisfy emotional needs of students and fail to realize that we are destroying a valid motivational tool. An unearned A is unlikely to fool many students for long. The practice of rating students as excellent when they are average or below serves no one well. Business has come to distrust school grades, and those students who truly excel are lost in the process. Dishonest language tells us that a C is an average grade but we soon learn that a C in college is almost a disgrace and a strong hint that you should pack your suitcase and go home.

Most of us are average by definition and that is certainly no reason for shame. We can raise ourselves above average by hard work and a thirst for improvement. But some things are above our reach. We need to search for areas where we can excel rather than thinking that we can all be anything we wish. I wasted a lot of time trying to learn to ride a unicycle because I was following a notion that anyone can do anything he wishes if he tries hard enough. Still I do not want to completely discount the element of persistence.

In high school, I thought that math and physics might be a little beyond my grasp. My high school math teacher suggested that I choose something other than science and math courses, but when I applied myself diligently in college, I found that I was able to get through seven sequential math courses with no grade below a B, so I am not suggesting that students fail to aim high. I often carried my textbooks with me so I could study them in the brief free intervals that occur in our ordinary life. I am not against factoring the element of effort into a grading system to some extent because effort can amaze us all with what it can achieve.

I guess I am trying to deal with the rules of how we play the game of life, and I want them to have a little more consistency than I am finding.  

I have had my time, and my thoughts are mostly about things that will come after I am gone. I do not pretend to think I belong to a greater generation; however, I have taken a new look at Emerson’s comment, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” It is a profound thought, especially if you give some weight to the word foolish.

Toby Hightower is a retired educator and former Hopkinsville High School teacher. His email address is Write to him at 222 S. 25th St., Apartment 434, Terre Haute, IN. 47803.

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