Buried deep in a recent New York Times story is a rather
astonishing passage that shows how recklessly unserious we truly are about
Under the headline "Retarded Immigrant Strives for
Independence," reporter Arthur Bovino notes approvingly that 21-year-old
Kareen Dupervil, a mentally retarded Haitian woman "with a first-grade
reading level," has applied for a job as a baggage handler at La Guardia
Airport in Queens, N.Y.
The Times writer tells us that Dupervil "took a test at the
airport with two other mentally retarded adults . Though Ms. Dupervil did
not pass, the trainer who gave the test called (her job counselor) to
encourage her to study and try again." Thanks to help from the Brooklyn
Bureau of Community Service, a government-funded charity that provides
disabled and "undocumented" persons with employment assistance and is
supported by the Times's Neediest Cases Fund, Dupervil will be tutored "for
the test twice a week. She will take the test again in a few months."
And she will take the test again and again, presumably, until
she passes -- or sues under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to
get the job. Only the best and the brightest security professionals at our
nation's airports .
The Times article reports that Dupervil "likes to cook
spaghetti" and "likes to smile," by the way, but fails to inform us on the
basic fact of whether she is even here legally or not. So much for the new
and improved New York Times. But let's do as the Times editors always do and
leave Dupervil's immigration status aside.
According to national guidelines, federal baggage screeners are
supposed to demonstrate the "ability to distinguish objects on the screening
equipment monitor, distinguish colors displayed on screening monitors,
conduct metal-detector and pat-down search procedures, and 'efficiently and
thoroughly' manipulate baggage; be able to read, speak and write English
well enough to carry out instructions; read identification cards, airline
tickets and credentials; provide directions and answer questions to
travelers; and write incident reports, statements and log entries."
Private airline baggage handlers who work on grounds crew teams
are not only responsible for heavy lifting. They must be able to operate
ramp vehicles, forklifts and other ground equipment. They also have access
to plane cabins and cargo holds, and can bypass checkpoints and metal
detectors with highly coveted identification cards that open locked doors in
top-security areas throughout the airport.
Handling and screening baggage are not rocket science tasks, but
how is someone with a first-grader's reading comprehension supposed to do
the job and demonstrate the vigilance against terrorism, bribery and
incompetence required in a post-September 11 world?
Should these responsibilities and privileges be entrusted to
individuals with nice smiles but who can barely understand a Dr. Seuss tale?
It is not entirely clear from the Times article whether Dupervil
applied to be a federal airport baggage screener or a private airline
baggage handler at La Guardia. Either way, we're in trouble when we have
airport security test administrators so pathetically desperate -- or
exceedingly cruel -- that they're calling up mentally challenged individuals
who flunked the eligibility exam and enticing them to retake it.
This irresponsible lowering of public safety standards reminds
me of poor Robert Jordan. He was the man who applied to be a police officer
in New London, Conn., but was turned down because he scored too high on a
standard intelligence test. When he sued, a federal judge rejected his
discrimination claim and ruled that it was reasonable to reject people who
score too well on screening tests.
Jordan lost the case, but the police department received
nationwide scorn. Jordan thought he had the last laugh. ''Jay Leno made up
this great song," he recounted after the ruling. "The theme music was 'Dumb
cops, dumb cops, whatcha gonna do, whatcha going to do with a low IQ.'"
Now we know. The slow and the witless can line up for airport
security jobs, smile brightly, flunk until they pass their tests and reap
the rewards of the continued dumbing down of America.