We had another meeting Wednesday about Common Core and discussed more ideas for implementation of the new standards. We talked again about the new expectations for students. I know this will soon become familiar and routine and we will all eventually reach a level of confidence in our understanding of the program. In the meantime I had a few thoughts about education and ethics on my way home.
The first one was that much of what we have and depend upon for existence, from our government to electricity was created by someone with what we now consider an “inferior education”. George Washington was a school dropout who received much of his knowledge from studying and copying a book titled “The Young Man’s Companion”. The book detailed “how to read, write, and figure; how to write letters, wills, deeds, and all legal forms, to measure, survey, and navigate, to build houses, to make ink and cider, and to plant and graft, how to address letters to people of quality, how to doctor the sick, and, finally, how to conduct one's self in company”. Washington studied it with vigor and determination. Benjamin Franklin didn’t even finish grammar school and was largely “self-taught”. He is often referred to as an “avid reader”. Would we want our children to follow their example today? No. Not entirely. But on the other hand we have people with Masters degrees from our own education system who are wandering the streets looking for work!
My next thoughts were about my grandmother. She only completed the eighth grade, typical of her generation, yet she managed to be employed most of her life, own a business and a home, and live her adult life in modest comfort. She had what her generation and mine called a “good work ethic”. She expected to work hard all of her life for what she wanted. She anticipated that she would have to learn and grow and adapt to life’s changes. She took responsibility for what she did. She solved her own problems with the help of God and her family. And she expected us to do the same.
I think the current desperation we seem to feel in education arises from the complexity of our world and the fear that our students, our children and grandchildren, will not be able to have a “good life” in the years ahead unless they have a superior education. Employment is everything in our society and often determines not only one’s lifestyle, but one’s status. But hasn’t that always been so, even in Biblical times? I think what has changed is the idea that we in education are responsible for the fate of our students. If a child does not succeed let’s blame it on the education system and more precisely, his/her teachers!
There has been a shift in recent years away from the personal responsibility of the student to learn.
The ethics of our culture have changed. We have left the black and white of “sin” for the gray of “lifestyle choices”. We have abandoned “work ethics” in favor of “economic opportunities” which we expect the government to provide. We have replaced “self-taught” with “entertained”. And we have replaced “determination” with “instant gratification”.
We now have more and more people who think it is someone else’s responsibility to educate, train, employ, and support them. The employment problem in many industries isn’t about finding qualified people, it’s about finding qualified people who pass the drug test, don’t call in sick once a week with a hangover, don’t steal from the company, don’t text and play games on their phones half the day, and don’t insult customers with their arrogant attitude.
We can teach and teach and teach all day long, but if students don’t become avid readers, if they don’t want to learn more, if they aren’t motivated to work and grow and learn, we aren’t going to be the answer to all of their problems. We aren’t going to be able to educate them into the “good life” they and their parents envision for them.
I am one of the most passionate supporters of education that you will encounter. Education saved me from a life of poverty and despair. Education has given me opportunities I never dreamed were possible when I was a child. But I have done my part! I was always a motivated student. I did my homework and more. I studied even when it wasn’t required. I read and continued to learn after I left school. I never thought that the things I learned in the classroom were ALL I needed to know. I taught myself many of the concepts and skills that were important in my own personal journey through life, or I sought out those who could teach me.We have to go back to a better balance between the responsibility of those teaching and those who are taught. Both have a moral obligation to do their best!