14 October 2010

Students, Parents, and the Future


There are some shocking differences between education now and when I was a student. School was a place of discipline, respect, formal structure, and learning with the intent of shaping young minds and turning them into productive adults for society. We were taught to respect authority and to respect other people. We were taught that service is an important thing. There was a poster on the wall I remember quite distinctly, and it said that "everything you need to learn in life you learn in kindergarten." I'm sure you have all seen this. It has a long list of very important life lessons that you learn from all the typical classes and activities you do in kindergarten. That's really what students are there for in school. They are there to learn life lessons and life skills that will let them either learn a useful trade or go on to college.

Now, though, I stand in wonderment at what I see when I look at schools, not just in America, but around the world. Gone is the notion of respect in many areas, particularly in the US. I also see this here amongst the Korean university students I teach. But how can they, when they graduate and are in the real world, function? What kind of society is it when there is no longer respect for the individual or respect for one's fellow man in general? Without a culture of mutual respect, there is the great potential for society to degrade to a cutthroat state. Instead of working together, it becomes "you against me."

And think of how we learn things, both in school and in general. We learn through our mistakes. Failure today is considered not an option, but I say that America would not have become the great nation it is if it weren't for people willing to risk failure to achieve something great. Thomas Edison said of his many trials to make a working light bulb "I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work." This is the attitude that leads to success. You fail, but you never give up. Keep trying until you succeed. This ought to be the message of school.

Today's schoolchildren have another approach to failure that is far worse that simply giving up. They lay blame. "Surely it isn't my fault I failed," the child says to the parent. And today's parent agrees. So whom do they blame? Why, the teacher, of course! That's the answer of today. Sure, there are some bad teachers, and this is clearly not what I'm talking about. I am referring to the notion of shifting blame from one's self when one is responsible. The teacher is an easy target.

Parents of bygone generations would back up the school and back up the teacher in just causes for the good of their own children. They knew that their children did not need to be told they were perfect, but instead needed to be taught personal responsibility. This was the joint operation of the parents, teachers, and school administrators. Today parents have largely abrogated their parental responsibilities. Today any failure of their child is blamed on the teachers and the schools. The schools, perhaps due to fear of law suits or just simply being run by liberal administrators with a social agenda, cave in to the pressure in many cases and put the blame on the poor, overworked teacher. After all, a teacher is easier to replace in their mind.

The child complains. The parents threaten the school. The blame falls to the teacher. It's a vicious cycle. But wait until these children grow up and are full members of society. Heaven help us then. At least one generation with no sense of responsibility, constantly shifting the blame to others. Scapegoats will inevitably result. It won't be pretty.

As I teacher, I have also experienced this. One of my favorites was when a student copied so much material verbatim for an essay, that even though it was all cited, the essay was essentially just one big quotation. The grade was an F, obviously. The excuse? It was somehow my fault for not providing enough source material to complete the essay without copying. Apparently that student had never heard of the university library. I was truly unaware that I was supposed to do their work for them.

I also have heard this happened to a foreign professor here in Korea when that professor kicked a student out of her class after repeatedly telling him not to talk on the cell phone in class. This student was Korean. He called his parents, who then called the school to complain. That professor was removed. I should be shocked, but I'm not. It's just par for the course in an educational environment in which the student is king.

More and more burden is being placed on the educational system because students "cannot possibly be responsible." Parents can't handle their children's failure, and they must blame someone. Where will this blame game lead? Nowhere good. It will certainly not lead to a better educational system. Until the youth learn to take responsibility for their own actions, the situation will not improve. Where do they learn this? It starts at home with the parents. And there is the biggest issue of all right there. Parents must parent. It's that simple. Parents must stop treating their children as friends and start treating them as children.

Parents who ignore their responsibility as parents pass this trait on to their children by setting a bad example. The ultimate blame for this situation in which we find ourselves lies squarely with the parents. The Bible is quite clear on this. The Commandments say to "honor thy father and thy mother." From Proverbs we know that "He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him betimes." It's a very simple, but effective concept. If you discipline your children as needed, "...[they] shall give thee rest; yea, [they] shall give delight unto thy soul." Perhaps God has been booted out of the household. Perhaps the child complained about this Biblically-inspired discipline to the parents, and the parents politely asked God to leave.

The solution is simple. Parents must parent. Teachers must teach. School is not a social experiment. It used to be a place where young people are molded into good citizens. It can be so again.