Friday, July 22, 2016

What we teach in school

Our original intent for schools was simpler than today.  For a young America, literacy was first and foremost; we needed an informed citizenry.  We needed to band together as participants in democracy for the principles that mattered.  Today, information overload hinders our maintaining that result.

Today, our children are bombarded with more information in a
year than early Americans would see in a lifetime.
Or ten. It's a flood, an overload, and more than
can be processed.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic - the early curriculum ... today, our children are bombarded with more information in a year than early Americans would see in a lifetime. Or ten.  It's a flood, an overload, too large to consume and process.  There's personal and cultural impact that happens without our consent. Flooding our children's minds, there's a casual worldview that is not constrained by what might be helpful in their personal development.  At an early age, they're fed materialism, consumerism, class & wealth, competition & superiority, violence & discrimination, judgmentalism, and secularism. Is that a problem?

We remember how children behind the iron curtain were educated, the specific worldview they were given. They were told that countries in the free world were wicked and corrupt and immoral. Children in Germany were educated about how immoral and inferior the Jews among them were. Hitler Youth, they were called; sweet kids being warped and misled by an inhuman ideology. Government controlled education has often been bent for political goals.  Today, with the help of a polarized media, is like that but in a hugely chaotic form.
In a child's learning process, they'll note what they see.  You and your kid can sit and discuss some persuasive advertisement or Kardashianesque scene they just saw.  It can be broken down and evaluated, and a child can learn to discern good from trivial, information from persuasion, and values.  
A dozen such exposures in quick succession without thoughtful review, however, can shape a child's thinking about 'normal' before the content is even processed.  Fashion and style can become preeminent personal values, sexual innuendo can become the norm in conversation, possessions and consumerism can become a lifestyle, all before the issues are thoughtfully evaluated.  It's the flood of exposure from media, from friends at school and in the neighborhood.  Much is advertising mixed in their entertainment content.
Traditional schooling, much like traditional church, is having a hard time keeping up.  Today, pretty much everyone has access to pretty much everyone.  We're interconnected in an uncontrolled public plaza.  Haters are still campaigning among us as are anarchists and other oddities. Anti-religionists, religious fundamentalists, and violent extremists spew their polarizing versions of reality as do similarly extreme liberals and conservatives.  And political bullies and biased media.  It's difficult enough as an adult to remain objective and adequately informed in the aggressive flood of information.  It is incomprehensibly difficult for a child; their chance of reaching the ethical and moral clarity of an early American child is small.

Cultural change has removed many of the needed safeguards.  Employed parents working outside the home may reduce the common interchange and safe processing of ideas.  Issues of character are frequently untaught and undemonstrated.  Schools have been tasked with progressively greater responsibility for character formation.  Most things that mom and dad taught their children in early days are now part of the mass production process of public education.

Absent parent situations have changed the message a child receives. Marriage and family have lost the endorsement of the national forum and have been redefined.  Issues of morality and personal integrity have been eroded into obscurity.  Church communities are having a difficult time being relevant.

How then might we make a way for our children that lets them climb up above the easy acquiescence of today's youth?

Opportunities for us and our children:
  • Early introduction to difficult decisions and important values - equality, discrimination, generosity, compassion, honesty - with deliberate discussion and practical walk-throughs
  • Homeschooling - today, support and inexpensive resources are available everywhere
  • Apprenticeship/Internship - one-on-one education (as opposed to classroom)
  • Cross-cultural engagement - pursuit of a worldview that reflects real life for all rather than just the wealthy, perhaps including international travel (engagement rather than vacation)
  • Practical introduction to faith issues - how to know what's right and good (as opposed to having just an opinion) - life values are honestly built over time, not proffered by others.
  • Broad and aggressive academic exposure (by professorial provocateurs rather than hubristic lecturers) that requires thoughtful development of convictions and values; perhaps both inside and outside the traditional educational institutions
  • Talk about everything -- do your best to provoke visionary ambition and continual inquiry.

The key -- deliberate action, frequent review, and prioritization.

And where might we go if we want to pursue such a course? From an interview with MIT professor emeritus, Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, logician, social critic, and political activist:

Q:  Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?

A:  No. This is the best country in the world.

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