If a student in my class said and did that, I’d think, “you little prick…get back here!”
I wouldn’t say it, of course….I like my job, and want to keep it. But I would think it.
You know, though, Calvin has a point. Certainly, some students I rub shoulders with are absolute gems. These youn’uns truly are the salt of the earth, and they make my job worth it. Even in the worst schools, there are a plethora of these students, often lurking in the shadows, dwarfed by the “drips.”
It’s also worth mentioning that we shouldn’t unduly blame public schools…they aren’t the only, or even the primary, things making students drone clones. Since public schools are an extension of our culture, the institution shares in the problem.
For every student of true genius and character, there are a cloud of others aptly described by Calvin in the cartoon. On most days, trying to engage with them is like talking to a painting. After I sent the above cartoon to my Stumbleupon friends, several emailed me back wondering how we got like this in education. Why does a withering boredom characterize such a wide swath of our public education (and, sometimes, private ed.) student population?
So here I is, answering that qwestyun.
Our students’ “dripiness” has many origins:
1) Rampant autonomy and individualism in American culture–This isn’t a problem with the American Public School system per se; it’s a problem with our culture. Our public schools, because they are an arm of the culture, are merely particular outgrowths of the trend.
Face it; individualism is the air we breathe. Just utter the word “choice,” and that’s often all you need in order to justify a certain behavior in the eyes of the public. Everyone wants to be unique; everyone thinks he’s unique.
Here’s the problem: what happens when each member of a group of people attempts to look, act, and seem unique? That’s right–they all end up looking unique at the same time and in the same way. All the non-conformists dress, act, think, smell, and spit alike. Strange, but true, especially when each member subconsciously holds the word of the peer group as law (this is the case in high school culture; the peer group replaces the parents as the most important thing in the teen’s life. I should know–I once was a teen, and I hang out with teens 10 hours a day now.).
I’m with Pastor Mark Driscoll: fellas, you wanna be unique? You wanna be “counter-cultural?” Get a job.
Granted, the “get a job” one liner doesn’t exactly apply to most high school students, but the overall principle still is valid: stay chaste until you are married. Show up to class on time. Do your homework. Take an interest in what you are reading in English. Put down the game console. Earn your keep. Display uncanny dedication to a cause higher than yourself. Give yourself away. Keep clean and uplifting speech. Fellas, honor and protect the girls. Girls, learn the meaning of true character beauty.
This won’t make you famous…but at least you won’t be a “drip.”
2) The philosophy of Naturalism–Naturalism is a worldview that comes in many varieties and flavors, but most flavors hold that the hard sciences are the only or best way to gain knowledge about the world. With this view, ethics, values, character, religion, and politics cease to be ventures in which you can gain knowledge. Instead, they are relegated to the realm of emotion, preference, and opinion. It’s all equal. Blech.
Naturalism has reigned in public schools for some time now. There are many consequences to this worldview monopoly, but one that is relevant to this discussion is that no one has any clue as to how to grow students in virtue and character. If character and virtue are areas of mere preference (as opposed to knowledge), its hard to see how someone could actually grow in them. Knowledge would be required for that, but that’s exactly the thing that’s missing from our view of character.
A good character is *the* quality that would make a student truly unique. Virtue is the “stuff” of beauty. Because we teach that it’s a matter of preference and emotion, though, it is obviously not very important to us.
Oh yes, we certainly talk a good talk at times. Really, though, we can post all the anti-cheating posters or teach all the sex ed. seminars we want. Until we adopt the view that ethics, values, character, etc are areas in which students can possess true knowledge (i.e., some things are really, factually wrong, no matter who disagrees and no matter what another culture says), it will do little good. Students will continue to be “drips.” But this will require a major paradigm shift in that we’ll have to dump Naturalism as the reigning worldview of choice. In the words of C.S Lewis, we castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
BTW, this in no way violates the “separation of church and state.” The phrase is a phantom anyway, but suffice it to say, the current worldview of public ed. is NOT neutral at all in regards to morality and religion. Naturalism isn’t a stance based on liberty; it is a worldview that seeks to privatize every other view. Any view that is opposed to to is it automatically shoved into the private (read: “emotions and feeling…not real.”) closet. This started in the science classroom but has since crept then stormed into all other classrooms. It is a worldview like every other one, and it’s an especially pernicious one. “If I can’t see/hear/taste, it, etc, then I can’t know it” is actively taught, and that’s not neutral.
3) Destruction of the family–the family is the most effective crucible in which character is built. It is there that a boy learns what it means to be a man, and it is there that a girl learns what it means to be a woman. Our government policies and cultural norms, have, however, greatly eroded the strength of the family.
4) The self-esteem curriculum–The last 30 years or so we have taught that feeling good about yourself is the primary virtue. In the words of sociologist Jean Twenge, The last few generations have “never known a world that puts duty before self.” Focusing on yourself is actively encouraged to the point of narcissism. When you are so busy admiring yourself in the mirror, you miss an incredible amount of beauty in the outside world that would truly deepen your life. Plus, why strive for true achievement when you already know you are the bestest?
5) *Unduly* shielding our students from failure, propping up their grades and performance at all costs. There are times when a type of shielding is needed, but things have gotten quite out of hand. The loonies are runnin’ the asylum.
A student’s performance is always someone else’s fault. This has squashed much of the natural responsibility for learning that is inherent in being a student and put it on the shoulders of administrators and teachers. We have taken much of the good and necessary striving that comes with being a student. The thing is, in the past such striving functioned to deepen character, which is the all-too-important fuel for uniqueness that I discussed above.
By taking responsibility away, we’ve drained the life and vitality out of student life.
Here’s an example that demonstrates this: during my student teaching, I had a real downer of a class. They were the hardest students to get excited about anything academic. I wondered why. Then I found out: in their junior high years, they were allowed to fail EIGHT classes but still go on to the next grade.
No wonder they were comatose! They had been taught that they didn’t have to strive hard at all; it would all work out in the end.
Just in case you aren’t convinced, here’s a hypothetical scenario. You have a 20-page research project is a real humdinger. You stay up many a night, toiling in the library, searching for relevant sources. You sweat blood when it comes to synthesizing all the information and putting it in writing. During the presentation, a panel of very intimidating judges grills you, probing to find out if you really know your topic…this is quite a harrowing experience!
Afterwards, when you look back on it, though, you have something you can really be proud of. Going through that experience is be a true achievement, and you can take great joy out of it. Plus, think of how striving has shaped your character!
Reality: 20 pages has become 5, you get 90% of the research done online, and if you do a presentation at all, it certainly isn’t a grilling. What’s more, if you bonk, the teachers will give you extra credit assignments to catch back up. In fact, you are entitled to them. Your parents will see to that.
Adults have to take more responsibility for their students’ performance, but this has been twisted. Now, far too often, if a student fails, doesn’t measure up, displays a lack of discipline or lack of respect, it is automatically someone else’s fault.
The test was unfair. The teacher is biased. The principal is a buffoon. The classmate provoked him. The teacher didn’t fill out the proper discipline paperwork. Transfer the student. Give him extra credit. Don’t administer the natural consequence. Bump up his grade. Pass him to the next grade, despite his abysmal performance. In all this, the student hears (whether implicitly or explicitly) that he bears no responsibility in the matter. As I mentioned above, this takes much of the deep satisfaction out of being a student, and the result is “dripiness.”
Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the “bubble testing mania” that has engulfed schools. Hey, I’m not much a fan of these tests either, but they became law long after the “drip” syndrome was established. They might exacerbate the effect, but by no means did these tests start the deluge of melting snowflakes.
Some of you will no doubt give an anecdote or two about a few students who shine like stars despite all these factors. I have already acknowledged that some, even many, beat the odds. The exception doesn’t disprove the generality, though.
Well, that’s my take.
How’s that for an ending line?
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