Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mission

In the movie, “The Mission”, Jeremy Irons plays the role of the missionary entering the Amazon to spread the gospel and civilize the savages. Viewers can recount the amazing trials and tribulations that the missionary went through to reach his lost flock in the jungle. He climbs up a waterfall with nothing but a knapsack and calms a tribe of hostile natives by playing his oboe. With time and unbreakable conviction, he raises the mission and the quality of life for the savages and an errant Spanish conquistador guilty of fratricide. Even the unbeliever will marvel at the determination of this missionary and his accomplishment. In the course of Western history, he was simply one of many to help colonize and civilize the untamed New World. The missionaries carried an unflinching resolve to lead a moral religious life and ward off the evil influences of barbarism present in both native and European cultures. Now that times have changed, modern secular educational institutions must assume these duties or watch the progress of the human spirit deteriorate.

The school needs a mission that fights the pernicious influences that abound in the world and at home. This has not always been the case in American society, but times have changed. A surprisingly large amount of parents have abrogated their parenting duties to instill morality in their young ones. Children today grow up without a code of ethics, a sense of the honorable, or an ideal. Atrocities that occur more frequently in the news confirm the deterioration of character; to name a few: school shootings, gang shootings (Chicago has more than 22 students killed on a school campus), student brutality, rising teen pregnancy, and unmitigated drug abuse. People shouldn’t make the mistake of likening today’s miscreants with lovable fabrications of Mark Twain, stupidly quoting, “Kids will be kids.” While they are still human, adults have let youth become morally barbaric (for lack of a better word) because they neglected their obligation to civilize. Reasons for this may happily fill the lucubrations of any periodical or blog, but the schools are the ones who need to cope with this challenge.

Unfortunately, many schools and educators will not acknowledge this challenge. This would naturally require more accountability and more energy than the current mission of most schools: Keep ‘em in the building and make sure the pass that stupid state test. The challenge of civilizing children would require schools to adopt measures that assume a new authority that oversees the academic and moral growth of each individual student. Schools shudder at all these measures because most of them have adopted “one-size-fits-all” approach that somehow leads to college. This approach is cheaper, easier to implement, and much easier to define. If any aberrations occur, usually among the extremes on the intellectual spectrum (the brilliant and the slow), the parents would normally supplement the school’s glaring inadequacies. Parents would also address the moral education of the students as well. Now that parents do not take on either of these responsibilities, schools must now adapt like missions had to adapt to the natives and take up the responsibilities themselves.

Successful civilizing measures contain these elements: flexible curriculum that allows alternatives for blooming adolescents, a discipline system that actually corrects behavior, and some indoctrination of values. All three elements feed into the other. A student freely and happily determines his fate when given the opportunity (alternatives) and the training (discipline). This student can embrace this training in usefulness and civic responsibility by having a strong set of priorities and values (indoctrination). Almost every successful educational institution in the world follows these three precepts, and it’s time that the United States follows suit.

Naturally, instilling these three aspects will meet with some objections that, however deleterious, hold sway in the educational conscience of the United States. People argue that promoting each of these parts would somehow diminish equal opportunity as advertised by the present educational system.

Detractors will say that creating alternative tracks prematurely posits a social hierarchy that denies an all-including route to higher abstract education. They overlook the fact that many students do not need to go to college for what they choose to do in life. They also hold a quixotic assumption that all students can do college work, which they cannot. This one-track goal, weakly held by students and educators alike, actually limits the freedom a person can choose in their profession and simply wastes time and money for an end that could be reached at an earlier time.

Similar objections are used in implanting a discipline system that corrects bad behavior. Detractors will claim that this should be done by the parents. They will also claim that actively correcting a person’s behavior might hurt their self-esteem and traumatize their educational experience with exaggerated personal anecdotes aplenty. Above all, they will always question whether the behavior even requires correction. However, schools uselessly rely on parents who in turn rely back on them for discipline, so the school still has the problem. Correctional measures will always overrule inaction or temporary isolation. Bad behavior usually spawns from a low self-esteem and often serves as an indicator that the child indirectly craves real (not fake) encouragement that comes with a correction in behavior. Harmful or disruptive behavior endangers the student as well as the students around him or her. Their education suffers; their view of school suffers (humans naturally desire order over chaos); and they suffer from emotional and sometimes physical distress. Both academic and social problems should be addressed with discipline that can correct it. As everyone averts their eyes, the disruptive students will either wreak havoc on a classroom, or they will be taken away and sent through a disciplinary system that further abets delinquency and eventually leads to a life in the penitentiary. This situation should never even arise if it were fully addressed early in life.

Modern citizens of the United States have learned to shudder at the word, indoctrination, especially in the context of their children. However, there is really no better way to describe the process of creating a moral and academic foundation for a developing human bring through constant and unremitting exposure. In some cases, parents believe that such a drastic move in creating an objective good and bad in a person limits the poor kid’s freedom, so they go ahead and spoil their offspring, hoping daycare or school can do it for them. In a majority of modern situations, the child will often lack a responsible parent, let alone two parents, to indoctrinate them in a wholesome moral upbringing. In any case, parents forget to realize that this formative part of a child’s upbringing will come from some other source if it doesn’t come from them. Many adults shun their duty to inculcate virtue; children now receive their indoctrination from undesirable outlets like videogames, Internet, televisions, or thugs on the street.

The school now serves as a bastion to culture and tradition whether people care to acknowledge it or not. These cultural and traditional values that have brought civilization’s greatest achievements should rest in the mind of every developing adult. Like missionaries that viewed savagery and faced it with absolute purpose, educators must now face a new savagery devoid of consciousness and responsibility and face it with the same resolve. In the past, the wills of missionaries helped society ascend from the Dark Ages. In the future, the wills of teachers might need to prevent a frightening return to those Dark Ages.

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