I heard Alan Keyes speak at a local Republican Committee banquet when he was running for president back in 2000. I won’t go into his speech or my reaction to it (that’s a topic for another day), except to say that his main political premise was that every ill from which America suffers can inevitably be traced to a single source: the breakdown of the nuclear family.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about his assertion in the six ensuing years, and I lean toward believing that he is right. It may seem a stretch to attribute the cause of the threat that Islamic fascism poses to the free world, or the invasion of illegals across our southern border, to the breakdown of the nuclear family, but I believe that, once one peels away all the layers of societal/political circumstances that have allowed both to thrive, even those seemingly unrelated threats would not exist to the degree that they do … if at all … if the nuclear American family, and the profound and far-reaching effect that it has on what we like to call ‘civilization,’ were not involved in a painful and purposeful process of incremental disintegration.
Time and energy permitting, I intend to write about this sad process, and its terrible consequences, in several essays over the next few months. Even though I have done much thinking about this idea since the Keyes banquet six years ago, his insightful observation on the family and America’s decline represents too interconnected and convoluted a process/relationship to tackle in one sitting. And, as always, I’d like to solicit input from other readers here, either debunking or adding to what I have to say. I (as have others, I am sure) have learned from many incredibly insightful comments here, and I’m sure will continue to do so. :)
To scratch the surface tonight, I’d like to make an observation regarding the generalized behavior of students in our schools, with the axiomatic assumption that changes that have occurred in that behavior, in, say, the last forty years, can and must be traced backed to simultaneous changes in what is expected, or tolerated, from them at home.
I attended high school in the sixties. A city high school. There were recognized groups of kids in my high school, as there always are in any school. The most ‘troublesome’ group were the ‘hoods’ – those who wore black leather, were often bikers or wannabe bikers, and generally threw their weight around a lot more effortlessly than the rest of us. The hoods were the ‘bad guys/girls’ of the school. Bad guys or not, their ‘bad’ never involved threatening or badmouthing a teacher. Teachers were authority figures, and authority figures, by definition, were afforded a degree of respect that included no verbal attacks, even by the ‘worst’ among us.
Not so in today’s average high school.
We live in a rural area in south-central Pennsylvania, within an excellent (as 'excellent' goes these days) school district – the kind of district in which parents and prospective parents seek to settle, so that their children can have the benefit of a 'good education'.
Yet, even in our school district, it is not entirely uncommon for a student to argue with a teacher about the amount of homework that is assigned, to verbally tell the teacher that he does not intend to do an assignment because the amount or content is ‘unfair’, or to evaluate, aloud, something a teacher says in the course of class instruction as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘stupid’. Of course, such behaviors are milder, but significantly more frequent, than much more obnoxious, disrespectful, even violent behaviors ... which is my purpose in mentioning them: their actual acceptance as part of more-or-less tolerated behavior in the modern American classroom.
That which we tolerate is a reflection of what we have become.
Our son, Dan, teaches high school physics in a small city. I recently told him that I was considering writing something that included this subject and asked him to provide me a recent personal example of the kind of fairly regular disrespectful behavior that the average teacher is forced to address. He told me this:
Several weeks ago, a junior girl in one of his physics classes approached him and asked him for his signature on a paper that would have allowed her to drop out of his class. He was already well aware that this girl is an underachiever who wastes more time than she uses productively, who has little focus or ambition, and who tends to quit anything that does not come easily.
He refused to sign the course waiver, telling her, at the same time, that he believes that she is an intelligent girl who is capable of doing well in the course, that quitting is not an option, and that he would be willing to spend after-school time in the class with her, or respond to e-mail inquiries, about any of the subject matter that she does not understand … now and in the future.
She walked up to him, and told him, ‘Unless you do as I ask, I am going to make your life a living hell' (verbatim).
Dan handled the situation promptly and well (he always does), but assured me that such arrogance and disrespect, though not an everyday occurrence, is not uncommon either – in many classes, in most schools.
I believe that several character traits, dramatically less prevalent in the youth of forty years ago, are evident in the modern representative examples I have cited above:
(1) disrespect for authority
(2) a belief that (even reasonable, by most civilized standards) boundaries are made to be crossed
(3) an unwillingness, inability, or disinterest in achieving (or even recognizing, or caring about) one’s potential
(4) a self-absorbed view of the world
(5) a lack of comprehension of the concepts of planning, organizing, or goal-setting
(6) a belief that difficulties or challenges are to be avoided rather than confronted
Readers of this weblog are familiar with the fact that I hold teachers’ unions, and the modern public education establishment, in general disdain (with exceptions, of course). But, as regards the inherent causes of the dramatic increase in the abovementioned behaviors and character traits in significantly more of the youth of today, I believe (as would Alan Keyes) that the seed for such self-destructive behaviors are planted at home.
These behaviors have causes whose roots run deep and wide, and which affect many other aspects of our societal decline … and their future ramifications will affect more than the lives of those currently involved in the battle to shape the minds of children who refuse to recognize, or have been rendered incapable of recognizing, that their mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Education should consist of a series of enchantments, each raising the individual to a higher level of awareness, understanding, and kinship with all living things ... Unknown
(to be continued … )