What Happened to Education?

It’s summer and time for fun, not concerns regarding school. But parents should take this time to work on stop abdicating their God-given privileges of raising their children to the government and worldly standards.

The teaching of character in our schools is not a new idea. It is, in fact, as old as education itself. Down through history, in countries all over the world, education has had two great goals; to help young people become smart and to help them become good. Students across America today face a crisis of character. Many young people struggle to distinguish right from wrong and seem indifferent to whether it matters.

C.S. Lewis, the great religious philosopher from England tells a story, an allegory, of a mythic country where the educational leaders decided to drop math from the course of studies. This was a popular decision with almost everyone except math teachers. Students cheered, and the general public, awash with painful memories of cosines and unbalanced equations, went along with the policy. All was sweetness and light in this country – for about a dozen years. Then people noticed that trolley fare collectors couldn’t get the fares right. Confusion and tension abounded as shopkeepers and their customers haggled over incorrect change. The chorus of complaints was ignored until the tax collectors discovered that people were making so many mistakes the tax system would grind to a halt. Of course, the no-math policy then came under serious review, and mathematics was quickly returned to the curriculum.

C.S. Lewis’s story illustrated a truth that is too often forgotten; there is a direct cause and effect connection between a society’s education system and its social progress or decline. Today in America we have twelve-year-olds pushing drugs; fourteen-year-olds having babies; sixteen-year-olds killing each other, and kids of all ages admitting to lying, cheating and stealing as routine. We have crime and violence rampant and unethical behavior in business, the professions, and in government. We have a crisis in character across America that is threatening to destroy the fabric of this country.

When our country was founded, building character was considered just as important as imparting knowledge by our educational system, from first grade through college. For decades now, character education has been dropped from the public schools. If the schools would educate students to be young people of high character, our country would eventually become a nation of high character. Historically another benefit of character education in schools is that academic performance rises.

The English word “character” comes from the Greek word “charassein,” which means to “engrave” such as on a wax tablet, a gemstone, or a metal surface. Thus, character is a distinctive mark or sign we carry with us. It is very simply the sum of our intellectual and moral habits – those that are good, and those that are not. Becoming a person of character means gaining control of one’s own clamoring desires, developing a deep regard for others, and being ready to put aside one’s own interests and sometimes even one’s own needs in order to serve others.

Many educators and critics (almost one in the same) are convinced character education must be avoided, as it is nothing more than brainwashing. They claim this amounts to imposing particular values or personality traits on young people, or worse, crude manipulation of children by the dominant powers in their lives. They see character education as “indoctrination.” All reasonable cultures recognize the need to help children become productive, responsible members of society. Let me ask: A mother sternly telling her three-year-old not to play so roughly with his baby sister, is this indoctrination? How about a seventh-grade teacher who puts a stop to a wolf’s pack mentality of taunting a new student and instructing the students about moral values of civility and clarity, even simple kindness. A church that engages its high school youth group as cooks and servers in a homeless shelter, is this indoctrination of youth or is it the teaching of ethic of service to others? You know, every act of education or parental intervention can be conceived and viewed as indoctrination.

I believe we need to take students seriously as persons and help them become informed and responsible moral agents. We need to teach the strength of character, in that, teach students to make good choices and honor their commitments. For students to choose nobly they need direction, and that direction can be incorporated into academia. I will bet a bagel and coffee that the preponderant majority of those reading this article grew up with such teaching – at home, as well as in school. I pray today’s parents (maybe with the help of grandparents) need to stop abdicating their God-given roles of raising up a child in the direction he should go and STOP giving this privilege to the world.

“A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, corporations and government. The fate of humanity is in his hands.” — Abraham Lincoln

©2024. Lyle J. Rapacki, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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