Monday, October 26, 2009

Symptoms of an Age, Part I: Education of the Young

We have lost our way. We prosper (less now that before, but still we prosper). But we do not know how best to live.

In what way is this shown? (Below I will speak of trends, not of exceptionless rules. But what I say does capture how our age differs from its past.)

We do not know how to educate our children.

We are hemmed in all around by educational theories. All that enjoy any popularity tell us that if we but teach our teachers how to teach, success will follow. Students are ready to learn, we are told, but our teachers fail them.

This is false. Where there is classroom failure, almost always there is a student who took her education with little or no seriousness. Why is this? Why are our students so unprepared to learn? They have been failed by parent and by culture. From an early age (by age 1 if not before), children must be instilled with certain traits of character that are essential to success in the classroom; and among the most important of these is respect for authority, perseverance, focus, attention to detail and a desire to succeed. Without these, children fail. With them, they succeed.

Who teaches these? Parents first; culture second. The teacher has little ability to instill them. If the parents work to instill them, and if in this effort they are supported by a culture that places value in them, the student will imbibe them. But if parent and culture fail in this,classroom failure will inevitably result.

This, I suspect, would have passed for plain common sense to prior generations. Success is in the first place a matter of character. But we have forgotten this. We think it a matter of classroom management, and in this we are deluded.

Why have we allowed ourselves to become deluded? I don't pretend to possess a complete answer, but I will say this: we have forgotten what we once knew of human nature. Human beings have tendencies to both good and evil; and we must work to strengthen the good and weaken the evil. This task is not easy; we must often bear down hard to achieve it. Human beings have, for instance, a tendency toward sloth; if they are not made to work - if we do not instill in them the value of work - that tendency to sloth will become so deeply ingrained that they will remain forever lazy. And how do we make them work? Discipline and praise, discipline and praise.

We praise, but we no longer discipline (or if we ever discipline, we do so only occasionally when at wits end). We no longer recognize the hard necessity of hard discipline. We no longer bear down hard. We thus fail our children.

Let me end with a diagnosis of this failure. Our culture has become secular and thus has lost the resources that Christianity provides to understand both ourselves and our place in the world. Christianity is quite clear about the native human tendency to evil; it as our birthright as children of Adam. It is also quite clear about our extraordinary potential for goodness. It makes of this world a struggle against evil and for good. It thus motivates parents to discipline children, to make their children disciplined.

When a secular culture loses sight of the propensity to evil, it will lose sight of the necessity of discipline. When it loses sight of the necessity of discipline, vice will run rampant in our children. When our children are ruled not by virtue but by vice, classroom failure is the result.

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