July 13, 2006

‘Sick Tree, Rotten Fruit’

In his latest World magazine column, Joel Belz acknowledges that public schools have their work cut out for them because they have to accept all students, many of whom are “saturated with popular culture, foul-mouthed language, resentful attitudes toward anyone in authority, and arrogant disdain for learning.”

However, Belz argues (as others have) that these societal problems are ones that the schools themselves have largely created. After all:
Who has done more than anyone else to shape that very society? For most of the last century, America's public schools have enjoyed a near monopoly in the task of educating the youth of our nation. Even after the growth of the Christian school, the home school, and the charter school movements over the last generation, the U.S. Department of Education says that something like 90 percent of all students are still enrolled in conventional public schools. So were 90 percent of their moms and dads. So were 90 percent of their grandmoms and granddads. So were 90 percent of their aunts and uncles.

For year after year, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., on almost every weekday from Labor Day until Memorial Day, the very public schools that now face such an impossible task have had the opportunity to shape a society that would value civility, that would put a premium on kindness, that would enhance gentle behavior, that would be known for a refined use of language, that would treasure a love of learning and the values good teachers want to see developed in their students. If there is a failure to create such a society, isn't it fair to take a close look at the primary engine responsible for building what already is here?

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