Working in education for the past five years has presented me with a startling realization: we’re failing our youth. We are raising a generation that, in general, has no vision for their children, no idea how to thrive, or what they stand for. There is no concept of what we wish to create, and no values to direct our efforts. Our overwhelming concern is to provide for and protect kids to such a degree that we’ve forgotten the duty to create self-reliance and inspire a life of contribution and growth.
Sure, there are some bright spots. Some parents who have a vision and stick to it despite overwhelming social pressure. There are those kids who seem to always gravitate towards contribution and adding value. But the vast majority has little guidance other than their impulses and youthful desires for pleasure, abundance, and ease. Do we settle for this, or will we fight to give our youth the skills, mindset, and vision to thrive?
What Education Must Become
Our education system can’t really claim it intentionally creates any sort of culture or vision. As the most permeating source of cultural influence, schools hold immense power. Yet, collectively, they have refused to stand up and lead the movement to create a heroic generation.
Despite this, public education remains one of the greatest sources of community support and positive relationships. At its best, it highlights displays of humanity, love, and unity in society. Go to a Friday night football game, and you might get chills from the sense of community and displays of mutual respect. There are few places where you will find such a collection of people with such loving and giving hearts. Every campus is full of selfless leaders, passionate about making a difference and striving to do so, despite little incentive and overwhelming obstacles.
Working in the public education system is complicated, and at times paradoxical. Our school board’s obsession with politics, perception, and appeasement have led them to stagnation and to miss tremendous opportunities for radical, positive cultural changes.
For instance, we acknowledge that it is the duty of the village to develop the children. Our villages should be preventing the massive complexes of fast food that have arisen around schools like a wall. Instead, we bring them into the schools and throw their advertisements up on all our sports complexes. Childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes, and heart disease all continue to skyrocket, and we make moves that only further entrench habitual unhealthiness and pain.
Schools are meant to be the authority in human development. But this requires schools to first demand of themselves to become that authority. There would need to be systematic and constant professional development. After achieving mastery of the path to human physical, mental, emotional, and financial development, it would then be the prerogative of the schools to educate parents and the culture at large.
The development of easy outlets for professional development and constant possibilities for promotion and advancement would trigger an influx of talent into the education system. Schools should attract our best trainers, our best nutritional advice, and our best economists, if they are meant to develop a great generation.
Take the Handcuffs Off of Educators
Our current situation makes this seem less and less likely. So what are we to do? First, we must understand the current climate. With an understanding of where we are, we can develop new paths of inspired education that work to supplement the current standard, and inspire new possibilities for post-graduation. Furthermore, parents, trainers, coaches, and all who work with youth can understand their role better, and fill in the gaps.
Public education is full of all manner of professionals. The bulk them do their best, but too often fall victim to societal trends and convenience. They’re handcuffed by curriculums that teach a mile wide and an inch deep, and district policies that promote more cell phone distraction and less accountability. Institutional pressures dim the light in our best and brightest educators, and reward mediocrity and the status quo.
We see a similar climate in early athletic development. Too many in youth sports and athletic training are ignorant to the fundamentals of physical development; motivated by money more than the best interests of youth and their families. Rather than establishing a constructive culture, we work within current societal trends of sedentarism, overspecialization, and quantity over quality. Rather than taking on the responsibility to develop the best generation possible, we cower and choose the path of least resistance.
Image is Everything in Education
Education, like any political entity, has become a façade of smoke and mirrors. School lunches become healthier, but only by an obscenely absurd standard of health, and only if you ignore the fried chicken biscuits and PTA cookies sold in the halls that make up the bulk of school day eating. Image has become everything, so schools and school districts lower requirements to boast about higher passing rates. Students passed the Texas High School STAAR tests last year if they got 39% in Biology or 44% in history.
Graduation rates rise, but only after standards are lowered to pass undeserving students. These students might have learned more if they’d ever been allowed to fail. In an effort to get more kids over the low bar of standardized testing, teaching skills is replaced with teaching rote memorization.
The façade is everywhere. In Texas, a new school evaluation system ranks top-achieving schools at a C in “Post-Secondary Readiness,” because the school itself does not pay high costs to become a TSI testing center. Why? Because it’s very expensive, and students can go to the local community college less than two miles away. But hey, image is everything. Schools now will waste that money to become TSI testing centers, at the expense of far more beneficial investments.
Similarly, athletic departments compete to pass hundred-million-dollar bonds so that their athletic facilities can rival D1 colleges. More often than not, these absurdly nice training facilities come without any sort of qualified, experienced coaching staff. Terribly unsafe and unproductive exercise persists. Kids get hurt, are made to train in outrageously ridiculous manners, but hey, at least they get to do so in a really cool weight room!
Far more benefit would come from paying a modest salary to a certified professional to run athletic performance programs. Try as you might to push this obvious truth, and as much as districts boast to the public about their focus on safety, smart’s just not as sexy as a new stadium.
We Must Fill the Gaps
As a society, we’ve forgotten our duty to create a healthy, ethical, strong generation. Rather than stand up for values like integrity and honesty, we justify any misstep and point to some misconstrued definition of fairness. Rather than instilling willpower, love of learning, and creativity, we choose entitlement, and check off boxes to create inflated graduation rates. Rather than instill healthy habits, physical mastery, active play, and mental focus, we opt for fast food, increasing sedentariness, decreased nutritional and physical literacy, and a submission to constant mobile phone distraction. Rather than skills of analysis, synthesis, problem solving, and mature, open, solutions-based conversation, we opt for political correctness, simple knowledge regurgitation, and superficial understandings.
We offer a stagnant, stay-between-the-lines vision to our youth. We do not stand up for what we say we believe. We are not boldly chasing dreams or creating an inspired future. We do not look at the human and ask what principles lead humans to thrive. Our youth deserve better. Our parents deserve better.
We must begin to actively promote physical, emotional, and psychological health. Without a strong foundation in these areas, the house will begin to crack and splinter. These should be the core curriculum, not an extracurricular nicety. I believe this starts with P.E., health, and recess, and that it continues with intentional development of mental skills.
We must seek the means and support to help our children thrive and live lives of growth and contribution. In future articles, I will focus on the habits parents can develop to help create mentally and physically healthy kids. I will also present what an inspired curriculum might look like.
There is immense opportunity for public and private entities to provide a holistic education that will fill in the gaps left by our current system. We need a path for health, physical training, mental training, financial training, philosophy, and ethical code creation. We spend millions on things that just don’t matter. It would be a better investment, by far, to train the skills that will change perceptions and create the framework for a truly great life.
It can’t all happen at school, either: