JUST CAN’T HELP CREEPING ALONG

     The school system is yet another example of government run amok. Although children need to learn good citizenship in addition to the three R’s (that’s Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic for those of you who were born after the dinosaurs died out), the inevitable government creep has set in here, as well as everywhere else.

    In our zeal to cover every base, to make sure that children all compete on a level playing field, to make sure that each and every one of them realizes his/her fair share of the American Dream, we have gone from teaching our children enough for them to survive as adults, to teaching almost none of them how to survive as adults. That’s the result of mission creep.

     Consider the creep with regard to the American Dream. Used to be, the Dream meant the opportunity to make the best for yourself. You were responsible for your own success. It was your choice to take your innate talents and provide for yourself and your family as best you could. It was understood that talent only got you so far—that most of success came from just plain hard work. Working when you didn’t feel like it; working when you’d rather be fishing, watching TV, or planting flowers; working just to stay in place, let alone to  get ahead. Working to the best of your ability, because you knew that only competence was rewarded—just showing up wasn’t enough, you had to produce something of value in order to earn your paycheck. No results, no more job. So you made sure that the hours that you put in bore fruit.

     And sometimes the magic worked, and you prospered, at other times it seemed that no matter what you did, the fates had you in their sights. True, that meant that some people fell by the wayside; some people went hungry, or homeless—I think we can all agree that it was not a perfect situation. But if even doing your job to the best of your ability wasn’t always enough, you knew for certain that not doing your job to the best of your ability wasn’t going to get you anywhere.

     But then, something happened. In the interests of protecting our children, of making sure that none of them went hungry, or didn’t succeed for any reason, we decided that merely showing up was enough. No longer were results the measure of success, now there were rewards merely for participating. Struggle became a four-letter word, and opportunity became something to pass by. The rewards became the big deal.

     Instead of the opportunity to struggle to better ourselves, now the Dream has morphed into accumulating rewards–stuff. Everybody must have the same stuff, the same reward—no matter their actual income level, no matter their work ethic. No longer is the opportunity to do well the standard—now it’s the reward that counts. And it’s not a reward that comes of your own hard work—if you can’t succeed on your own, for whatever reason, then the government creep means that you can just call on others to provide for you, that you will be rewarded simply for sucking air. It sounds like it should be a better situation than the previous one, sounds like we are doing a better job of providing for those who need it, but that’s only because I don’t think that we, as a society, have yet realized how devastating this situation will be for our children.

    Despite the propaganda of the professional educators, learning doesn’t start the day a child enters a classroom. Children start learning the day they are born. By the time they hit school, they’ve learning a number of amazing things:  they’ve learned to comprehend what their eyes are seeing; they’ve learned to walk; they’ve learned to speak a language (how many of us manage to master a second language once we’ve started school?); they’ve learned to feed themselves; they’ve learned dress themselves; and most amazing of all, they’ve been taught all of these things by people who never had a single class in formal education.

     At home, the children were eager, avid learners. Their parents couldn’t stop them from learning if they wanted to. What’s this? What’s this? What’s that? poured out of their mouths day and night; a nod of the head and a sparkle in their eye indicating understanding. They yearned to learn, just for the sake of learning.

     And the rules. How children want to learn all of the rules. They greedily grasp any knowledge that gives them any insight into the world of the grown-up—the world they long so desperately to enter. They check their understanding by making sure that everyone else follows the same rules that they do.  Sharing, caring for others, taking turns, showing others all the new stuff they’ve learned, helping others learn that same stuff, and learning from each other, all of these are internalized by the time they are three.

     So, with all this processing under their belts, you’d think that school would be the most wonderful opportunity in the world. You’d expect that children would race to get to class everyday, eager to absorb more information, and eager to learn how to translate data into useful knowledge; chomping at the bit to show off what they’ve learned; ready to incrementally take on the responsibilities of adulthood, processing it all through their innate love of play.

  And so, what does happen when they enter the school system? Check back in a few years, and with very few exceptions, you find dull, bored, obstinate drones, mashed into their seats, doodling on their desks and staring at the ceiling, watching the clock. Their hunger for knowledge has been beat down. Their enthusiasm for life has been drilled out of them. Instead of What’s that?, now the refrain has become, Why should I care? When will I ever use Algebra after I am finally released from this prison?

     In our zeal to make sure that our children suffer no want during their educational years, we have doomed the entire school system. Primary and secondary education systems have become little more than babysitting services, where we plop our children until they become of legal age. Any learning that may go on now has been displaced to what used to be “higher” education, or has been outsourced to those unlucky businesses that are forced to hire unprepared trainees. Now the first year of college more and more has taken on the role of remedial education, where students learn for the first time what they should have learned in high school or before; and on-the-job training includes such social niceties as don’t eat KFC during your initial interview.

     And we have come to accept this state of affairs as normal.

     We are endorsing a situation in which we are draining the life out of our children. We are throwing away the next generation, and the one after that. The only thing that we have going for us as humans is our brains, and we are stifling the use of our own greatest tool. That’s the inevitable result of mission creep.

     You would think that it is fundamentally obvious that it is a good thing to be everything for all children. But it doesn’t work. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, bad things will happen. Some children will go to bed hungry. Some children will get hurt, or get sick, and while it may seem to be a good idea to care for them all under the aegis of the government school system, it doesn’t work. All you get with that method is a system that doesn’t end up working for anyone.

     It’s true. There are some functions that government can perform. But cramming the function of providing for the entire welfare of all children into our educational system merely gives us poor schools and mediocre welfare.

     If we cared, truly cared, for our children, we would let them use their minds past the age of five, and let them know, truly know, that they could claim any success they acquire as their own. Sure, they’d fail, too, but at a younger age, and for all the right reasons. Right now, all we’re doing is postponing that inevitable failure until the stakes are much higher. If the first time an adult realizes that success is not a given is in his first job, when he’s counting on that paycheck to pay for his gas, his food, his mortgage, if it is there for the first time that he comes to the horrible realization that just showing up isn’t enough, where can he turn at that time to learn the necessary skills to survive? We can’t just dump the adults we’ve created through our educational system on the streets, diploma in hand, but no job preparation in their skill sets, in favor of pandering to the children who are still ensconced in our schools. We seem to forget that children inevitably grow up, and what we do today “for the sake of the children” has consequences for the adults they will become. And if the method of dealing with those unprepared adults is to expect the rest of society to take care of them, then what do we do when the rest of society is as woefully unprepared as they are? Because the nature of government creep is to creep along until it covers everything, and soon, there will be no escape, not in private schools, not in homeschool. Nowhere will students be free, free to learn what they need to know in order to survive as adults, free from governmental regulations that stifle any attempt at learning in favor of proper socialization. And soon there’ll be no one left to provide the feed for the government trough.

    I understand that there are children who cannot be served through education. There are children who cannot learn, no matter the circumstance. Those children must be taken care of outside of the educational system. It does them no service to keep them cooped up in classrooms all day, for socialization purposes. (Of course, I don’t think it’s proper to keep any child cooped up in a classroom all day—that’s anathema to the learning process). Socialization can take place in those hours that are freed up by restricting the educational process to learning only.

     It’s time to make learning, not proper socialization, of our children the top priority of the educational system.  Everything else, making sure they have enough to eat, making sure they are properly socialized, making sure that they have plenty of exercise, making sure they don’t ingest too much soda, all of these considerations must be secondary to the main mission: making sure that our children are able to provide for themselves to the best of their ability. If we restrict the role of the educational system to that and that alone, many other things will fall into place. And even if those other things, those very important missions, don’t automatically resolve themselves, they need to be addressed outside of the school system. Yes, it’s convenient that we have all of our children stuffed together in buildings for most of the day, and wouldn’t it be handy if we could solve all of society’s problems while we have the critters in our grasp. Sure it would. But it doesn’t work.

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