I recently read a quote that has had me pondering ever since seeing it. “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” – Abraham Lincoln. Schools in America have through some misguided direction decided everyone is equal. Somehow from the time I graduated HS in the 1990s through my 19 years of teaching in a classroom the rules changed. When I grew up there were winners and losers. If you wanted to win the championship, be on the Honor Roll, be in the elite schools you had to work. And then something shifted. I do believe this philosophical change has caught up with us and is disempowering the people, those who SHOULD be leading a democratic government.
In an effort to be “fair” schools took away winning. This philosophy also trickled out into communities, or maybe it trickled from the communities into schools. I think adults thought they were doing what was right. I believe it was in good judgement they said, let’s focus on learning and fun and take away competition as a driving force. Let’s give hope to those students who struggle. But in that process we simmered down the meaning of everything. We made our sports and schools and experiences and learning all blend into a vast pot of sameness.
With a no winners philosophy and handing out participation ribbons to any effort lacking participant, we told our kids everyone wins. Effort–not important. Participation–not important. Skill–not important. Knowledge–not important. As long as you show up you get the prize. We have taken learning from failure and persistence from our children. What difference does it make if everyone is the same?
Then came No Child Left Behind and a push for standardized testing. States asked for proof of learning and the government wanted to hold schools accountable. Schools began a misguided approach of teaching to the test and when shoved, threatened, and backed into a corner learning became rote. Memorization of facts and regurgitation of skills provided students who would “meet all standards”. Again, we took away the natural curiosity of children and taught them to “think” the way they were told. What difference does it make if it is only for the test?
We have been schooling a generation of students to do as they are told, think what they are told and show up to get a participatory prize. We fell short in teaching them to create and help each other. We fell short in teaching them persistence and failure as part of the learning process. We boxed them in and they listened.
Disrespect and blame run rampant in our society today. My hope is to see this turned around with our youngest generation. In my classroom we do failure and we do our best. We have winners and we admit when we lose. Children listen and learn from the modeling of adults around them. I hope I get to see this next generation flip our government. I hope they begin to question and create and think and evaluate. I hope they take these skills that are beginning to sprinkle through American classrooms. I hope I see this generation solve the worlds problems and come together as a people, not divided by classifications of race and gender and occupation. And I hope teachers LEAD. The children are listening. Keep up the hard work. Persist and learn from the failings before us. Our hope is there.