This simple charge from the Native American Code of Ethics sheds much- needed light on what has turned out to be a very complex question. Why are we struggling in our efforts to educate our children? …
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This simple charge from the Native American Code of Ethics sheds much- needed light on what has turned out to be a very complex question.
Why are we struggling in our efforts to educate our children? Statistics can muddle the water. A study by University of Southern California Rossier School of Education shows the U.S. leading the world, spending $7,743 per school age child (the U.K. is second at $5,534) but ranking 9th in science performance and 10th in math. There are huge “learning gaps” affecting ethnic and economic groups unfairly.
President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union address, said we must “prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”
Unfortunately, while Americans of all stripe wax poetic on the importance of our children, they also speak derisively of families needing public assistance to make ends meet. And, when bond issues are proposed to fund the pyramid of salaries, capital expenses and programming that keep our school districts running, too many times we hear about the lack of wisdom in “simply throwing money at the problem.”
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” said former Harvard Unversity president, Derek Bok.
It rings with dissonance when in the great state of Colorado, consistently ranked near the very bottom in taxes paid and – not surprisingly – per capita spending on education there rises up a mighty cheer that the local footballers have signed a near $100 million contract for a new Messiah. Is there no realization that his contract shall be fulfilled with the dollars acquired from ticket sales, beer sales, pizza sales and souvenir sales paid by those same individuals who cherish our low tax rates, that are unfortunately a major cause of the chronic under-funding of our schools and the resultant lacks in our educational system?
Note that the simple instructions given at the start of this column did not talk about course of study, technology or the benefit of one theory of education over another.
We support the president’s call for more science and math, because we live in a real world where a large segment of the job market relies on those skills. However, we are certainly in peril of failing our instructions to “water them with wisdom and life’s lessons.” Where is the commitment to 100,000 more teachers to bring our children the lessons and joys of art and music? And the perspective of social studies or the body and soul strengthening benefits of physical education?
Knowledge is important to all areas of our life. An understanding of cause and effect based on certain physical conditions and facts is a critical part of many decision making processes. But wisdom is much more. It is born of life experience that puts simple cause and effect into context. And it adds a spiritual and emotional backdrop through which to interpret that context.
And what about the first call in our charge, to “Plant love in their hearts?” As I read those words, the primary charge for raising up a child is for the care of their inner spirit. Is it not obvious that a strong vessel is the best recipient for whatever it is you wish it to contain? If that vessel is cracked or unstable, it is doubtful it will be able to handle the harsh burdens placed upon it. Much better if it be put together so it can expand when conditions demand, rather than crumble from the stress.
The shortcomings of our educational system are so often blamed on teachers, for failing to turn out students who make the grade on soulless achievement tests that give no handicap for the broken hearts and fractured or frightened spirits of so many of the children who sit before them.
With that in mind, one would expect a unified, national call to action to reverberate from sea to shining sea, demanding that we embrace those at-risk children, and provide them the services they need to become whole, so as to not only be able to absorb the facts and answer the questions, but to one day develop the wisdom that will enable them to lead happy and productive lives.
When families are falling apart we need to prop them up. It is the right thing to do from both a moral and social perspective. We are, in fact, only as strong as our weakest link. Endless studies have shown it is less expensive to provide ongoing wellness care than to treat a sick patient in an emergency room. It is less expensive to lead someone away from a life of crime than to incarcerate them.
We find ourselves in a unique time where people wonder if our country is at the beginning of an inevitable decline into oblivion. Our financial system has been shaken to its middle-class foundations. Our democratic system of government has taken on the appearance of a simple aristocracy where two teams of elitists make up rules that make sense in their lives, but frequently have little application outside their hallowed halls.
We live in a time where the greatest court in the land has decided that corporations are people.
We hope that there will be a shift in thinking so that the view from the top is more egalitarian, and that the decision-makers start once again treating people as people, rather than simply pawns in a blue state/red state chess game.
We’d like to see our stadiums full with cheering crowds when a bond issue passes that will raise up our children for decades to come. We want to see flags flown on Sundays when every child who attends a Denver school has a home to live in, a bed to sleep in, clean clothes to wear to school and a stomach full of healthy eats when they get there.
When that time comes, I think the arguments about educational theory will become moot, and the need to blame for what were the failures in our system will disappear.
Until then, we shall end where we begin: “Children are the seeds of our future. Plant love in their hearts and water them with wisdom and life’s lessons. When they are grown, give them space to grow.”
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