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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kids Today...

It is my view that human nature does not change over time. Cultures shift and evolve. Morality ebbs and flows as people transition from total repression of instincts (and its inherent woes) to total expression of them (and the resultant social chaos). People change as they experience more and hopefully learn from that experience. Human nature, however, is a constant.

In this light, I can see the children I teach as actors in the current drama of a deteriorating society. Some of them are the defenders of morality. We love to have these students in class. They are the responsible, polite few who rarely, if ever, cause problems and give their best work every day. Others are the natural followers, who will go whichever way the most dominant personality nearby goes, for good or evil. Then we have the amoralists, those who believe in the concept of right and wrong only so far as it may negatively affect them at any given moment. These are the few who will attempt to steal from the prize box one moment, then stridently moralize you on the right to property when you confiscate their chewing gum.

These three groups each comprise about one-third of every class. Thus is their nature, and I believe it has always been so. The difference we see is not in the children themselves. It is cultural. Does our culture embrace and promote absolute, universal moral standards, or ever-shifting, individualized moral "preferences"? Do we drill into the kids individual responsibility and the civic duties of the individual, or do we promote and accept excuses based on a clannish, group mentality which exempts the individual from responsibility for his own circumstances? Or, perhaps more insidiously, do we do both simultaneously? I suggest it is this path we have chosen, and it is the most damaging of all. It costs us the trust and faith of our children.

We cannot, on the one hand, excuse the vices of groups of individuals based on poverty or racism, and on the other hand, promote the idea that each child is empowered to forge his own destiny. By admitting the prior attitude, we invalidate the latter. Students can see and recognize this. They are far less gullible than we imagine. They will therefore, having no consistent guidelines, seek the path of least resistance, going with their natures despite whatever we may try to teach them to the contrary. Sadly, this often results in tragedy. What we want is very often the worst thing for us.

I don't blame the children for the rise in behavior problems. We have brought it upon ourselves. Until we can present them with a consistent moral framework worthy of their respect, they will see us as arbitrary and hypocritical. We will have to fight the good fight each day to maintain respectful behavior (as we all do), not enjoy it inherently, as was the case many years ago. This is sad to say, but the truth is not always pleasant.

I hope that soon we will be mature enough, as a society, to connect the symptoms plaguing us to their true and proper causes. Only then will we have any chance at finding the cure.

1 comment:

  1. You make a very good point. One can actually follow this attitude just by watching most of the television shows produced for children. There is no clear boundary for behaviour, it is all very unclear. I believe that with the acceptance that mothers must work outside the home, this becomes a much larger problem. Without constant reminders and praise, children will do what they see or watch. Without the parental influence at home most children are left to find their own way and make their own decisions with little guidance. Our society is setting itself up. You hear the cries of "But my child is so much more independant than he would be if I were at home". While there are times when it is necessary for both parents to work, it should not be the "expected" way of life. We are forgetting that parents are responsible for raising their own children - not the teachers, or the neighbors. We are too much into the "it takes a village" and we have forgotten the basic responsibilities of the parents.

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