Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? | The Atlantic

The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.

Source: Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? – The Atlantic

“By omission, are U.S. schools teaching their students that character, morality, and ethics aren’t important in becoming productive, successful citizens?”

Most of my reader would at once answer some variation on “sadly, yes” – and we can see many of the bitter fruits of this in our society – but the fact that the question is even being asked is significant. You know the situation is bad when a mainstream, Left-leaning journal like The Atlantic is wondering whether we’re doing a poor job of teaching character, ethics, and morality to our students!

Granted, that is a job that is best done by parents and church, not schools. But like many other once-common life skills (I’m thinking of things like gardening, the use of simple tools, and home economics), ethics, morality, and character are things that many contemporary parents are ill-equipped to teach their sons and daughters, because they’re not too well-versed in them, themselves.

Despite the old tongue-in-cheek adage that “those who can’t do, teach,” you can’t teach what you don’t know, yourself.

What is interesting (though not surprising) to me is that students are hungry for such instruction, or at least discussion and guided exploration:

“‘Do you think you should discuss morality and ethics more often in school?’ I asked the class. The vast majority of heads nodded in agreement. Engaging in this type of discourse, it seemed, was a mostly foreign concept for the kids… As my students seemed to crave more meaningful discussions and instruction relating to character, morality, and ethics, it struck me how invisible these issues have become in many schools.”

This is indicative of an abject failure in our educational system. In an earlier and wiser age, the formation of students into not only good citizens, but good persons, was a primary – perhaps the primary – function of schooling. There may not have been a formal class called “ethics,” but moral lesson permeated the academic ones.

Duty to God and country, respect for duly-constituted authority, and compassion towards others were part of the curriculum: from the Pledge of Allegiance and Lord’s Prayer in the morning, through “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” throughout the day. Stories (and poems, which tend to be especially memorable) selected for reading, reciting, and expostulating upon in various forms invariably carried a moral message.

That was already starting to go away by the time I got into school, in the early 1970s, and the trend has only accelerated.

Unfortunately, some of what it has been replaced by has been of questionable merit – the starkly utilitarian teaching-to-the-test of “No Child Left Behind,” and its successor, “Common Core” (as the linked essay describes) – or even frankly morally vicious, as in the moral relativism and intentional sidelining of traditional morality that has become the dominant ethos in the contemporary educational establishment over the last four or five decades.

We didn’t get where we are now overnight, and we won’t get back to a place of greater sanity overnight, either; but if reflections like the linked essay can be published in “mainstream” media outlets like The Atlantic, that at least gives some grounds for hope that pendulum may be starting, however slowly, to swing back. God grant it! It needs to.

Advertisements

Harvard Study Reveals Religious Upbringing Better for Kids’ Health, Well-Being | The Stream

A Harvard study reveals that children who had a religious upbringing will likely be healthier and have a higher degree of well-being in early adulthood.

Source: Harvard Study Reveals Religious Upbringing Better for Kids’ Health, Well-Being | The Stream

While this is no surprise to me, or probably to most of those who read this blog, what is most saddening is that it probably does come as a surprise to many in the wider culture.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

— Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

 

Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation’s Historical Sites? | Intellectual Takeout

Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation's Historical Sites?

“I don’t think my wife and I saw a single school group during our entire visit to Philadelphia.”

Source: Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation’s Historical Sites? | Intellectual Takeout

“Colonial Williamsburg attracts only half the numbers of people it attracted 30 years ago. Colonial Williamsburg lost an average of $148,000 a day in 2016, and the Foundation is now over $317 million in debt. Williamsburg has outsourced many of its functions and laid off staff.”

As someone who literally grew up visiting historic sites, and living-history sites in particular – my parents were both lovers of history, and hardly a year went by, during my school days, that I did not visit Colonial Williamsburg, not to mention many other locations such as Jamestown, Plimoth Plantation, Historic Deerfield Village, and Mystic Seaport, among others – and who has served as a historic interpreter at several sites (Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Historic London Town, Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, and weekly interpretation of the historic Martin Cabin at Hashawha Environmental Center, when I was teaching at the Carroll County Outdoor School), this is personal to me.

The drop-off in visits to Civil War sites is perhaps somewhat understandable, if disappointing, given the often-violent controversy over Civil War symbols and iconography that has shattered the shared understandings and mutual forbearance that governed our collective response to that tragic conflict, until fairly recently. But Civil War sites are not alone in suffering from a distressing decline in visitors.

“Part of the problem, says McWhirter, is ‘changing tastes.’ But Mike Brown, a Civil War battle re-enactor, has another explanation: ‘The younger generations are not taught to respect history, and they lose interest in it.’ Williamsburg’s Ries makes the same observation: ‘[L]ess American history is being taught in schools.”

It’s not just Williamsburg, nor is it limited to sites related to the War Between the States:

“Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, Custer Battlefield National Monument in Montana, West Mesa Petroglyphs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Penn School in Frogmore, South Carolina, Cannery Row in Monterey, Calilfornia. These places, prominent fixtures in the imaginations of generations of adults and schoolchildren, are receding into oblivion, thanks to an education system that doesn’t seem to value our heritage.”

This is not only sad, it’s dangerous.

A people severed from their history are a people adrift; they have not the knowledge and understanding necessary either to make sense of how we got to where we are today, nor to shape an intelligent and productive course into the future. Like a tree severed from its roots, a nation and a society severed from its past is far more likely to wither and die than it is to grow, blossom, and bear fruit.

And living history – a form of experiential learning, in which attendees are able to step, if only temporarily and partially, into history itself and see it, to some degree, from the “inside” – is perhaps the best way to inculcate within people (young people especially, but people of all ages) a sympathetic appreciation (and if one is fortunate, a passion) for not only the events of the past, but the people of the past, the challenges they faced, and their accomplishments in meeting them.

Field trips to such sites used to be an important and ubiquitous part of the education of school-age young people. But no more, apparently. When I read in this article that “I don’t think my wife and I saw a single school group during our entire visit to Philadelphia,” I am quite literally heartsick.

I understand the value of STEM, and I do not wish to appear to be beating on it; but as I have said elsewhere, our obsessive concern with scientific, technical, engineering, and math-related education – at the expense of the humanities, including history – is leading to a world full of people who may (or may not) be skilled in the technological and scientific disciplines, but are ignoramuses, through no fault of their own, in the fields that lead to both good citizenship and full human flourishing: art, literature, music, history, philosophy, and related disciplines.

As a friend of mine posted today, by a remarkable serendipity:

1999: Study STEM. Humanities will be useless in the 21st century.

2009: Study STEM. Humanities are useless in the 21st century.

2019: Why is our democracy falling apart? It’s like no one understands how it’s supposed to work anymore!

Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

 

Rev. Thomas Harbold’s review of “Defending Boyhood: How Building Forts, Reading Stories, Playing Ball, and Praying to God Can Change the World” | Goodreads

43309920

When Anthony Esolen – among the most able defenders of Western civilization, and Western Christendom in particular, active today – chooses to discourse on a subject, the wise person reads or listens attentively…

Source: Rev. Thomas Harbold’s review of Defending Boyhood: How Building Forts, Reading Stories, Playing Ball, and Praying to God Can Change the World | Goodreads

When Anthony Esolen – among the most able defenders of Western civilization, and Western Christendom in particular, active today – chooses to discourse on a subject, the wise person reads or listens attentively, nor does he or she lack reward for having done so. Esolen writes with exuberance, penetrating insight, and equally-penetrating wit, and Defending Boyhood is no exception to that rule. I was alternately delighted, intrigued, inspired, and moved.

As a former boy myself, I resonate strongly with the former boy that shines through Esolen’s mature, erudite, and engaging writing, and frequently found myself nodding in emphatic agreement. His treatment of boyhood, and boys – what they value, how they view life, and the goals and ideals that are common to boys across time, geography, and culture – has the ring of truth, and stands as a much-needed antidote to the venomous miasma that much of modern culture seems bent on creating around such formerly straightforward concepts as manhood, masculinity, and boyhood…

Read my whole review here.

 

QOTD: the proper life for a child (and the rest of us, for that matter!)

Related image

“It is no accident that the Swiss have such beautiful children’s stories: they do not inhabit large towns. A metropolitan child doesn’t even know what it means to be a child. To be a child means to play in the fields, amidst grass and trees and birds and butterflies, under the endless canopy of a blue sky, in a great silence in which the crowing of the neighbor’s cock is an event, as is the Angelus bell or the creaking of a wheel. To be a child means to live with the seasons, the first snow and the first colt’s-foot, the cherry blossom and the cherry harvest, the scent of flowering crops and dry grass, the tickling of the stubble on one’s bare feet, the early lighting of the lamp. The other thing is a surrogate, shabby, cramped, musty, an adult’s life in miniature.”

— Joseph Hofmiller (1872-1933)

 

Glories of the West: Colonial Williamsburg Homeschool Days

Source: Colonial Williamsburg Homeschool Days | Colonial Williamsburg’s Facebook Page

So much goodness in this picture! The Governor’s Mansion at Colonial Williamsburg, once the capital of 18th-century Virginia, with adorable little girls in proper Colonial attire carrying a basket of naturally-dyed wool from (perhaps) some of the Leicester Longwool heritage sheep raised there. A recreation of early America at its finest! Anyone who claims that “America was never that great” should look at this picture, and be ashamed. Yes, we were still colonies of Great Britain at that point in history. But the groundwork was already being laid…

And then we have the excellent phenomenon of homeschooling, in which parents can opt their children out of the politically-correct agendas of so much of public (and even private) schooling! So glad that Colonial Williamsburg – historically one of the flagship sites for living history, and a major influence on me, in childhood and beyond – is providing programs in support. Children need to learn about our history and heritage, and there is no better way than through experiential learning.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has come under fire (not without justification, it must be said) in recent years, for apparent financial mismanagement, and also for some of its programming decisions: replacing costumed interpreters with docents in modern attire, canceling popular events, discouraging reenactor participation, and cashiering the popular tavern Balladeers, for example. But this, at least, deserves commendation.

Old-fashioned toys, not video games, best for kids, pediatricians say | WRCBtv.com – Chattanooga

Image

Don’t be fooled by all those “educational” electronics in stores. What’s best for your kids, pediatricians say, are old-fashioned toys that require you to actually interact with them.

Source: Old-fashioned toys, not video games, best for kids, pediatrician – WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

“Play is important for child development, but children learn best from adults. They get language skills, learn about how the world works, and get feedback that can reinforce learning and positive behavior, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in new guidelines for people buying toys for kids.”

The most amazing part of this is that, apparently, it comes as a surprise to some people!

The AAP cautions that

“a little common sense goes a long way, the AAP says in its reminders. Kids need to use their imaginations, they need to move both their hands and their bodies and they need to express creativity. Simple toys such as blocks, crayons and card games can fill these needs better than the flashiest video game”

And goes on to add,

“The truth is most tablets, computer games, and apps advertised as ‘educational’ aren’t. Most ‘educational’ apps target memory skills, such as ABCs and shapes,” the guidelines read.

“These skills are only one part of school readiness. The skills young children really need to learn for success in school (and life) include impulse control, managing emotions, and creative, flexible thinking. These are best learned through unstructured and social play with family and friends.”

So-called educational games and apps on digital media may, in fact, delay social development [emphasis added], especially for young children, because [such technology] interferes with their learning about real-life facial expressions and gestures.”

When it comes to screen time, less is more:

“Parents also need to remember to limit kids’ use of video and computer games, the AAP says. ‘Total screen time, including television and computer use, should be less than one hour per day for children 2 years or older and avoided for those younger than 2 years of age,’ the guidelines point out.”

That was the rule in my growing-up years, when “screens” meant television. I may have chafed at it, at the time, but (with the perspective and, hopefully, maturity that age brings) I recognize the wisdom of the restriction, now.

Caveat emptor! “Some products may be marketed in a way that makes parents feel their kids are missing out if they don’t get them. Don’t fall for it, the AAP says.” Oh, really? Do ya think? Gee, I didn’t know that corporations ever marketed their products in ways that over-state their benefits and minimize their risks… *wry smile*

In any case:

Read the whole article – there’s a lot more information, and it’s all interesting, especially to those who care about the social and physical, as well as intellectual and psycho-emotional, development of children.