It’s been an unusually full week.  I’ve prayed with anxious teens and comforted frightened moms.  I’ve confronted deception and applauded growth.  I’ve rejoiced with success and called out irresponsibility.  I’ve cried with families in crisis and laughed with others who find themselves on smooth paths.  It’s been a rich week -full of challenges and full of blessings but it’s Friday, and I have yet to develop a post for this week’s blog.  Yikes!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about errors in thinking behind perfectionism and last week my post was about other thinking errors that stand in the way of pursuing excellence. This week I have largely copied for you two excerpts that shed light on cultural mindsets that have led to a lowering of standards in American education.

The first one is written about the state of school in general and the second one addresses private school education.

Pathways to Prosperity Project: Harvard Graduate School of Education

February, 2011

“As we end the first decade of the 21st Century, there are profoundly troubling signs that the U.S. is now failing to meet its obligation to prepare millions of young adults.  In an era in which education has never been more important to economic success, the U.S. has fallen behind many other nations in educational attainment and achievement.  Within the U.S. economy, there is also growing evidence of a “skills gap” in which many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage.  Simultaneously, there has been a dramatic decline in the ability of adolescents and young adults to find work.”

Additional points from this study:

  • U.S. employers complain that today’s young adults are not equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the work place: namely oral and written communication, critical thinking, creativity, and professionalism.
  • While “college for all” is the prevailing mantra, the hard reality is that fewer than one in three young people achieve the dream.
  • U.S. now has the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world.

The second excerpt has to do with the condition of private school education in our country.  (Reading it makes me grateful to be a part of a community of educators and parents who desire to see virtue and excellence restored to education and are willing to do “hard things” in order to bring this about.)

Excerpt from “Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America

by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. and Andrew Kern

“The founding purpose of America’s great schools was the production of virtue.  Aware for perhaps the first time in private school history that their traditional customers were finding prep schools resistible, the schools began to test the market.  A great change occurred:  Private schools began to treat education as a marketplace commodity and they accommodated the demands of their customers instead of holding parents to a higher ideal.

Schools tested the market and discovered that children preferred to avoid hard work and rules on clothing, grooming, and free time.  Children especially disliked schools that enrolled only one sex.  Parents made other demands that were not only demonstrably bad for children, but self-contradictory.  Parents demanded high academic standards but wanted no challenges that might undermine a child’s self esteem, they accepted inflated grades but expected schools to expunge records that took notice of failure.

By trying to accommodate consumer demands, the great private schools disarmed themselves in the cultural battle of the 1960s.  When young people cloaked their craving for adolescent freedom with the aura of justice and proclaimed a new spiritual and ethical vision, the schools were morally exhausted and found their demands impossible to resist.  They gave their customers what they demanded.”

What must we we do?

  1. Recognize that character is produced when kids are held to standards of excellence both in performance and behavior. Character is fashioned into the hearts of kids when they are  expected to grow and to reach prescribed standards.  We can teach them about character and how they are supposed to act.  We can model character for them. In the end however, it’s the habits they developed – what they themselves forge via dedicated effort – that will become woven into the fabric of their hearts and minds.
  2. Recognize that meeting tough challenges result in growth and serves to  enhance – not undermine – a kid’s self esteem.  In other words, kids learn to feel good about themselves by actually acquiring skills.  Smug, arrogant touchy kids who have an inflated sense of their own abilities and worth are unprepared to handle adversity.
  3. Parents need to refrain from rescuing kids and allow teachers and coaches to be the “tough guys.”   Parents who complain and step in to rescue their kids from firm expectations encourage teachers to not expect as much from their kids the next time.  Today’s teachers and administrators lean toward the dismissal of standards in order to please parents, and when this happens, the standards decline, and the kids lose.