07
MAR
2012

Schools Today: Mirrors of Society’s Vices

All the evils of modern society are manifested in our children at school in the cruelest possible manner. We need to start doing something about this immediately because this is our children we are talking about.

The escalating violence and growing number of shootings taking place in our schools are providing us with a red line that should never have been crossed. Throughout the world and especially in the U.S., there is a growing phenomenon of aggression between students, between teachers and students, parents and coaches, and even parents and students. But the saddest of all are the cases of shootings and killings that occur in the schools themselves, especially the most recent horrifying shooting in a small town in Ohio, and another recent case where a gun discharged from a nine-year-old boy’s backpack critically wounded a girl in his class.

The general state of the educational system actually symbolizes the exact opposite form of the global integral era we are meant to be entering. Integral means whole, a system where each part is essential or necessary for completeness. Despite our good intentions, our children see life as a competition to be the best, richest, and most successful. Achieving that ‘natural high’ that comes with being on top typically requires putting down the people around you. Society’s glorification of all the wrong values has reached a peak and that is what we are currently witnessing in our schools.

The new circumstances are gradually compelling us to discover how we are all connected, and to shift from a culture of “me” to “we”. The individualistic driven world we have become accustomed to is coming apart at the seams, along with all the systems connected to it. Dealing with an economic system on the verge of collapse, countries on the verge of bankruptcy, or a political system serving personal interest is sad, but we continue to put up with them, although we may make significant changes sometime in the future. Yet dealing with the far-reaching consequences of a deficient education system and its casualties is another story altogether. This impacts not only the current students, our children, but also defines the nature of society for years to come.

In viewing the state of the education system, we must look at ourselves, the adults, who brought the system to its current state or who allow it to remain in this state. What is that state? Many children and educators live in fear for their safety when they enter the school buildings. Educators are now routinely trained to deal with these tragic school-shooting incidents. This vital means for influencing and shaping our children for the future is shrouded by the threat and fear of violence that pervades the school environment. The school environment is fraught with other dangers and influences: alcohol and drug use, sexual activity or harassment. In many cases the blatant disparity in socio-economic status of the students harms the psychological perception of a student’s self-worth. Acquiring wealth is a measure of success. Violence is an everyday occurrence. All these are signs of the times and a clear result of a system not fulfilling its purpose. This is in stark contrast to Finland’s successful education system that is built on a foundation of equality, trust, togetherness, friendly relations, and ongoing parental support.

Outside the classroom, our children’s lives are filled with sub-standard media (television, movies, music, and video-games) laden with graphic and gratuitous violence and the mythic, invincible Hollywood hero. Sports heroes—who fall prey to performance enhancing drugs in their competitive zeal to be the best since the pay off is great monetarily and with fame, as well as music and movie superstars—who after their quick rise to fame and financial heights, self-destruct in drug use or other criminal behaviors—are the most visible role models forming our children’s values. Clearly, these values we, if asked, would not wish to be those shaping our children’s lives.

We have failed in our attempt to give our children a humane education because we behave contrary to those values. We cannot even set a proper example for our children. Children learn from what we do, not from what we say. If our example displays that acquiring money is more important than anything else and includes our turning a blind eye or an apathetic view to the injustices in society, corruption in business and government, then this is what our children learn. Apathy and disinterest is even more destructive than the other issues we mentioned up to this point.

The foundation of a truly valuable education is providing a good example for kids to follow. Unfortunately, even the highest-quality education cannot countermand the negative examples we provide in today’s societal environment. All the humane values we wanted our children to have should have been implemented first and foremost by us in our family life, in our society, economy and politics. All of these areas of our lives should have been based on mutuality and collective responsibility, concern and care for one another. Since these are values we want to instill in our children, they should be present in the home life and all other aspects of society.

It is outright hypocrisy and a complete lack of honesty on our part to complain about the education system. Everyone should see him or herself as responsible.  It is unrealistic to work 12 hours a day, be caught up in the rat race, hand-off your child to some institutional framework every day, and expect some miraculous upbringing to occur.

When we make a conscious decision to rise above this painful issue that affects everyone in the world, then we will need to hit the restart button. That means leaving everything behind without looking for anyone to blame. We start building the dialog between us from scratch, toward agreeing first of all that there is a very real problem that needs to be dealt with. We will need to rise above all the various opinions to find a common denominator to work with. If we continue arguing over all the different methods, when we are finished there will be nothing left to work with.

In conclusion, the sooner we grasp that being concerned for one another is the energy of the renewed society, the sooner we can promise our children a better future.
 

Why Are Our Kids Getting Killed In School?

Over the last few decades the U.S. has managed to crown itself as the democratic kingdom and boasts of having the highest standard of individual freedom. As a country that has managed to maintain stability, peace and justice throughout the world, a world leader in polls as well, information from the last ten years reveals many social and strategic failures, both at the global and historic levels, coming precisely out of the U.S.

So should we be surprised that the greatest number of children being killed in schools is right in the middle of the world’s greatest democracy of all places? There have been many cases around the world, but the trend is most noticeable in the U.S., the events of the last years can no longer be viewed as random. In general there are no random events but rather everything is a reaction running on a scale between cause and effect. We need to be very concerned and not simply let the headlines go by and forget it ever happened. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and discover the root of the problem, the pain and the social deviation behind these acts of children killing their peers in school.

The last few cases really shatter the illusion of having an effective education system that is truly enhancing our children’s lives.  It is so important to take note, highlight, emphasize, remember and stamp these tragic cases in our heart, knowing all along that the kids are not at fault. The corners we push them into and the values we are passing on to them are antiquated for today’s teens and only increase everyone’s uncertainty about the future.

There will probably be many committees formed and recommendations drawn up for investigating what exactly went wrong. Were the kids taking drugs or medications? Their socio-economic status, bad behavior, and many other trivial parameters will be taken into account to calm our general conscience that we are really OK. But that’s just it. We are not OK. Not by a long shot.

We cannot expect our children to run the world. It is actually our complete responsibility to shape our youth for their life here in this world. Math and physics lessons are nice and useful but are not worth anything if a child reaches a state where he needs to kill one of his classmates. What have we prepared him for, what kind of education did he receive? Did we provide him with what he really needs? If we had, would he still have needed to commit the frightening atrocity at school? There are so many questions that place our responsibility and neglect of deteriorating circumstances right at the top of the public agenda. The truth is that the hardest part to digest is not just what happened, but the lack of reaction to what is happening.  That is the most deplorable aspect of this scenario.

We have seen countless examples over the last year in banks, exchanges, and governments, an endless amount of news items about global social catastrophes taking place every moment, so what are we waiting for exactly?

On one hand people are getting killed every day in the Middle East and Africa, hunger and malnutrition are rampant worldwide, we are robbing nature of its most precious resources as if there is no tomorrow, and so many other things indicate we are lacking direction in our lives and a suitable response to these ongoing concerns.

On the other hand, the escalating violence occurring in our schools is really a small matter in comparison to the rest of our global problems. But that could not be further from the truth. The suffering and lack of satisfaction of the younger generation is the clearest sign we have of just how much we have failed and of how little we have to offer them in the current reality. Let us remember that it is OK to make mistakes and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. But to make a mistake and continue to ignore the issue is adding insult to injury.

The child-parent circle engulfs most of the world so this issue really involves everyone. No one in society can excuse themselves from this process. If anyone imagines for a second that at this critical juncture in our lives we can ignore all the negative signs and allow our children to continue to suffer instead of receiving the education they deserve, we are in for a big wake up call.

We have only ourselves to blame, and hopefully more and more people will realize that education is everyone’s responsibility and really does begin at home. We have to want to change the education system, to change the economic system, to change the political system, to change social values, and none of these are things we can put off for later. These changes are necessary for the stability of our world.

Today we have all the means for changing our reality, and all the pretty words will simply evaporate into thin air if we do not begin to focus on enhancing the relations between us. We need to start being concerned for one another and our future, and especially our kids’ future. We need to begin working on this right now.

Review: Tony Kaye’s Detachment (2012) Paints a Grim Picture of Public Education

by Scott Mendelson

“We are no longer shocked by the various flaws in the system we use to educate our youngsters and yet we constantly take offense at the idea that so many young people seem to have misplaced priorities and/or don’t feel that they are valued by society at large.”

Most of the ideas in Tony Kaye’s Detachment are not revolutionary, especially not to anyone who has followed the last thirty years of debate regarding the public education system in America (Jonathan Kozel’s many works of nonfiction come to mind).  And while the story is told in a style that sometimes veers to art-house cliché (sepia-toned flashbacks, first-person testimonial to an unseen listener, hand-held claustrophobia, etc), the picture is in the end devastating via its almost objective presentation of the issues at hand.  Sure, Kaye is saying, we know that public schools are underfunded, understaffed, and stuck with various federal mandates and (worst of all, argues Kaye) a deluge of unmotivated students whose parents only take an interest when it comes to rebutting disciplinary measures. But told through the eyes of a substitute teacher who is far more caring than he wants to be, the picture wonders why we’re so accepting a system that doesn’t seem to be all that successful for any number of American youths.

The plot is pretty simple: Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is starting an extended gig as a substitute teacher in an unnamed public high school.  Through his eyes, we see the frustration, bitterness, cynicism, and acceptance of his full-time colleagues (played by, among others, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Christina Hendricks, William Peterson, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, and Marcia Gay Harden). The primary blame is placed at the feet of seemingly disinterested parents, although programs like No Child Left Behind with its unfunded mandates and reliance on arbitrary test scores as the be all/end all judgment for struggling schools, takes their licks too. Yes, Mr. Barnes does provide token inspiration to his kids, almost despite himself, but it’s merely because they take his blunt cynicism as a sign of respect. This is, at its core, a character study of someone who has long since given up being the great inspiration to young minds, as well as a brutal deconstruction of that entire concept.

Much of what happens borders on cliché, especially when the film leaves the classroom. He struggles with a student who mistakes simple empathy for paternal/romantic affection, bonds with a female member of the faculty, and deals with a dementia-stricken grandparent (Louis Zorich). But the film works because of the sheer understated power of its frank storytelling. That last subplot plays out in a stunningly powerful fashion, as Brody’s best scene involves offering a token amount of absolution to the dying old man that he really has no business providing. Even the most absurd thread, which sees the overly compassionate educator basically adopting a child prostitute he meets on the street, plays out with an absolute lack of melodrama and ends in a refreshingly realistic fashion.  Adrien Brody is terrific throughout, anchoring the picture with a precise portrait of a man who doesn’t particularly want to save the world, but finds himself so weighed down by his own misery that he occasionally steps up almost by accident.

The film doesn’t break any new ground thematically, but that’s kind of the point. We are no longer shocked by the various flaws in the system we use to educate our youngsters, and yet we constantly take offense at the idea that so many young people seem to have misplaced priorities and/or don’t feel that they are valued by society at large. What sticks with you are individual moments. Isiah Whitlock Jr. has a blistering scene as a bureaucrat lecturing the faculty about how low test scores are only important because they decrease property values. Brody has a wonderful bit in the second act where he explicitly lays out why his young charges should actually give a damn about their own education. And Lucy Liu has one of the best scenes of her career when she finally explodes at a young girl whose only ambition is to hang out with her boyfriend and “do some modeling.”

The film loses a few points to allow Hendricks’s character to serve primarily as a romantic foil, and then allow her to make a rather inexplicable judgment call, as well as a climax that feels the need to bring finality to a story that shouldn’t have a natural “conclusion.” But overall, Detachment works as a powerful character study and a searing indictment of the institutional disinterest in education that allows seemingly dedicated educators to eventually become as much a problem as a solution. Whether taken as gospel or inflated allegory, Detachment is a powerful piece of art.

grade: A-

Taken from Mendelson’s Memos

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