Thursday, July 12, 2012

Relentless Teaching Strikes Again

In May, 2011, Michael Hartoonian, Scholar in Residence at Hamline University (based on their site, a school "affiliated with the United Methodist Church), wrote what I felt was a brilliant piece on the purpose of the public, or as he called it "common", school in the United States.  I believe that it truly helped to explain why public schools are so important to the future of the country.  In order to make sure that my students understood why they were participating in a United States history course in a public school, I had them read the blog post and comment on it as their first on-line discussion topic for the year.  One of my students commented that the piece "really makes you think that these things are not helping us come together as a community. Public schools can act like a building piece to unifying a community. Even American public schools don't even [sic] realize their importance and don't notice their extreme purpose."  Another, "Public school does not only unify us as a community but also help us learn life lessons that we might not be able to figure out on our own."  This blog piece was the perfect to start the school year, and I will certainly use it again.

However, this post from Professor Hartoonian certainly gives it a run for its money.  I tweeted a link to it out twice today in the hope that more people give it a read.  The purpose of the post focus on the lack of civic virtue that exists in the United States today and that part of the reason for that is the changing environment in the public school.  His opening, "What have we learned by enacting laws against bullying or noncompliance with racial integration; or laws addressing curriculum standards or student assessment, school funding, and the testing of teachers?  Primarily, we have learned the recurring lesson that command and control processes are costly, inefficient, and, for the most part, don’t work," sends us off down a road where governments pass laws to protect us from ourselves, because we do not seem to be able to understand our "common ethical duties."  He goes on to list a number of recent situations in which people from both sides of the aisle were subject to ethical "lapses."

He takes us back to Aristotle, with the idea that "Democracies fail because the people become corrupt once they believe that they can have whatever they want, and at little personal cost."  As "President Andrew Sheppard" in the 1995 movie The American President states, "America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."  

Why have we forgotten what means to be an American?  Why have we failed to continue educating our young people about the importance of ethics and civic virtue?  This cannot be only a school issue.  I believe that Professor Hartoonian would agree that this is not only a school issue.  This is a community issue and until we ALL realize the sacrifices that we all must make in order to be part of that community, then we will continue to have ethical problems amaze and astound us, until we regulate and legislate even those things out of us.

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