The tranquil scene above is in Joshua Tree Park, California. I remember standing at this pond for a long time after I took the photograph, absorbed in the beauty of nature. This week's theme here in this blog, at least judging by the photographs I have chosen to accompany the posts, appears to be a longing for peace and tranquillity, doesn't it?
I don't have many problems. Compared to times past in my own life, and compared to what other people (including some readers of this blog) endure, I have nothing to complain about. When I rant about something, it is not with a view to wanting help to solve a problem, or even to solicit sympathy. I am more interested in encouraging people to think for themselves, rather than looking for someone else to solve their problems, pay their bills, and do everything but live their lives for them.
Having said that, there are people out there who have been through hell. Some, through tenacity and sacrifice, have been able to make it a return trip. They haven't let life beat them down. I have a great deal of admiration for people like that. Angela Giles Klocke is one of those people. Read an ongoing account of her life, published on the internet under the title 13, and it puts a lot of things into perspective. Life can be tough, but with some guts and determination, it can be beat into submission. Angela has done that. She is one gutsy gal.
So is Penny. She has had an interesting life, including addiction to drugs and alcohol. Like Angela, Penny has guts and focus. She is raising a bright and beautiful young daughter and works and attends university classes. There are still ups and downs in her life, but she is a fighter and she will win. And when she finishes her university courses and gets her degree, watch out. She has the tenacity and the determination to make a real difference in this world.
Sometimes, that is what it is really all about, isn't it? I don't think it is important how much money we have, whether we have bigger and better toys than our neighbours, or whether we wear designer clothes or shop at Wal-Mart. What is important is that we are happy and secure in ourselves and that we present a good example to those around us.
The problem is that we are doing a very poor job of passing on the things that really count to our children. We might stress responsibility to our kids at home, but our educational systems do everything but tell our children that they are passive and helpless creatures who have nothing at all to do with success or failure in their own lives. If a child doesn't learn, it is because the teacher doesn't do a good job of teaching. If another child is disruptive and inattentive in class, it is because the teacher hasn't found a way to engage the child and keep her interested. This is nonsense, of course, but that's what is going on in our schools.
I know this is a common refrain here, folks, but we are screwing up our kids. I send my son to school to be taught. I expect him to pay attention, absorb what is going on, get good marks and prepare for a good future, and make me proud in the process. I don't want him to be a disruptive force in the classroom, making it difficult for other students to focus on their studies and spend their class time fruitfully. Neither do I want other students to be able to disrupt the classroom environment, making it difficult for him to learn anything. Kids who can't or won't learn should be removed from class. Period. Teachers have no time to be baby-sitters, psychologists, sociologists, or even jailers. Class time is for teaching. That's it.
Since the sixties, there has been a push to make the educational experience all warm and fuzzy for our little darlings and to make every student feel that he or she is 'special.' Teachers are expected to help the kids develop self esteem and to feel good about themselves. I have said this before, but I will repeat it again: You can't give self esteem. Self esteem is something you develop in yourself and it has to be earned. And, if you feel good about yourself it will be because you did something for which you can be proud, not because the teacher gave you an C when you only deserved an F, or because the system passed you into the next grade when you should have failed and repeated the year in your old grade. Children aren't stupid. They know when they have earned something or not. If they are awarded success instead of the failure they have earned, they know that it is unjustified. They will learn to expect to be coddled throughout their lives. They will never take responsibility for any failure. They will feel entitled to whatever those have who have actually earned their success. They will become useless leeches on the productive in society.
Western civilization is under a lot of stress at the moment. Do we need to add yet another generation of lazy, irresponsible louts when what we need are responsible and hard-working individuals who will help undo the errors and excesses of their parents? We are sinking, folks, and we need active swimmers, not floaters.
I am in no way suggesting that everyone is lazy and shiftless and useless. What I am saying is that how our children turn out is mostly a function of the values and habits that they learn at home. Many children succeed in spite of the educational system, not because of it.
The problems in our educational systems are not the fault of the teachers. Teachers have an incredibly difficult job. I couldn't do it, at least not in the current system. I wouldn't want to engage students, to make them feel good about themselves, or any other warm and fuzzy waste of time and energy. I would want them to come to class ready to participate and eager to learn. And if they didn't measure up to standards appropriate to the class and curriculum, they would fail.
Failure isn't bad. It is a part of life. When you fail at something, it teaches you that you haven't worked at something hard enough, that you haven't paid enough attention, or maybe that you simply can't succeed at that particular task, or in that specific situation, and that perhaps you should try something else. Can't cut it academically? Take a trade. Plumbers and electricians and machinists make a lot of money and do something useful. We don't need any more professional do-gooders who contribute nothing more to our lives than new and 'improved' methods of deluding and torturing ourselves.
Every child should repeat to themselves, every day, until it becomes part of their subconscious, some variant of the following mantra:
"I alone am responsible for my life and what I do with it. My success or failure is a direct consequence of what I do or don't do with my life. I will try to do my very best, every single day, and I will never, ever, expect anyone else to think for me or to solve my problems. I am an individual, not a cog in the wheel of society. I will make myself proud."
That would be a good start.