The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country. -- Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, 1749
Old Ben must be spinning in his grave. You see, for the past several decades those who run the educational establishment have churned out graduates who were indoctrinated with the idea that self-esteem is in no way tied to knowledge, performance or any other objective standard. Thus you get young adults who can’t write a paragraph or even speak a full sentence that is understandable except by others equally ignorant of English grammar and syntax. Think: text messaging, emoticons, stylized misspellings, etc.
In their misguided efforts to provide our youth with self-confidence, they have abandoned the traditional method of linking academic performance and achievement as the source of pride and self-esteem in favor of the “fog up a mirror” method. Haven’t heard of that method? It goes something like this: if you are breathing (determined by holding a mirror up to your nostrils; if your breath fogs up the mirror, it proves you’re alive), then you’re “special,” a “unique individual” who should be very proud of yourself, regardless of how you behave, what you know or understand, what you’re able to do, how you treat others, etc.
No performance standards, of course, for those are oppressive and exclusionary; can you imagine the damage to tender psyches that is involved if a child scores poorly on test, or (gasp!) even fails? To prevent such traumatic interruptions in their development, we have pass/fail grading, self-directed learning and individualized learning plans. You know, to accommodate the “unique learning styles” of each individual student.
One result of this approach, of course, is the rejection by young people of any and all standards. After all, if they’re told and shown repeatedly that it’s their individual opinion, belief and understanding that is most important, and that objective standards are arbitrary, meaningless rules, often based on bias (racial, cultural, gender, sexual orientation, et al), then challenging job performance standards, for example, or DMV requirements, traditional standards of attire, public behavior, language, etc., is a natural outcome.
Moral standards, too, such as character, integrity and honesty, are easily rejected as oppressive rules imposed by “dead, old white men” that no longer have “relevance.” That relevance, of course, is totally subjective, and each person determines for himself/herself if they want to subject themselves to such concepts. In the wholesale abandonment of religious beliefs by young people around the time they go off to college we can see the true impact of this radical individualism. When you consider that our Founders expressly stated that our democratic republic is fit only for “a moral and religious people,” the impact of that individualism is frighteningly apparent.
But is there any real proof that our young people are straying from traditional moral beliefs? According to the non-profit Josephson Institute, there’s plenty. For several years now they’ve taken a survey of high school kids about lying, cheating and stealing, and the decline of traditional moral standards is readily apparent in the responses. In their 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, the Institute said that responses from almost 30,000 teenagers “reveal entrenched habits of dishonesty for the workforce of the future.”
The responses from our next generation’s politicians, teachers, cops and corporate executives should alarm you. Overall, 30% of students admitted to stealing from a store during the past year, a two percent increase from 2006. Cheating in school is rampant, according to the survey, and continues to get worse: 64% said they had cheated on tests, an increase of four percent since 2006. Thirty-eight percent admitted to cheating two or more times.
The responses about lying are even worse: 83% of public school and private religious school students admitted to lying to their parents about something significant (78% of those attending independent non-religious schools admitted to lying).
"As bad as these numbers are,” the surveyors warned, “it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America’s youth,” since more than a fourth of the students (26 percent) admitted they had lied on at least one or two of the survey questions! (What, you’re surprised?)
The most disturbing part of the survey, however, is that “despite these high levels of dishonesty, these kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics.” Seventy-seven percent of the students surveyed said that when it comes to doing what is right, “I am better than most people I know.” And 93% of the students indicated satisfaction with their own character and ethics!
In the 50s and even into the 60s, our schools were preparing America’s youth not only to think and reason, but also to recognize the benefits to self and society of moral and behavioral standards developed through the experience of thousands of years of human history. However, in less than four decades the liberal/socialist educational establishment has succeeded in destroying those standards in the minds of many young Americans.
Franklin said it is the principle object of almost all governments to endow and support schools in order to “…supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.” Qualified? Serve? Honor? Only if everyone in the past three generations are planning to pursue careers in politics, where those words apparently have terribly different meanings than they hold for ordinary Americans.
Formerly a liberal and an atheist, Paul E. Scates served as a Marine in Vietnam and is a lifelong student of American history, politics and culture. A former contributor to national website TooGoodReports.com, he writes his staunchly independent Conservative and informed Christian commentary for his fellow ordinary, working Americans, the “we, the people” who are ultimately responsible for preserving our Constitutional liberties.