Making Our Children More Human

Our country is facing a real crisis of leadership. It seems that nowadays leaders refuse to take responsibility for their actions; there is little remorse shown when they are caught engaging in morally dubious behaviour, and instead find ways to justify themselves and blame others. And it is not just a political predicament either. Our churches, our schools and our families are floundering too.

I spend more and more of my time, as a teacher, counselling young people, who are deeply hurt. Our society places more pressure on young people academically than ever before – they are competing for increasingly limited vacancies in the workplace or for places in institutions of tertiary study. But tough economic times and sometimes just poor parenting have caused parents to be (I like to think unintentionally) absent much of the time, resulting in children having little support at home, despite the increased pressure.

And the schooling systems – where young people spend the majority of their waking time – don’t really care, because they are too busy trying to maintain pass rates and achieve distinctions – more interested in grades than in children. Schooling has, in my opinion, been so commodified by capitalist expectations that we forget (or worse: wilfully ignore) the dangers of removing values from education. Priorities are completely skewed, and children are suffering.

Youngsters also have pressure from the media, trying to sell them certain insecurities in order to shape them into ideal consumers. And they often fall for it. Most teenagers are still developing a sense of self, trying to establish what it is that makes them unique, special, worthwhile. And when schools and parents abdicate their responsibility to guide them on this journey, where do we expect them to turn?

As I said, we are facing a real crisis of leadership. That is why one of my core values is leadership:

Leadership: I will ensure that the vision by which I lead others is Godly and true, and aimed at restoration. I will not ask people to go where I am not prepared to walk. Leadership means empowering others.

I will focus need to discuss leadership over several posts, and will start with this idea: there is no effective leadership unless the leader has a very clear sense that he/she is taking people to an important place, and knows what that place is.

It is for this reason that I think we are facing such a crisis. Our leaders – whether in politics, schools or families – are following their own agendas of personal advancement, with little regard for the impact their ‘progress’ will have on those entrusted to their care. As long as the leader’s goal is more power, more money or more status, the group being led will suffer.

Now I believe that everybody has some form of power, and should carefully consider how they use it, but as a teacher I have, on a daily basis, substantially more power and opportunity to shape lives than many people get in their lifetimes. How can I then even begin to think of my job purely as an academic enterprise? I am constantly surprised and disappointed by teachers who see their job simply within the framework of an academic discipline.

I know that it is not particularly politically correct to teach values, because we don’t want to risk offending people or making them uncomfortable. It is easier to fly under the radar and teach from the neck up. No questions will be asked. Nobody will take umbrage at the fact that we have the audacity to make them reflect on their attitudes, beliefs or behaviour. It is much better to refuse to engage in dialogue that will help us understand where others profoundly disagree with us, because then we might have to challenge our own worldviews. We cannot understand that disagreement and intolerance are different concepts. As long as our schools produce socially acceptable academic results, then, we can convince ourselves that we are doing our jobs.

But I believe in effective leadership. I will not shy away from uncomfortable discussions, because often our most profound growth happens when we are offended and uncomfortable.

I will teach – and by default lead – with a very distinct goal in mind: to take young people from the place where society has left them, abandoned and broken in some way or another, to a place of hope. I will try encourage them to take heart, to believe in their worth as children of God. I will not be satisfied with a 100% pass rate or any number of distinctions. Good grades cannot be the gauge of effective teaching. I will not be complicit in raising a generation of educated psychopaths. Every time I read it, I am moved by this plea:

Dear Teachers:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

Haim G. Ginott (“Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers”)

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