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Rebuilding the American
Part II

Part I
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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American public schools have a dual or parallel responsibility: to impart knowledge and to promote positive character formation. Ideally, parents should role-model and teach positive character traits. But, the reality is that some children come from homes in which parental skills are deficient or in which abusive behaviors are perpetrated. When students display the negative emotional impact of their home life while in school, then it becomes necessary for school administrators, counsellors and teachers to counteract this impact. [Some schools do not employ school social workers, but counsellors who are generally involved with class schedules, graduation requirements, scholarship information, etc.]

Some students will be able to acquire a positive character through identification with the heroes of American history and literature, or through development of talent in art and music classes. (Artistic expression seems to have an additional benefit of helping students with emotional stability.) The problem nowadays, however, is that history textbooks seem to emphasize the injustices committed in American history, thereby prompting rejection of American values in general and a lack of pride in America's founders and leaders. Literature textbooks also seem to emphasize stories and poems that relate experiences with social injustice.

If a child comes from a troubled family, and then goes to a public school where the country's historical troubles are emphasized, the only other sources influencing identity are the peer group and the television. In his "Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education," Senator Obama asks parents to "to turn off the T.V. and video games, make sure their children are getting their homework done..." Although this is good advice, many television shows (and commercials) are so inappropriate that parents would have to boycott all television-watching in order to begin re-directing their children toward homework and other activities that nurture intellect and character.

Given the improbability of a television boycott, children will continue to absorb and imitate the language, attitudes, and behaviors portrayed through the media. If there is a lack of parental guidance or presence, their curiosity will take them to shows in which sex, violence, and gross humor are the main content. If they have internet access at home, then there is a world of online depravity to lure them away from their math homework.

We can now visualize the condition in which some students enter the classroom. We can appreciate the difficult combination of responsibilities placed on teachers: academic instruction and the shaping of social conduct. Students will display the various consequences of mature development, motivation to learn, emotional damage, or physical and sexual violation. Then, when they sit at their desks and open their history textbooks, they might read that their own country has never cared about their wellbeing. This in itself could be perceived as an act of oppression: the withholding, by means of revisionist history, of a positive national identity and a collective national will. While multiculturalism is supposed to contribute to students' self-esteem, the vilification of America possibly contributes to equally powerful feelings of alienation and hopelessness.

It would be a mistake to assume that all teachers agree with revisionist textbooks, although many teachers have probably graduated from systems of indoctrination education. My personal belief is that most teachers care about kids, even though their training may have been skewed toward the extreme multiculturalist approach. My suspicion is that some new teachers begin to question this approach upon getting their own classroom and experiencing for themselves the difficulty of teaching when the kids are out of control.

The problem with Obama's proposed teacher programs, therefore, is that we might only get more of the same. This would seem especially true of his teacher residency programs and professional development schools (which involve an alliance between the public school and a university). Teachers and prospective teachers would remain connected to the same methods and values of the universities which tend to blame America for past injustices, while understanding and excusing other cultures for similar or worse actions. Obama, a hardcore liberal politically, seems also a product of this type of education indoctrination.

Unlike some critics of public schools, I do not advocate for a complete return to the days of my youth or to other previous generations. Although there were fewer dropouts, fewer teen pregnancies, and greater academic productivity, there were problems of a different sort. Today's critics view public schools as having too much of a psychotherapeutic approach to instructional methodology and to disciplinary procedures--a valid criticism. Teachers are primarily entrusted with the intellectual development of their students, but are also confronted with students' various affective states which cannot be neglected.

The therapeutic approach seems to have developed in reaction to past disrespect of the child's humanity: the practice of harsh punishment, racism, sexism, rigid social conformity, and over-reliance on tests that required student cramming and regurgitating. [Perhaps a topic for another essay would be to evaluate the impact of Carl Rogers' client-centered therapy on student-centered teaching and whether the concept was successfully applied in the public schools. In his book, Inside American Education, published in 1993, Thomas Sowell criticizes Carl Rogers' impact on education.]

Some practices of the past need to be revived or adapted, others should remain discarded forever, and some of today's problems need innovative solutions. In Part III, I will offer my own alternatives to Senator Obama's ideas. (Written 08/11/08: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland