The hilarity that has ensued surrounding the defense of “safe places” in our colleges over the past weeks has been more a testament to the lack of spinal integrity revealed by these generations, these students, who are entrusted with providing the fundamental sustenance for the future survival of our civilization, rather than fodder for late night comedians. From Halloween costumes to chalk drawings on a sidewalk, with now the latest offense, a fellow student raising her hand to ask a question, no offense is too little in the eyes of cringing tyrants terrified at any hint of a ripple of contrarian emotion in their placid pool of placation causing the young despots to recoil from a repulsive horizon of personal responsibility and run wildly, arms outstretched, for the first entity that will nanny their crippled existence. The idea of secondary education as a preparatory rite, a precursor to adulthood, and necessary to a child’s choice of profession is now laughable at best.
These stagnant pools deemed “safe places” by our colleges and universities are the fruits of a tree long well rooted in our educational system. The tactics and concepts of confrontation, rebuttal, challenge, failure, success, repercussion, absolutes, and responsibility have all but disappeared from modern education leaving us with only affirmation, reward, malleability, and compliance. This list is assuredly incomplete given the many levels of education, but the ideas of handing children the latter list of positive affirmations without them first toiling through the more negative aspects of learning has left us as a nation with increasingly stunted professionals, citizens without knowledge. As a result, the title student and the process of learning has become a study in contradiction.
The caricature of the brutal headmaster, vicious school marm, and overbearing nun each wielding a paddle, switch, or a ruler is what some would like to stereotype as an archaic educational system better remembered than used. As usual, the caricature highlights the extreme to diminish the norm. An in-depth study of these “olden times” would reveal much of these quaint school houses, the headmasters , the marms, the nuns built the foundation of societal juggernaut, a civilization the world had never seen with citizens from factory laborers to Presidents, who were well thought, well spoken, well-mannered, and well prepared to build a society. A recently discovered eight grade final exam (circa. 1895 Salina, Kansas) would put more than a ripple into petulant college brats kiddie pool. I know I couldn’t pass it!
Why so much knowledge stuffed into eighth grade brains? Many children never stayed in school past the eight grade. The demands of family farms pulled some out. Some moved on to apprenticeships. Some moved on to help the family business. Teachers knew they had a limited time, but thankfully this time was the time when young minds were most fertile. So teachers taught, demanded, scolded, exhorted, primed, and pumped while students learned, failed, re-learned again, and learned, and learned at a furious rate because they knew time was “awastin’”.
All the mentors that I have had in my life have invariable at times been harsh. Demands were made, with challenges to meet standards set. The standards were not moved when I failed, instead I was simply informed, “That’s wrong.” Furthermore this small statement, a modern catalyst to dis-functionality, was followed up another equally harrowing statement, “Now try it again and do it the right way this time. The way I taught you.”
I cannot count the times, while learning the construction trade, that I’ve torn out a wall I had just built to re-frame it because the lead carpenter said, “That’s wrong.” Usually the admonishment to “fix it” was laced and purpled with many colorful metaphors. But what if someone just fixed it for me and smoothed my wounded pride? I would never learn the correct way to frame and what “not on my job site”, “not on my watch”, “not when my name’s on the sign” really meant.
The conduit of learning that we as society use to pass knowledge from generation to generation is only one piece of the educational apparatus. It connects the teacher to the student. We have so cluttered it with prerequisites to sanitize the educator that stream of knowledge is all but vanished. The final severing is students who have been so indoctrinated with the belief that knowledge must be presented with a complete affirmation of who they are and where they are that they reject any presentation that challenges their preconceptions.
And this is the severing of knowledge to learning,
When mentoring is pampering
Than all knowledge dies,
For lack of transference and stagnating lies