I chanced upon an earlier writing from my journal this morning -- from 1999! before I was married! before 9/11! -- that reminded me that the current issues I face and the problems of my life (and public education) haven't improved but only intensified.
I have been tempered by my fiery experiences. Like the bystander who falls hands-and-face-first onto a hot grill – and has been held down on that broiling surface for a time – I’ve learned to stay away from hot issues! With the naïveté and bravado of fearless innocence, I explored every field of inquiry and ventured down every path in which I harbored some curiosity or doubt. I now know that certain subjects are DEATH, professionally and personally. While the world’s reaction to moral and social change is a morose blend of hypocrisy and stupidity, it is, by necessity, the only reaction permissible in today’s eclectic environment. Administrators, above all else, must appear “even-handed” and governed by (however vague) “principles” in their dealings with students and teachers, even if that even-handedness dictates wildly disproportional and inappropriate responses to mundane and trivial issues.
For example, I read in the paper yesterday how one school district had banned “weapons” at school, enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy. Any knife, no matter how small or for what purpose, was considered a “weapon.” A mother unknowingly placed a paring knife in her 10-year-old daughter’s lunch box to use to cut her apple. The daughter, aware of the school’s prohibition of such tools, turned the knife in to her teacher. The teacher said, “You did the right thing.” The girl was summarily expelled.
Such is the mindless, legalistic way in which administrators approach education today. Their hands are tied. Their brains are checked at the door. Every decision they make is filtered and focused on the bottom line: “What legal and financial repercussions may come to us as a result of making this decision? Taking this action? Enforcing this policy?”
I foremost fear the almost Nazi-like influence urging us all toward a universal, amoral “conformity” at school, in the work place, and in politics. “I’m just following orders.” “My personal opinions are inconsequential.” “It's school policy; I must enforce it. I’m not allowed to interpret it.” “I can’t afford to lose my job over this.” “It’s for everyone’s good.” “It’s the law.” The usurpation of individual will, morality, and accountability is almost complete, swallowed up by a near-universal acquiescence to a popular (but ill-defined and misguided), legally imposed, irreligious “political correctness.”
Just as discrimination against – and, ultimately, the extermination of – Jews in Nazi Germany became commonplace and the ultimate in “political correctness,” the extermination of morality and individual freedom – in the name of doing the “public good” and eliminating “undesirable influences” – is well underway in public classrooms today. A teacher is practically proscribed from even mentioning God, religion, morality or any other personal devotion (unless, of course, one is gay!) – for fear of offending some miscreant minority. To be fair and nonjudgmental, not only will one’s aberrant religious or moral persuasions not be tolerated, but no religious or moral persuasion will be tolerated!
In this discouraging environment of suspicion and suppression, even common scholastic tools – like rubber bands and scissors! – have been grossly mischaracterized and defined as “weapons” by school authorities and the offending users – the “perpetrators” – expelled. God, morality, personal affection and familiarity have, likewise, been defined as “threatening” and “inappropriate” in the public forum. Teachers have been innocently victimized for simply trying to do the right thing: for comforting a crying child with a hug, for reprimanding a misbehaving student with a stern word, for complimenting someone’s appropriate attire, for upholding principles of morality and family.
Nowadays a teacher cannot openly define or even refer to a “real” family as one consisting of both father and mother. Without permission, a teacher cannot stop or discourage children from creating children of their own. A teacher cannot quote from the Bible. A teacher cannot “appropriately” give an affectionate or supportive hug or gesture, even to a crying child, without fear of being found “at fault” for perceived “sexual harassment.” A teacher cannot “buck” the system, for whatever reason, without paying a very high price, without placing in jeopardy one’s entire professional career – a career which can so easily be dispensed with in this intolerant “era of global tolerance.”
Teachers nowadays are placed in almost impossible, indefensible situations. For example, if a student asks a teacher in class if that teacher is homosexual, the teacher cannot legally deny that they are! – for fear of offending homosexuals or for fear of otherwise interjecting – or allowing to be interjected – inappropriate or unsanctioned discussions of sexuality and morality in the classroom. (Schools can hand out condoms to students! But teachers cannot say “I’m abstinent and straight!”)
This dearth of moral direction in our public school systems is unconscionable. Teachers are no longer encouraged to be role models, merely robots. Incredibly, teachers are expected to assume all of the responsibilities of an absentee parent, but with none of the rights, powers, or privileges. As modern teachers, we are requested, even required, to be mostly mindless “sentinels,” not real warriors. We are expected to report abuse and danger to our superiors (where we see it), but not actively prevent or oppose any of it. As instructors, we spew forth only morally sanitized academic dogma, while standing idly and silently by as we witness myriad youths rush off to their doom. The many constraints placed upon teachers effectively eliminate most of the divine inspiration or influence they might otherwise bring to the classroom and to children’s lives. Schools thus have become largely Godless, valueless “dens of iniquity,” where the seeds of sexuality, sinfulness, and soul-lessness are sown.
Why do I want to be a teacher? It used to be because I wanted to make a difference, to do something worthwhile, to make a positive contribution to society. I feel now like I’m volunteering for a cause that requires making many massive compromises of my own personality and character. I must mask who I am, what I do, and what I stand for. I must remain a light, but only a very dim light, shrouded in secrecy and controversy so that none but the most discriminating or intrusive may discern me. Certainly I cannot let my light so shine – ironically, in this environment whose very purpose is purportedly dedicated to the shedding of light, to enlightenment. It’s a tremendous irony. And a travesty.
But a travesty with a very simple solution: Let people have a choice. Let parents select where to send their kids and what to teach them: either to secular, public schools or to private (even religious) institutions. To have dress codes or not to have dress codes. To punish stealing and cheating, or to reward it. To exercise common sense, or universal totalitarianism. To pray to God or to curse like the Dickens! Let the people have their tax dollars (or their vouchers) to work with, scholastically, to do with as they please, so that they may raise their own children academically and morally as they see fit.
This whole “one nation, under God” thing is a modern sham, anyway. (The only ones who currently are universally discouraged and discriminated against in public places are, in fact, the God-fearing!) Virtually everyone today (except the righteous, it is determined) is allowed to practice what they preach whenever and wherever they wish.
Every imaginable spiritual devotion is now incorporated into modern American society – be it the worship of Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, Buddha, or the devil! Every imaginable behavior and situation is now commonplace in our classrooms: weapons in school, handing out condoms from campus dispensaries, homosexual or cross-dressing teachers requiring acceptance by the community, gangs and individuals demanding that their particular behavior or persuasion not just be popularly tolerated, but celebrated! “Gay Pride Day!” “Cinco de Mayo!” “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People!” We, as a nation, are a cauldron of incompatibilities, conflicts, and schisms.
American school children should not have to check their morality and conscience at the classroom door. They should not be compelled to conform to a system that is bent on making everyone and everything unnaturally equal. They should not be forced to embrace the mendacity that there are no moral absolutes – no sins, no evils – just “choices” and “lifestyles.” They should not be brainwashed into believing that criminals and deviants deserve to be tolerated and accommodated on par with everyone else. They should not be encouraged to see a paring knife as the “real” enemy, while being forced to accept (and celebrate) tolerance for moral turpitude or embrace immorality and academic mediocrity.
It seems that the balkanization of believers and non-believers is the only solution. People should be allowed, in this great land of freedom, to form their own schools, to practice and preach whatever principles and procedures they feel compelled to be governed by. The power to exercise prudent self-government and self-discipline should be returned to the people.
However, I fear that such a “solution” – while beneficial to the inspired minority – would certainly be catastrophic to the majority. (With this insight, General Mormon remained devoted to public service of his otherwise doomed and uninspired Nephite countrymen.) We are, indeed, the salt of the earth. And if the earth loses its savor, its salt, wherewith shall the earth be salted? We are the light of the world. If we altogether withdraw from the public forum – however corrupt – who then shall lead the blind? The whole world shall quickly stumble into darkness. No man – or nation – is an island. The repercussions of one nation’s (or one person’s) defiant disregard for inspired principles must inevitably affect all of us, being carried on the ill-winds of global (and interpersonal) connectedness. We all breathe the same air. We all drink the same recycled waters. We cannot, at all, escape each ripple in this universal pond.