The Younger Generation

It’s a cliché that the older generation has complained about the younger generation since God wore short pants, as they say. But I have been maintaining for some time now that something new has appeared on the horizon; the “millennials” — those born in the middle to late 80s of the last century — are a new breed posing new problems.

Accordingly it was most interesting to come across an interview with Simon Sinek, a “Leadership Expert” (?), on You-Tube who is making quite a splash with his analysis of “what is wrong with the present generation.”  According to Sinek there are four major areas of concern that must be explored to understand what is going on. He stresses that he is not making judgments about the younger generation and he refuses to blame them. Rather, he blames (1) bad parenting, (2) technology, (3) impatience, and (4) the environment.

I have touched on most, if not all, of these points in many of my blogs — most especially the “self-esteem” movement that has caught fire in the schools and in parenting (thereby contributing to what Sinek calls “bad parenting”). This movement rests upon the totally false psychological premise that by praising kids endlessly we will raise their self-esteem, whereas clinical studies have shown that false praise and the awarding of such things as “participation trophies” actually decreases self-esteem. It sends false messages and instills in the young an expectation to be praised for everything they do, thereby reducing their motivation to actually put out an effort to achieve something difficult. It leads invariably to a sense of “entitlement” on the part of growing young people. True achievement, of course, would in fact raise their self-esteem and would give them a sense of satisfaction they now expect to receive for no effort whatever.

Sinek stresses how damaging this is to the young who know, deep down, that they have done nothing to deserve the praise. But worse yet, they later become depressed because they do not receive the same praise for every effort when out in the workplace — the “environment” of which Sinek speaks. In the real world of real work, folks have to make an effort and many times their efforts are unrewarded. That’s just how it is. But Sinek has himself interviewed a great many bright and able young people who, after a few months on the job, find themselves deeply depressed and disillusioned, even suicidal. Others drift with no goal or sense of purpose. They simply are not getting the stroking they have become used to.

Of considerable interest to me is Sinek’s second point, the factor of technology in the world of the young. In a word, the electronic toys. I have written endlessly (some would say) about this problem as these toys have always seemed to me to drive the users deeper within themselves and to construct barriers between themselves and the world outside themselves. They promote what I have called the “inversion of consciousness,” preoccupation with the self and its reactions. Worse yet, Sinek says there is considerable evidence that these electronic toys are addictive. Like such things as gambling and alcohol, social media and the “likes” on the toys increases levels of dopamine, the chemical in the brain that is increased in addictive behaviors. Thus our intuitive sense that these toys are addictive is well-founded. We (and this includes the schools that hand out electronic toys as a sign of their advanced educational views) are handing these young kids an invitation to become involved in a make-believe world where they are all-powerful at the center and which they find increasingly difficult to escape from — much like the alcoholic who tries to go on the wagon.

The third item on his list, it seems to me, is the result of a combination of #1 and #2 above: the refusal of parents to deny their kids anything coupled with the ready availability of toys that provide users with immediate gratification in so many ways. They are impatient because they have never learned to put off gratification for a later and fuller sense of satisfaction. So many parents tell us that they don’t want their kids to have to “do without” as they did — while it may very well be that putting off gratification, learning self-discipline, is the key to true satisfaction and happiness.

Sinek is not long on solutions, suggesting only that we encourage the young to put aside their iPhones and iPads for a few hours each day and try to build bridges with other people in the real world. This is an excellent suggestion, but one that is easier said than done.  It takes “tough love” on the part of parents who truly care about their children and who are determined to take more time to be with their kids and interact with them on a personal level. And the schools need to get back to good teaching and stop turning the kids into addicts .

The only other element I would add to Sinek’s list above is the entertainment industry which compounds the problems Sinek points out. The ultimate cause of the problems he discusses is the removal of these young people from the real world, the weakening of what Freud calls “the reality principle” that allows them to function fully in the world of people and things, interact with others, build meaningful relationships, and find true joy in living and working in the world. This, in my view, is the central problem and it is one that we all need to think about and deal with in our interactions with a  generation that is in danger of becoming lost in a world of make-believe where their sense of power and importance is imaginary and can never live up to the real thing. This must ultimately lead to depression — and worse. And the cost to society at large is beyond reckoning.

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Resentment

There’s an interesting Special Report in this week’s Sports Illustrated about Johnny Manziel’s downfall from the heights he had attained as a football player. The report suggests that his problem stems from the fact that he came from a wealthy family and never really had to work for anything. Nor was he denied anything, apparently. The author of the report, Emily Kaplan, suggests that he is the product of entitlement, the sense that so many young people have as a result of being spoiled.

In Johnny Football’s case, this came to a head in his second year with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL when he was put into a game after the starting quarterback was injured and brought the team back to one of their very few wins in what had been an inglorious season. He expected to be named the starting quarterback but when the starter recovered and was restored to the highest post, Johnny Football “lost it.” He has had a history, apparently, of sulking and feeling sorry for himself when he doesn’t get what he wants and he goes on a binge, drinking himself silly. He frequently makes mistakes while drunk and later apologies and expects to be forgiven. After several attempts to help Johnny with his problem, the Browns finally gave up and Manziel’s future as a professional football player is in doubt.

I have written about the entitlement issue before and I have argued that it stems, in part at least, from the “self esteem” movement that has swept the lower grades in our schools and has also been bought into by a great many people in the culture at large where trophies are now given to kids simply for “participation” in various events.  The movement reinforces the tendency that parents have shown to try to give their kids the things they themselves lacked while growing up. Everyone wins. No one loses. This, of course, is bollocks. There are winners and there are losers and all of us are one or the other at some point in our lives. Indeed, we almost certainly learn more from our losses than we do from our wins. In any event, the issue goes deep into our collective psyche.

Christopher Lasch has written extensively about what he calls out social “narcissism,” our self-involvement, which, he insists, stems from the lack of an authority figure in our lives. When the child is told he is terrific and begins to think he can walk on water because he has been told he can be anything he wants to be; when fathers and mothers fail to draw lines and punish their children when those lines are ignored; when everyone is given a trophy and high grades; when these sorts of things start to happen the child becomes disoriented. He doesn’t know where the lines are — if there are any. He starts to do whatever it takes to draw attention to himself in order to see if there are any lines. When he discovers that there are none, or at least none that are clearly drawn, he starts to draw his own. When this behavior is augmented in school by teachers who tell him he can do no wrong, that all his projects are A+, he begins to have a very large idea of himself. This scenario, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. In Johnny Manziel’s case it is simply writ large and we can see that his sense of what Joseph Butler called “resentment” led him to believe that when he doesn’t get what he wants he should respond by “getting even,” paying back those who have denied him the treasure he thinks he deserves. As Butler noted in this regard:

Although moral evil gives rise to pain which can strengthen this settled resentment, the object of the resentment is not the pain or harm done but instead the design or intention to morally injure, harm, do wrong and injustice. And the goal of resentment is to cause appropriate injury in a wrongdoer. . .

This is the “I’ll show YOU!” syndrome of the spoiled child; it is the first step down a slippery slope toward certain disaster. Ironically, in Manziel’s case the “wrongdoer” turns out to be himself.

One worries about Johnny Manziel. One ought also to worry about those others who are in his shadow and are following the same path downwards. There are many more of them than we might want to admit even though their stories don’t make Sports Illustrated.

Disappointments

I have just returned from a train ride to Cooperstown and back which gave me time to reflect on many things — and time away from the blog, which was a bit of relief, I must say. One of the things I reflected on was a number of huge disappointments in my life. As one gets older, I am told, this is the way the mind wanders.

I attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in (of all places) Baltimore, Maryland. Every year the students put on what were called the “Poly Follies.” It took several days and was well attended. It also required the printing and handing out of hundreds of programs. In my senior year the art department decided to have a contest to pick the cover for the program. It was a big deal and I hurried home after hearing the announcement and spent the entire weekend drawing and painting three covers — at least one of which I thought pretty good. At that time I drew and painted a bit and even submitted several pen and ink cartoons that were included in that year’s Yearbook. In any event, I was sure I would win (of course). But when the winner was announced and the cover placed in a large glass case in the main hall, along with all of the other submissions, none of mine were there. I was stunned. There were the three top covers and also all of the other submissions — none of which I thought as good as mine (!) In any event, I was deeply hurt to have my hard work ignored like that. So I went to the art department and reminded the teacher that I had submitted three covers which had not been displayed with the rest. A sudden look of awareness appeared in his eyes as he remembered my submissions, which he had placed in a cupboard below one of the art tables. I had submitted mine early and he obviously forgot all about it. I sensed that, but it simply increased the pain. I had been ignored and my covers were never even considered: they were in that cupboard the whole time.

The point of this little story, which recounts one of several disappointments I reflected on during the long train ride, is that disappointment is a part of life. The move today, which I have remarked upon repeatedly, to build our children’s self-esteem and help young people avoid pain and disappointment at all costs may be costing them the growth they require to develop as whole persons. It is the pain and disappointment that deepen sensibilities and broaden our perspectives and help us grow. Our society’s determination to disallow these experiences on the part of our children is a mistake of the first order, I believe, and I call on Dostoevsky as an authority on the subject. He was convinced that suffering is essential for the development of the human person. And he should know as he suffered a great deal himself and witnessed it in many others.  It is not something we should encourage, of course, but it is something we should allow as part of the necessary steps in growing up — along with failure from which we learn so much about ourselves. In its place, we try to guarantee our children only pleasure; we have self-esteem movements in the schools and at home where no one is denied and everyone gets a prize, while only a few truly deserve it; this in turn has devolved into the entitlement we see all around us where spoiled children grow into shallow, spoiled adults whose attention is turned only on themselves.

I don’t regard myself as exemplary, by any means; but I am aware that most of the people I admire and respect have had many disappointments in their lives and have suffered at times a great deal. Dostoevsky may have overstated the case by insisting that suffering is essential to becoming fully human, but our attempts to protect the young from every type of disappointment and harm is assuredly misguided.

Take Jameis Winston, e.g.

The off-field activities of the college football player Jameis Winston are most thought-provoking. As you may recall, he is the Sophomore quarterback at Florida State University where he won the Heisman trophy as a Freshmen. As was the case with “Johnny Football” before him, the award and subsequent attention seem to have gone to his head. Winston is under investigation by the University for alleged rape of a young women last year. He was also arrested for shop-lifting some crab-legs. And recently he was suspended by his team (for half a game!) for standing on a table in the student union and shouting obscenities. In each case he appeared before the public in a choreographed press conference where he told the gathered reporters that he has learned his lesson and this will not happen again. Yeah, right. He is an example of a self-involved youth who feels himself entitled to special treatment. After all, he has received it most of his life, why not now? And, of course, there are growing numbers of athletes at the collegiate and professional levels whose behavior is not only violent, but also exemplify the type of person described by Thomas Jefferson (of all people) in the early part of the nineteenth century:

“Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, or a stateroom, pamper them with high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensualities, nourish their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind.”

There is a good deal of talk about holding athletes to a “higher standard of decency,” but I would be perfectly satisfied if they were held to the same standards as everyone else: one would not expect anyone to stand on a table in a public place shouting obscenities, to rape young women, or to steal crab legs. But let us not assume for a moment that this sort of behavior is limited to spoiled athletes. Let us admit that today’s youth — well into adulthood — have been so indulged. In our schools where self-esteem is the name of the game, spoiled children, raised by tired, preoccupied parents who have been told by so-called “experts” not to thwart the child’s natural instincts, develop a sense of entitlement that assures each of them that they are the only ones that really matter in this world. They, too, resemble Jefferson’s type described above: they become “all body and no mind.” The example of athletes such as Winston are simply extreme cases of a phenomenon that has become widespread in this culture. Attention might be focused on those who seem larger than life, but while we may criticize their behavior we must admit that they are encouraged in our culture to behave in this manner and they are tokens of a type. Further, they have been told that if they appear sincere and say they are sorry they will be forgiven. After all, we want to see them play on Saturday . . . or Sunday . . .  or Monday night . . . or Thursday night.

In any event, let us keep our eye on the larger picture where a sense of entitlement is increasingly common, and certainly not restricted to athletes.  It is an attitude fostered in the homes and at school, and it stems from the wave of pop-psychology books that were published in the 1950s and 1960s telling parents and teachers how to raise and teach their children. So their parents, exhausted from the work-a-day world where they struggle to provide their families with “necessities,” seldom discipline their children; and in school, where the self-esteem movement has roots going back to Rousseau, they are told they are terrific when they are not. This is certain to turn out young people who feel entitled to whatever it is they think they might want.

Jefferson knew a thing or two. We shouldn’t wonder at the behavior of spoiled, rich athletes or kids out of control: the chickens are coming home to roost.

Lead Story

The firing of the Rutgers basketball coach, Mike Rice, — and the athletics director as well — remains the lead story on ESPN. I have blogged about it before because it raises so many questions about the priorities — or lack of priorities — at our major universities where the tail does indeed wag the dog: athletics trumps academics.

But there is another side to the question. I will not make any attempt whatever to justify the coach’s behavior, or that of the athletics director who simply tried to look the other way, but I think we might do well to try to understand what might be going on here — and in many other athletics programs across the country as well. Let me begin with a story close to home.

A good friend of mine was the superintendent of our small school here in my home town. During most of his tenure he was housed in the old school where the gymnasium was located on the same floor as most of the classrooms and as a general rule, except for PE classes, the gym was not to be used during school hours. One morning, my friend, whose office was just down the hall from the gym, heard the sounds of a basketball dribbling and hitting the rim of the basket. The noise went on for some time and was amplified by virtue of the poor acoustics in the empty gymnasium. My friend went out on the floor of the gym and confronted the student about the noise he was making and the fact that he was breaking a school rule. The student looked him in the face and told him to “fuck off.”  In the end my friend was able to have the young man removed from the school property and the student was later suspended — as his parents shouted “foul” and attempted to have the superintendent fired from his job. I dare to say that in one form of another this story is echoed countless times across this land in gymnasiums and even in classrooms — as I infer from some of the blogs I have read by my teacher-friends who have very unsettling stories to tell about their experiences in their classrooms.

But what can we expect? Parents spend very little time any more raising their kids who, as they grow up, are told they can do no wrong. Their sense of entitlement knows no bounds. Even if the parents wanted to raise their kids with some “tough love” they have been told punishment and discipline are taboo and are almost certainly going to thwart their child’s potential — or some other psychobabble. Further, the kids go to school where the teachers are not allowed to lay a hand on them and are told they must raise the students’ self-esteem while at the same time they try to teach these self-important, spoiled children basic subjects they will need to know as they grow into responsible adulthood.  So we have students in our schools who have had everything handed to them and who expect the royal treatment wherever they go. And the athletes have even a higher level of expectation — if they are any good — because dozens of college coaches are after them to have them play for their team. We begin to get a picture of spoiled kids with high levels of self-esteem and unreasonable expectations who are somehow supposed to be turned into a team — or taught arithmetic and basic grammar. It’s unreasonable to expect a coach or a teacher to keep himself or herself on such a short lead for the entire school year. The remarkable thing is that more of them don’t snap and start throwing basketballs at their charges. Or worse.

Again, I do not condone Mike Rice’s behavior at Rutgers, especially since his behavior is apparently chronic and not just a one-time thing. Coaches should not lay a hand in anger on the players in their charge, and the man should have been summarily fired: the coaches themselves should know what they are signing on for in this day and age of narcissistic athletes. Indeed, as noted, they are in part responsible. But one can understand why this sort of out-of-control behavior occurs and the responsibility may ultimately come back to the parents and the culture at large.

Self Esteem Examined

In a recent blog I argued that the self-esteem movement that permeates the schools has also infiltrated other aspects of our culture — such as religion. My argument may or may not be sound, but it occurs to me that it really doesn’t matter unless I can make a strong case that the phenomenon we call the “self-esteem” movement is not necessarily a good thing. On its face we would think that we would want our kids to feel good about themselves and that an educational theory built around the concept of self-esteem would be a sound one that guarantees success in the classroom and later in life. Not so.

I will call on Maureen Stout who holds a PhD in Education from UCLA and now teaches at California State University in Northridge. In 2000 she wrote the book on the self-esteem movement, titled The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing Down of America’s Kids in the Name of Self Esteem. The book is based on careful research and first-hand experience.  One of the key chapters begins as follows:

“. . .the self-esteem movement has slowly infiltrated education to the point that today most educators believe developing self-esteem to be one of the primary purposes of public education. As a result, schools are providing more courses in ‘life skills’ and less attention on academics, which are the sore of a liberal education. The very essence of public schooling is thus being transformed. We are in danger of producing individuals who are expert at knowing how they feel rather than educated individuals who know how to think.. . .The self-esteem movement infiltrates virtually every aspect of schooling from teaching methods to evaluation to curriculum planning. It is the most popular of all the fads, and the most dangerous. . . .The preponderance of evidence illustrates that self-esteem is irrelevant in all areas of education.”

Now whether we agree with Dr. Stout that this movement is “dangerous” it is certainly worth careful scrutiny. We can see how insidious it is by means of a brief thought experiment. Imagine, if you will a young child faced with a barrier. We have lowered the barrier in order to allow the child to step over it easily. After she has done so we applaud her and tell her what a terrific job she has done. As she stands basking in our praise she notices other children stepping over the barrier and also receiving applause and affection. It appears to be the norm: all of the other children make it over the barrier easily and all receive praise. As she reflects on this her sense of having achieved something special disappears in a cloud of disappointment and a suspicion that something just isn’t right.

Compare this with another child who is asked to hop over a barrier that is quite a bit higher. She will have to move back and make an effort. At first she fails, but we assist her and tell her she can do it if she tries a bit harder. We give her some tips on how to do this sort of thing successfully. Other children around her are also trying, many of them are failing, but several make it over to our applause and sincere praise. She wants this praise as well and she makes an extra effort and finally also clears the barrier. Her sense of accomplishment is genuine, as is our praise and appreciation. Her growing sense of self-worth is genuine as well and not likely to fade in disappointment as was the case with the first child.

While this little thought experiment may appear transparent and overly simple, it makes an important point — one that has been confirmed by numerous experiments that the “self-esteem” advocates who drive educational practice simply ignore. Self esteem must come as a result of real effort; our job is to set the bar higher and help others over it; failure is a fact of life and helps us grow; children sense the dishonesty in plaudits that are not earned; and when things are made too easy this lead to an unwarranted sense of entitlement. Maureen Stout is right: this movement is dangerous and it is wide-spread. Things worth doing are worth doing well and praise must be earned in order to translate into a genuine sense of self-worth.

Give ‘Em What They Want!

My latest love affair is with the delightful British comedy “Rev” on PBS. A recent episode was especially interesting. As the Rev’s wife tried to think of ways to spice up their sex life, the Rev found himself with a mess of problems. He is the newest vicar at a large inner-city Church in London that is struggling to remain open. It has a regular congregation of around 20 parishioners and an Archdeacon who is always in the Rev’s face about “numbers.”

In this episode the Rev is distraught just after delivering his sermon to about seven people when there suddenly appears a tall, good-looking man who professes to be a vicar himself whose church is under repair; he asks if he can bring his congregation to the Rev’s church on Sunday. If it works out they would continue to come until his own church is repaired. This delights the Rev who has been told that the Archdeacon will attend next Sunday’s service to count noses. It’s an answer to the Rev’s prayers. Be careful what you wish for.

The new vicar moves comfortable furniture into the back of the church, sets up a smoothie bar and installs a sound system to carry his voice to the far reaches of a crowded church — which is exactly what he has to do on Sunday as, helped by the rap star “Icon,” he takes the floor away from the Rev and proceeds to put on a performance for several hundred screaming young “believers.” The session is so successful the new man is able to hand the Rev a check for £10,000 at the end of the day — to the delight of the Archdeacon and the chagrin of the Rev. It’s not what he thinks religion should be: religion is not about spectacle and giving the folks what they want; it’s not about large checks at the end of the day. It’s about teaching the gospel and helping folks turn their attention to more important things than smoothies and rap music.

The point of the episode was made clear in amusing fashion, especially interspersed as it was with the Rev’s wife’s various role-playing attempts to seduce him in dark corners. But the point rings true as traditional churches are closing their doors — in England many of them have been turned into flats or even into public houses — while the non-traditional churches give the folks what they want and realize growing numbers of “believers” who are all told they are terrific, that Jesus loves them no matter what, and they don’t really have to change a thing no matter how much they hate people who aren’t like them.

The movement to give the folks what they want has indeed taken off. And why wouldn’t it? It is certainly a major movement in the schools as teachers entertain students to keep them awake and the students are constantly told they are wonderful and can do no wrong — the leading edge of the self-esteem movement that has gained ascendency in educational “theory” these days, giving rise to a deep sense of entitlement on the part of so many people. In fact, the culture as a whole has come to think that struggling is wrong and to expect everything handed to them with little or no effort whatever. I hate to say it, but this is the kernel of truth at the heart of the Republican rhetoric that insists we are losing our freedom to government handouts. There is indeed some truth in this, but it is a message that is lost in the forest of political exaggeration and hysteria and is generally falling on ears deafened by rap music, stomachs filled with fatbergers, and attention turned to the next large purchase.

The Rev ends up sending the tall young man on his way . But it takes a confrontation between the Rev and his nemesis who demands the eviction of one of the old parishioners who has, in the ecstasy of the moment as emotions ran high during the service, pinched one of the young women in the ass. The Rev, backed by the Archdeacon, stands his ground: we cannot deny church attendance to anyone. The young man leaves in a huff and the Rev goes back to preaching to his empty church. Unfortunately we cannot dismiss entitlement and unwarranted self-esteem that easily. They seem to be here to stay.

In Denial

The ongoing story of Allen West who refuses to admit defeat in Florida gives us pause. As the Yahoo News story begins:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Firebrand Republican Rep. Allen West was defeated by Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, according to the state’s vote count Saturday, but the incumbent won’t concede.

Denial is a sad business, as Karl Rove will attest. After all, he gambled $300 million that he could buy a President — and lost. The saddest part in the Allen West case is that the “firebrand Republican” is apparently so invested in his role as representative he cannot let go. Well, it is a good gig: you make tons of money and you don’t have to do a damned thing! In addition, of course, one can imagine that the near certainty of victory tends to lead to a mindset that would be difficult for any of us to shake loose from. The Republican brain trust thought they had this one sewed up. There are a lot of angry folks out there in the red states on the map. West is still determined that he won in spite of the evidence to the contrary and in the face of a law that gives him no option but to step down — or pay through the nose for a typically fruitless recount. I am reminded of Bobcat Goldthwait’s comic bit in which he says that he hasn’t lost his job: he knows where it is, but when he goes there someone else is doing it! Allen West is likely to find out first-hand how unfunny this might be.

But this is an extreme case. Those who lose — whether it be an election or a sporting event — are disappointed and even distraught (depending on how high the stakes were). But it’s part of life, the part we withhold from our kids in order to protect them. We don’t want them to experience failure and disappointment so we shield them from it. The results are spoiled kids who drift directionless while their parents wonder what went wrong coupled with grade inflation in the schools where the teachers are unwilling or unable to fly in the face of a culture of entitlement. God forbid that we should ask the kids to do something they may not want to do! No one fails. At least not until their team loses or the votes are counted and the fact stares them in the face.

But some people can’t stand the truth and they hide behind a cloak of denial pretending that the world is what they want it to be and not what it is in fact. You can see them over there in the corner standing with the Congressmen who still deny global warming, waiting for the men in white coats to show up and take them to the Happy Home For The Bewildered. Their numbers are remarkably high.

Training Or Education?

I have argued this topic before, but it bears repeating in light of an excellent comment making the rounds on Facebook. The comment was made by Chris Hedges, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to the New York Times, among other major papers. His comment, in part, reminds us that “We’ve bought into the idea that education should be about training and ‘success’ defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers…” I couldn’t agree more.

Bearing in mind that education begins in the home with parents who have time for their children and are eager to see them learn, there are a number of things wrong with the direction American education has taken since the 1940s at least. We have bought into the progressive education fiction that teaching is about the kids when it is supposed to be about what the kids learn. Robert Hutchins and John Dewey fought over this issue for years and Dewey’s child-centered system of education won the day. But Dewey soon left Columbia Teachers College after his triumph and washed his hands of the whole thing: he didn’t like the way his ideas were being misrepresented by his “supporters.” Educators have further watered down Dewey’s ideas of “child-centered” education.

We like to think that we have placed the kids first when in fact they are forgotten in the jargon-filled nonsense about entitlement and self-esteem. Kids are told they are wonderful just because they breathe in and out, whether or not they have actually done anything worthy of praise. They know this is a lie: they sense lies the way a squirrel senses where the nut is hidden. And they are handed the keys to the educational kingdom rather than having to work for them, forgetting that those things that come too easily are really not worth having — while the nonsense about entitlement leads to rampant grade inflation and passing along kids who have learned nothing. Real learning takes effort and that effort is rewarded by a sense of accomplishment that becomes inner satisfaction and requires no pat on the head. And the subject matter that is learned is of central importance.

But Hedges has his finger on the single most dangerous mistake we have made in recent years: we have confused education with job training. It started in the 1950s when the educational establishment was concerned that drop-out rates were climbing dangerously and needed to be stopped. They did research and discovered that high school and especially college graduates made more money in their lifetimes than did those who dropped out of school. So the marketing machine was set in motion and the theme was developed that kids should stay in school in order to be successful — monetarily, as Hedges says (the terms we have decided are the only ones by which success can be measured). Big Mistake! Education is not about jobs or making money. It is about putting kids in possession of their own minds, helping them to achieve true freedom, the ability to think for themselves, separate truth from nonsense, and not to suffer fools. These are the critical skills Hedges mentions and he couldn’t be more right.

The current presidential contest reveals the consequences of this sort of confusion. Instead of dealing with the major issues facing this country and this planet, about which we hear practically nothing, we are focused instead in “jobs and the economy” as though these things are the only things that matter. But a society made up of miseducated people who have been trained to work and not to think can easily be duped into swallowing this line of nonsense — without even knowing what they have ingested.

What matters are not the jobs and the economy in the end. What matters is the survival of human beings on a planet under siege by corporate greed and a business mentality that has convinced us that money is the only thing that really matters and is solidly behind the misperception that education is all about job training. As Hedges goes on to conclude, “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” Amen to that!