Within the next few weeks, the annual ritual of a new school year will begin for local districts – public and private. Each district follows its own calendar, but notwithstanding the initial date of attendance, the intent is identical for all of them. For our social structure to maintain its values and purpose, succeeding generations must be able to possess a basic understanding of shared information, values and morality. We should recognize that the vital interests of our society are closely tied to an educated and aware electorate that can absorb, analyze and make informed and rational decisions to guide our communities, country and partnership in world affairs.
Responsibility for civic obligations is a family charge but also shaped by interactions with classmates, teachers and school conventions as well. Since for many children, hours spent at school are a critical environment for social behavior, it is incumbent to recognize the importance of how teachers and schools shape the future. If resources are limited and must be prioritized, following food and shelter, nurturing education should be at the top of the list. Attitudes toward fellow human beings and universal codes of morality following the Golden Rule [treat others as you would like to be treated] are impressed through actions and examples set by contemporaries and authority figures. School is a microcosm of the world at large, a training ground for future leaders and adherents alike.
Unrest in the teaching profession is an indicator of a larger issue. What value is placed on education and those chosen to model behavior for the next generations? Not only should rewards for successful outcomes be great, but the expectation of exceptional performance by those who guard and perpetuate academic and social standards should match them. Although political thought may differ, construction of a rational and reasoned matrix of information and facts must be at the root of well-informed population – young and old.
George Orwell warned against ignorance as described a dystopian future in his novel, 1984, written in 1949. “Big Brother” controls thought through psychological manipulation. A totalitarian state has evolved to promote safety and happiness over freedom. A laissez-faire attitude that promotes seemingly contradictory ideas dominates as history is subverted: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Big Brother is transparent but persuasive because a simple idea is implanted, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
If this sounds frighteningly familiar, the beginning of a new school year is the time to act as guardians of the future. Classrooms are incubators of social behavior and reasonable response to challenges. Those entrusted with the care of students are a valuable and critical resource that should be highly compensated, closely monitored and supported to endorse a free exchange of ideas and attention to factual analysis. Exposure to misleading “alternative facts” and twisted analysis has become commonplace in a world of instantaneous communication. Few filters and even less control over the flood of information – true, false and everything in between – has clouded simplistic right/wrong, moral/immoral distinctions. It is only fair that those who guide students in and outside classrooms prepare them for the onslaught and contradictions of Big Brother.
The solution to Big Brother is free and open education for everyone… all of us, no matter what station in life. As our schools open their doors to new and returning students, active involvement between educators, parents and the community-at-large is essential to maintaining our freedom and democratic ideals. Even though our system is imperfect and often fails to produce stellar results, the principles remain the same and should not be subverted to maintain the illusion of control. The year 1984 is in the past and should remain there!