Yes, education is killing our children.
Neither public education, neither religious schools, neither homeschooling teaches the most important part of life : how to live. They teach the basics of reading and writing (although some people would disagree), but they do not teach the basics of living.
This may perhaps sound trite. What can we possibly teach to children that they don’t already know about life ? Aren’t we all equipped to face life ? No, we aren’t. The obvious proof of this is the relatively high rate of teen suicide and murder, which liberals often like to use as lever to promote gun control. But I point the finger partly on them as being the cause of these events. Let’s put aside the issue of gun control for now (but I will come back to it later), and talk about education itself.
How irrational is it to furnish tools in the realm of sensory acquisition, without the means to integrate it in one’s life ? It’s like teaching someone fishing by showing him how to set up a fishing cane. Tools alone are not all you need to do something ! You need to know how to use these tools in order to accomplish your goal. Teenagers, who would be more apt to understand it than children, simply have no idea.
One symptom of this problem is that subject matters are mostly seen by children as unuseful and disconnected from their reality (I know this – like everyone else, I have lived it). Without a sense of purpose and an idea of what they should do, why would they see these things as useful ? Of course I’m not saying that all classes are useful – some of them are a waste of people’s time.
What do schools teach today in relation to ethics ? Not much at all. Today’s public, liberal education system is divided and fighting over two seemingly opposite but equally damaging tendancies. One which is more widespread is the teaching of religion and religious doctrines. This is even more present in private schools and homeschooling, where they may have some impact, but in general they are only paid lip service. The little rules that are enforced are outdated (like racist or sexist rules) and do much in repulsing children from religion. So as a general rule, religious rules are not very important in the child’s psyche.
The other type of ethics is liberal relativism. What I mean by this is the hodge-podge of trivial and disconnected concepts that are taught. Little, if any, objectivity is taught.
Due to this lack of direction in moral education, the basic moral position today is the default relativism : that good an evil is a matter of emotion and societal mores. From the point of view of the child, religion is an outdated, offensive concept, and what he has bene taught in his morality classes was disconnected to this daily life. He may debate in class (if asked to, anyway) concepts like “integrity” or “honesty” but he will not think about it twice. Morality nowadays is considered as a thing of great occasions and decisions, and disconnected from daily life. Therefore, his only standard left is his own psycho-epistemology.
Of course some people may argue that what I am saying is true, but that ethics is not the role of the school but of parents. Perhaps they would even argue that it is a religious choice and that school should be separate from religion.
First of all, the role of education is mainly the affair of the school, not of the parents. The parent’s role is to help the child in his daily life and support him in his maturation process. Parents have no more crucial stake in the ethical education of the child as they do in the mathematical education of the child. As much as we would like to believe so, just being of a religion or another, or having some experience of life, does not alone qualify one as an ethicist, any more than having taken basic math classes qualify one as a mathematician.
As for the religion aspect, there are two problems with this objection. First of all, religion is merely another type of ideology that attempts to intrude on the domain of ethics. Ethics is properly a subset of philosophy, not theology. Whenever particular religions attempt to impose its own morality or not is irrelevant to the scholarly topic that is morality, in the same way that christianity attempting to impose its own view of the origins of man is irrelevant to the scholarly topic that is the theory of evolution.
The proof of the failure of schools and parents to teach ethics is precisely shown in the problems that we complain about today. Children continue to kill themselves and take out their schoolmates. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 15-24-year-olds, with about 10 000 successful suicides reported annually (from 200 000 attempts). The per-capita suicide rate tripled since 1960. Suicide is the second leading cause of injury-related death among Canada’s teenagers, with a rate of 13 per 100,000. Approximately 10% of public schools report serious violent crimes in a given year, and homicide accounts for 20% of all deaths in the 10-24 age group. These are all statistics that cannot be denied, neither can their impact be softened. They show the failure of our education system as clearly as a population of illiterates would.
One may argue that the main problem with teen crime is not ethics but other factors, like guns or the medias. This is nonsensical at best. Banning guns, violent movies or games, or rock music only makes the situation worse. By depriving ourselves of guns, we take away the opportunity to defend our children from these crimes, and therefore bear part of the responsability. By labeling and censoring violent content, we take away our freedom of speech and shield our children from the harsh realities of life.
At any rate, having a gun in one’s hand or playing Quake does not make anyone commit crimes magically. A majority of guns are used for self-defense, and a majority of game players do not commit murders. Therefore a direct one-to-one correlation is absurd. Besides, murderers also use other weapons, which can easily be made at home (like pen guns or pipe bombs). However, these factors do have an influence on people’s behaviour. There is certainly an indirect correlation at work.
What makes people do whatever they do is their ethics. Ethics is the study of what we should do, and by extension the motivation for our actions. It is the explicit or implicit guideline with which we determine what actions to choose. For example, someone who believes that his life is unimportant (for religious reasons or others) will be much more prone to kill himself and others. Somebody who knows that his own life is paramount will immediately see that suicide is not a valid answer to his problems.
There are two main ways to determine what actions we are going to choose : by our reason or by our emotions and whims. There are many ways that these whims can express themselves. For example, one may follow a scripture or doctrine, or just do whatever feels best. One may also follow the advice of his friends or societal mores. These are all subjective ways of selection. On the other hand, somebody who is bound to reason will follow rational rules of conduct.
You can see that someone who already believes in strong, rational principles will be less influenced by emotional appeals than someone who relies on his emotional states as a barometer for action. For someone in an emotion-oriented mindset, the murderous and vengeful emotions triggered by hatred or violent movies are a signal to take revenge. The consequence of this relativism is that the actions of the individual are heavily dependant on his environment.
A teenager raised in a purely objective state of mind knows that killing people is not a valid solution to one’s problems. It will undoubtedly ruin his life – who can doubt it ?
So this is the indirect correlation that I was referring to. The factors that I have discussed are necessary but not sufficient in themselves for violent behaviour to occur. The child must be in a state of mind such that these factors have a negative effect on his psyche and force him to take action. A rational sense of life would not let such factors have a bearing on one’s choices unless they were relevant to the choice. However it seems to be a constant that our youth’s sense of life is negative and gloomy. These things have a cause – they are not due to magic but simple lack of education and comprehension.
In short, the concrete consequences of moral relativism in any part of society is : weakness towards exterior influences, which almost always leads to a disregard to one’s own life and livelihood.
How can we wipe out this tendancy ? On the long-term view, we are looking at a whole change of paradigm. We need to replace the skeptical mentality by making the objective viewpoint appealing to people. Not only children, but also parents – since the parents’ education have a strong influence on the ethical beliefs of their children. Unfortunately not much can be done in that regard. What can be done is change our moral education to reflect true selfish values.
This, also unfortunately, cannot be achieved as long as education is influenced by religious and skeptical values. It is a catch-22 : we cannot change the educational system without support from the parents, but we cannot change the future parents unless we change the educational system. As for any catch-22, we cannot start from any precise point : the solution must be global and adapted to the surrounding culture.
Unlike what all our politicians seem to think, we cannot expect the problem of crime in school to solve itself magically. Instead of attacking peripheral players who are not to blame for these unfortunate events, we need to take relevant and direct action. As long as we leave our children imbecile, frustrated, helpless and defenseless, we have no right to ask ourselves how killings like Columbine can happen. All we have is the responsability to protest against our institutionalized system of violence and hope the situation doesn’t degenerate.