Contributed by Todd Smoldon
We are well into the new school year, and the honeymoon is over. Children and adolescents who were excited to see their friends have been reminded that “school” also means work, not just socializing. Teachers have long since forgotten the slower pace that they enjoyed during the summer. Parents, who were eager for their kids to be back at school and away from the video games, realize that their lives are more complicated again as they chase their children from activity to activity. Yes, the kids are back at school, but what are they learning?
Twenty-five years ago, in addition to wanting to be gainfully employed, the transformative power of education was the primary reason that I went into teaching. A good education, whether it is academic or a skilled trade, not only creates incredible opportunities for those educated, but it also changes the socioeconomic status of the family tree for future generations. When a society educates well, the huge diversity of gifts and talents that exist in communities are put to the greatest possible use. This investment in human capital maximizes our full human resource potential by creating new products, more efficient innovations and a higher standard of living. I wanted to be a part of this. I believed that every individual is far more capable than they think they are and with the right motivation and drive, their potential is almost unlimited.
I still believe this about people, but unfortunately, I often see evidence that the system to which I have devoted two decades of my life is not promoting a form of education that maximizes the intellectual potential of people. Sadly, several decades ago, “we” decided that it was more important for a child to feel good about what they believe rather than be required to rationally and logically defend what they believe. Instead of encouraging our children and young adults to think critically about what they are learning and question the validity of what they are being taught, our schools have taught our children that if they feel good about it, it must be true. For a generation (possibly two), we have taught young people that how they feel is more important than truth.
It would be easy to blame the media for this breakdown in critical thinking, because they sensationalize their coverage of violent protests like those in Berkley, California and Charlottesville, South Carolina. But the disgusting display of racism and hate from white-supremacists and neo-Nazis groups represents a miniscule amount of “the people on the Right”. Equivalently, the call to kill cops from some in Black Lives Matter as well as physical attacks perpetrated by Antifa, represent a very small minority of “those on the Left”.
Charlottesville and other protests like it are just distractions from a problem that is less violent, but perhaps much greater. The real danger to our culture is what you do not see in the media; the silencing of rational voices in the name of “tolerance”. Why are so many in our society afraid to have reasonable discussions with people who have differing points of view? Could it be that our education system has created two generations of intellectually and emotionally fragile people?
It is time for people in local communities to decide what type of education they want for their children and young adults. In addition to skill development, critical thinking must be a priority. We owe it to our youth to teach them how to deal with disappointment and disagreement without using physical or political power to silence others.
As an educator, I am begging you to get involved. Talk to your children about what they are learning. Look at their books. Don’t be afraid to calmly question curriculum and policies made by schools, school districts and universities. I am convinced that every student has amazing growth potential and can do wonderful things with their gifts and talents. However, if we do not make free thinking a priority, I fear that someday people will tear down statues of Martin Luther King, Jr. because they are offended that he was a Christian.
Todd Smoldon lives in Willow, Alaska and has been a resident of Alaska for 30 years. He earned his BA in economics and Master’s degree in teaching from the University of Alaska – Anchorage, and has been teaching high school economics for almost 20 years.