Like Lambs to the Slaughter: The Erosion of the Cultured Citizen

 

Sean M. Douglas , global education magazine, From Storm Clouds Come Angels,Sean M. Douglas is an author, businessman and teacher whose latest book From Storm Clouds Come Angels has been praised as a work of true and genuine insight. Mr. Douglas continues to lecture and is a student of the Philosophy of Educational Theory and Policy.

douglas.enterprises@live.ca

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Abstract: The following article discusses the issues surrounding the decline in cultural education. Whereas in the past subjects such as English, literature, music, art and humanities was a focal point of education, today these disciplines are often the first to have their funding reduced. As a result, education is failing to develop well-cultured, creative and critically thinking students. This trend will not only lead to an apathetic culture, but a society that fails to recognize the importance of creating a strong culture. History remembers culture by their artistic achievements and values, not by their narcissistic attitudes, thus we need to consider that in order to evolve into the future, education is responsible for inspiring the present.

Keywords: Education, culture, citizen, cultured citizen, student achievement, critical thinking, creative thinking, Renaissance.

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                  “I have never let school interfere with my education” wrote Mark Twain as he considered his own understanding of the world; but how long before someone holds a mirror up to public education and realizes that the reflection of the students staring back is not the one they thought they would see? It is a shame to see Mr. Clemens[i] fears become a reality as education becomes lost within the school.

                  As an example, some states show that in the past six years graduation rates for secondary students has dramatically risen from 68% to 81%[ii] due to Student Success programs, but the questions that rarely get asked are, do these numbers truly reflect a students’ intellect, insight, understanding, values and citizenship, or is it that higher standards with lower expectations has equated to this phenomenon that claims that ‘Failure is not an option’?

                  Perhaps what first needs to be asked is, what should an education look like, versus what kind of learning is currently shaping the next generation?

                  One can hardly deny that education has changed since, say the days of Socrates[iii], and it is clear that the age of texting and self-corrective technology has led to a decline in communication skills, and while the decline of such proficiency is unfortunate, it will not be “the way to a dusty death”[iv]. What is unfortunate, however, is education’s digression from culture in the classroom, for it is through the process of being cultured that all skills follow; “ay, there’s the rub!”[v]

                  There is, however, a great irony in such a digression of culture, for what often brings culture to a standstill is what occurs in the school itself, the same institution that one would assume seeks to shape the hearts and minds of the future. Then again, it is the ministry whose three objectives “focus on establishing high levels of student achievement; reducing the gaps in student achievement; and ensuring high levels of public confidence in public education”[vi]. When the emphasis of education is based around statistics and external perception, it is no wonder that students are not developing a sense of personal identity, citizenship, and culture.

                  Perhaps schools no longer know how to effectively implement the values of culture, for now that we have become so immersed in politics, we are so overwrought with tensions that our sensitivity and our fear of being un-politically correct has eroded culture itself. One’s ability to teach classic literature, art, music, history, philosophy, and theory, is successfully being eroded, and it is these disciplines that are necessary for students to become cultured citizens.

                  We are at a point in time when what most would benefit society is a renaissance of culture. Instead, we have entered an age where the priority for the arts and humanities has been overshadowed by what is commonly considered “employable skills”, the same skills that are quickly eradicating what it means to truly be human.

                  Education should challenge one to question, push one to seek, allow one to reflect; education should inspire curiosity, share insights, admit that failure is a necessary adversary to success; education should drive one to study the thinkers, artists, writers and musicians of the past, to promote fading values, and to instil an appreciation for wanting to learn the ideas that establish all that we are and can be.

                  So what is it that has shifted within schools? What is the new model for the curriculum? Perhaps it may be argued that society has shifted its values away from bettering the person to bettering the profit, and that education now seeks to create a culture consisting of employable skills rather than creating a community of culture.

                  While on the surface, schools suggest initiatives that promote an individual’s freedom to critically think, reflect, challenge, and be challenged, though the reality is that there is very little room for true criticism or reflection in the classroom; the focus of education is not on challenging students, but rather on explicating absolute skills that can be translated in something that can be effectively numerated and explicitly bought. This is not suggesting that students do not need to develop skills necessary for the workplace, but it is implying that if a greater emphasis was placed on culturing students, these skills would naturally follow.

                  To be cultured is to encompass a greater understanding of people; culture allows one to appreciate the undertones that drive society and connect what it is that inspires and feeds the passions of the individual. Instead, we are becoming a culture dictated by the values of material worth without having been taught the values of culture. Where once there was a desire to improve oneself through reading, music and art, now there is a desire to prove one’s worth through the superficiality of those things that come and go without leaving so much as a lingering impression. We have been driven “like lambs to the slaughter”[vii] towards a corporate model of citizenship where profit proceeds the person. And it is public education that has promoted this ideal.

                  Gone are the days when expectations were created to challenge, and one equated success with self-advocacy and the strength that came through trial and error, determination, hard work and consequence; here are the days where expectations are written with an emphasis that there is no such thing as failure, when ones’ personal realities are substituted with accommodations, and culture has been replaced with conformity.

                  Now is the moment that public education must begin to look through the looking glass and realize that unless we want a country with no cultured conscious, we need to focus on creating a community of culture. The time is now, the place is here; this is the moment that change must be made, for it is now that we must ensure that school never interferes with education.

[i] Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens.

[ii] Ontario.ca

[iii] Socrates used a method of inquiry that established understanding through a process of critical thinking that was based on a discussion that revolved around a dialogue of questions and responses as a means to achieve a sense of comprehension.

[iv] Macbeth 5.5

[v] Hamlet 3.1

[vi] Ontario Ministry of Education. (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca)

[vii] Jeremiah 51:40

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“Like Lambs to the Slaughter: The Erosion of the Cultured Citizen” is Part I of a series entitled Education through the Looking Glass which is a commentary on the role of politics and its effect on critical thinking and reflection in education.

This article was published on August 12, 2015, for the International Youth Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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