Citizenship

Dr. Dick McKenna* once explained that the function of public education is to transmit the culture.

In America, the public school was the vehicle for teaching our children how to be American. They learned our history – which includes the fables and legends that color it – our values, our means of communication, our method of counting and so on. They also learned important cultural lessons relating to behavior; that you wait your turn, that you don’t disrupt a group, that you are on time, that you are respectful of others.

After 12 years of this kind of indoctrination, the schools graduated adults who were ready to take on the responsibility of earning a living, building families, contributing to the public good and voting.

I’ve been thinking about it this morning . . .

I”m not sure that it is particularly true today. I’m not sure the schools are transmitting the culture anymore – or perhaps the culture they are transmitting is being over-shadowed by a different culture.

I think kids today get most of their cultural indoctrination from media: television, video games, social media, music, the Internet. Compared to the well organized, carefully orchestrated environment of the classroom, this hodge podge of stimuli is chaotic. AND, this mess of media generally has the same agenda: to sell something other than culture! Too often, the lessons our media teaches young people are clothed in sex and glamour, wealth and tacky opulence. It is teaching kids that by looking and behaving a certain way, they can expect to become rich and to be beyond reproach.

We have kids who idolize Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton but who can’t tell you anything about Amelia Earhart. Boys who look up to Snoop Dog and know nothing about Jonas Salk and what he accomplished.

I think we, as a culture, learned a lot from Jerry Springer. We didn’t realize we were learning when we tuned in to see yet another group of trashy people hollering at one another and rolling around on the floor. We laughed . . . but we also came to believe that he who yells loudest, wins – no matter what the truth may be. Observe the tone of American politics in 2014/15 vs. say ’85, ’95 or any time twenty years ago.

I understand that, from a biological standpoint, devolution is a falacy. It is based on the notion that evolution is always a progression toward something better (and therefore, devolution would be a down-grade). The truth is, evolution is just a response to the environment. It will take a species in the direction that best prepares the species to survive in its environment. Given that, what is the environment that encourages the apes that roam our streets today to survive, even thrive?

Give me George Washington and the cherry tree any day.

*McKenna was one of the smartest people I ever knew. He was an Industrial Psychologist who became the soul and conscience of Century 21 in the early days of that company (’70s – ’80s). I learned more about marketing and group dynamics from him than anyone else. Dick McKenna on marketplace intelligence: ’You must massage your numbers until they throb!’

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