Childhood is vital to the discovery of who we really are. Sadly, our society is oblivious to how kids today are being robbed of that opportunity.
Consider the evolution of peer pressure. Following and emulating one’s peers was once a natural first step in letting go of one’s parents. But peer pressure today can be more like a mafia experience than part of a growth stage. It’s powerfully organized around the Internet, utilizing such weapons as iPhones, iPods, and Facebook pages, and is further subsidized by the electronics, music, clothing, and cosmetics industries. A tremendous investment is involved in this peer-pressure network.
What used to be cliques and clubs has morphed into a huge “iCulture” whose influence indoctrinates self-centered and elite attitudes and values in young people that quite often undermine the purposes and authority of adults.
The shrinking influence of the American family and the loss of its support system—extended family, neighborhood, church, community, and other endangered face-to-face institutions—leave no counter to this highly organized iCulture.
So parents are making their peace with it. They seek some control, but they don’t want their children to be left out. So parents buy their children the necessary iCulture equipment, while sometimes negotiating their iCulture parties and activities.
Where does that leave the family, the primary source of the nurturing, teaching, and caring that prepares children for life? Too often, home is a place where kids sleep, and parents are a taxi service to athletic contests and the local mall. (Sometimes, they also organize family dinners around the TV set.)
Meanwhile, our national and educational leaders ignore all of this, preoccupied with test scores. They have committed our kids to marching like cattle toward a goal of 100 percent academic proficiency by 2014.
This isn’t what our forefathers meant when they founded the nation on the ideal that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. They saw each of us as unique, but all of us as deserving the right by law to develop our singular potential.
This test-score emphasis will fail, just as similar reform efforts over the past 60 years have failed, because it does not respect the levels and sequence of true student learning.
All of us have mind, heart, and soul levels of human understanding. The mind level is the most superficial. Think of how ego, and emotions such as fear and anger, can sometimes control what we think. Heart understandings, on the other hand, begin to express who we really are. And from them we are able to move on to the level of soul—our deepest self, expressing the spirit.
While our leaders focus on a student’s mind, the iCulture captures his heart and soul. Picture his engagement in a classroom, as opposed to at a rock concert, and you’ll get the idea.
Unfortunately, just as parents have acquiesced to the iCulture, so, too, have they acquiesced to current notions of education. They enthusiastically support schools, brag about students’ grades, seek out the best colleges, and so on. They have bought in completely to the idea that academic success equals success in life.
And this is a fallacy with consequences. Suppose, for example, a daughter cuts her advanced English class for a third time, meaning automatic failure in that course. What does she do? She is likely to ask Mom to write a note excusing the absence. And Mom, knowing the life stakes involved, will justify the lie and write the note.
In a recent poll, 64 percent of kids admitted to cheating and 30 percent to stealing from a store within the previous year. Yet 93 percent of them also said they were satisfied with their character and values.
Is this the price of success? Or does it reflect the character of our earlier “best and brightest,” who grew up to lead America’s economy into disaster?
Whatever the case, it should be clear that the deeper development of this generation of young people is being ignored. Some estimate, for example, that 46.4 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental disorder—half of these by the age of 14.
In my seminars over the past 35 years, I have constantly dealt with parents who are successful in life but don’t understand who they really are. Their unresolved childhood issues have adversely affected not only their own lives, but also their children’s.
American schools need to initiate an entirely new education system, one that focuses on the heart and soul as well as the mind, and that involves each student’s family in doing this.
If it sounds too complex, think again. Speaking as the founder of a network of private and public schools that has been developing this concept over the past 43 years, I can testify to the fact that, once you tap into the deeper, heart-and-soul understandings of students, you can generate the kind of motivation that helps them create a new and more positive peer culture. This, in turn, unites a powerful teacher-and-student team. Add the unification of family and school, and the stage is set for each student to become truly prepared for life.
This isn’t merely a high-flown ideal. It is an active rediscovery of what our forefathers put in place more than two centuries ago. The only thing missing today is the vision and courage to pass it on to our children.
A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘iCulture’ and the Plight of Today’s Youth