Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
I’ve raised the issue before in this space, but the continued collapse of our culture suggests it’s appropriate to mention it again.
Imagine for a few minutes, if you will, that you’re the manager of a local McDonald’s restaurant. For the third straight day, as you seek to reconcile your registers, your cash record is off. But now, as you reflect on what might be happening, and think about the various members of your youthful staff, you puzzle over a strange pair of possible explanations. Are you dealing with computational incompetence—or with day-to-day dishonesty?
For you, and for thousands of other employers like you, the answer is critical. Because now it appears that many of America’s schools, after increasingly (if unintentionally) having left you in jeopardy in terms of their graduates’ raw skills, now are also—quite deliberately—leaving you vulnerable in terms of their ethics.
So just how much morality (or how much by the way of traditional ethics) would you say is the right amount for our nation’s schools to be feeding to their students? How much honesty? How much respect for life? How much compassion for the down and out? How much even of the Golden Rule?
Well, no matter how little you’ve come to expect these days on that score, your hopes are probably too high. Published reports suggest that a majority of public school teachers think all such expectations are outside their job descriptions.
How much morality would you say is the right amount for our nation’s schools to be feeding to their students?
Almost 30 years ago, Sonia Nazario wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “About 84 percent of public school parents want moral values taught in school, and 68 percent want educators to develop strict standards of ‘right and wrong,’ according to a Gallup Poll. … But polls also show that most teachers object to the concept of morality education on philosophical or practical grounds; many fear that such programs will stir up controversy in classrooms where diverse student bodies already cause plenty of headaches.”
If that was true in 1990, can anyone imagine what such surveys might show today? Ms. Nazario noted: “After a decades-long drive for teachers to be value-neutral, some say they can’t adjust to openly teaching right and wrong. McGuffey Readers, with their strong moral messages, have long been shunned for value-neutral texts and teacher-training courses. Texts describe the Pilgrims not as seekers of religious freedom but as ‘people who take long trips.’”
So now, if you’re a consumer of the typical products of American education, you face a double deficiency. The graduates you’re expected to hire lack both (1) the raw skills and (2) the integrity you need to run your business. And what you find missing in your workplace is also increasingly missing in society at large.
Let’s not be overly pious about the matter. Teaching our children to be scrupulously honest isn’t the easiest thing in the world even when you can bring the full force of Biblical precept to bear on the issue.
But what we’re talking about here is a situation where most of the teachers involved say they want nothing to do with the subject. It’s no longer an issue of trying and falling a little short. It’s a case of ignoring the challenge from the very beginning.
Nor are we focusing on a little minority of faithless teachers and educational administrators. These are not isolated radicals. A majority of the nation’s educators say this is their position.
It’s possible, if difficult, to imagine McDonald’s and all its corporate counterparts engaging in a mammoth repair job for the damage inflicted by the failure of our schools to give their graduates the basic skills they need.
To ask them, however, to rebuild empty hearts and souls is something else again. The catch-22 is that the very teacher who doesn’t desperately want to teach such things is absolutely the last one you want to teach them. Honesty and integrity that don’t flow from deep within a person have little to do with the real thing.