Things Go Together

i282600889619610622._szw1280h1280_Often quite unrelated posts on social media seem to come seamlessly together. Today I noticed an article that featured Donald Trump’s comments after winning the Nevada caucus yesterday. He was bragging about the diversity of his voters and noted, “I love the poorly educated.” In a more personal note a young mother complained that her daughter has been having severe headaches from clenching and unclenching her teeth at night as a result of the tremendous stress that she feels in today’s school environment. Finally, a professor from the University of Houston opined that his students are capable of taking standardized tests but they rarely know how to read and write well. I propose that all of these posts are indicators of a kind of sickness in our society. 

 I don’t wish to indicate that only “poorly educated” people vote for Donald Trump but I suspect that the vast majority of them are poorly informed and basing their decisions on soundbites and misinformation. A large number of voters are angry these days, feeling that Washington has let them down. There are certainly a number of issues that need to be addressed but there is very little evidence that Donald Trump has any more chance of achieving the results that these people desire than any of the countless individuals who have already been working daily in the nation’s capitol. I am not one who believes that Trumpkins are simply ignorant, racist souls because I know many of them and they are far from being the vulgar people that some of their opponents characterize them to be. In fact, most are good honest citizens who are genuinely worried about our country. Many are of the blue collar working class, a group that has been the hardest hit in struggling economic times. They have watched their earning power decrease and their ability to work significantly limited. To them Donald Trump is a kind of tell it like it is savior. Unfortunately, if they were to really listen to his statements and parse his words they might begin to realize that he is mostly about empty promises with no legitimate plans for making any of his boasts materialize. I truly believe that instead of considering the facts, they are allowing their emotions and fears to run away with their common sense.

 Part of the problem in our country today is that we have more people than ever graduating from high schools and colleges but often with questionable skills. Students like the one that I mentioned earlier are literally stressing out over the constant testing and retesting that takes place on virtually every campus in the country. There are practice tests to determine how students may eventually perform on the real assessments. There are constant tutoring sessions and lessons designed to demonstrate how to game the tests. Students move so quickly from one topic to another in order to meet all of the curricular requirements that they rarely have time to delve deeply into questions that they may have or to learn how to think critically. We have a nation of students who often dislike reading simply because it is taught as a way to deconstruct questions rather to enjoy literature. Writing is too often formulaic and the best writers do not always receive the highest scores on the exams. There is so much pressure on the students that they begin to equate learning with an onerous task. Their release from the pressures that they feel often display themselves in the gnashing of teeth or, even worse, chronic depression. The fact is that neither the teachers nor the students are particularly happy these days. They are all being ground up by the numbers without regard for the true characteristics of a learned person. It is little wonder that our political system seems to be so out of whack. It is almost as though we have all fallen down a crazed rabbit hole where nothing is quite as it seems to be.

 I’ve never been one to pretend that I have all the answers. I would be loathe to base friendships on political philosophies. I tend to most prefer a live and let live kind of philosophy. Still, I shudder whenever I hear people parroting the lines of pundits rather than demonstrating their own knowledge of the issues facing our nation. I suspect that none of the candidates on either side has it all right. We have to pick and choose and consider every opinion and then decide who will be most likely to be a good leader for our country. That is not a choice to be taken lightly or to delegate to the media or shallow pieces information from soundbites. It’s never a good idea to rely on one source for the truth. Let’s face it. There is a great difference between a news story from Breitbart and one from Salon but there is also merit in reading and analyzing them both. According to polls and research, a great number of people not only neglect to do such things but may not even know how to interpret information once they have it. The culprit goes right back to the way that we have bastardized our educational system for far too many years now. I can’t think of a single teacher who actually believes that our constant emphasis on testing is truly helping our young. 

 I remember my own struggles with standardized tests. They never came close to accurately predicting my success either as a student or in real life situations. They did, however, relentlessly make me quite nervous. It didn’t take me long to realize that for whatever reason I would not do as well on them as I did in situations that required me to  reason. I often felt a clinching panic when taking those tests and luckily there were not near as many of them as children today are subjected to. Spring in today’s academic world has become a time of dread and a stifler of real thinking. 

 I’m happy that I had a childhood that was mostly unmarred by the accounting and classifying monster of standardized testing. I loved reading from the very first. I had time to linger over a word, a passage, a chapter. I learned how to extract meaning and to analyze. I was given opportunities to write using different styles and much imagination. I was allowed to choose from topics that were often purposely vague and open ended rather that stilted and uninteresting. I developed a facility with words and began to appreciate the art of a well crafted sentence. Because there was not always one clear answer or one way of doing things I learned to appreciate multiple opinions and points of view. I was encourage to develop my own thoughts and not just those of my teachers or my peers. It was a freeing experience that also helped me to realize the joy of debate and open mindedness. Instead of dreading to go to school I loved every moment of the experience. The stresses that I experienced were more related to the angsts of adolescence. There was joy in my educational experience.

 My childhood was marked by an equal balance of play and work. I read as much for pleasure as for a purpose. I was encouraged to look for inconsistencies in the things that people say. I was taught to learn from mistakes and that my test scores were to be used for my own personal development, not as a way of ranking me in society. If I believed that the emperor had no clothes, I was allowed to point out the problem. I was also encouraged to work with my fellow man not in a battle for power. My heroes were not buffoons who put people down, nor dividers who stealthily set us against one another. They were men like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and women like Eleanor Roosevelt. I was able to admire Ronald Reagan as much as John F. Kennedy. I have never claimed a particular political party as my own because I was taught to be independent.

 I just wish that we encouraged more freedoms and more meaningful education in today’s world. Nobody should ever feel afraid to express his or her thoughts. No one should be so anxious about learning that he/she gets headaches. Everyone should love to read and appreciate the thoughts of others. All of us should be capable of communicating the reasons for our choices in both spoken and written form without resorting to ugliness. This is how we used to be taught to be in schools. Maybe it’s time to return to those days.

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