A Journal for Western Man

 

How Public Education Creates

the Generation Gap

G. Stolyarov II

Issue CXVII - August 9, 2007

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CMFF: Fight Death

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Eden against the Colossus

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A Rational Cosmology

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Implied Consent

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Statement of Policy

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Originally published on GrasstopsUSA.com.

            The predicament plaguing a tremendous fraction of school-age children today is too obvious to be overlooked. A preponderance of rudeness, a disdain for the intellect, and a lack of motivation or work ethic are the least of their problems. The widespread tendency toward self-destructive activity – including teenage intercourse, self-abasing parties where alcohol is consumed with drunkenness as the goal and other more damaging drugs are introduced, the frequent desire to put one’s life on the line to “prove a point” or demonstrate one’s “coolness” – is far more disturbing.

             Combine that with the admiration that even many affluent young men have for “gangsta” thugs and the desires of many teenage girls to wear clothes that in earlier eras would have made professional “fallen women” blush – and you will start to get a picture of the kinds of forces that actively stymie the futures of so many of America’s young people – before they even have a chance to fight back. The predominant ethos of today’s mainstream youth culture taken to its logical conclusion is one of self-inflicted debasement, degeneration, and death – all for the sake of a twisted idea of “fun,” used to label activities that are not even remotely enjoyable in any profound or enduring way.

            When concerned adults try to step in and remedy the situation by teaching kids lessons in prudence, ethics, and long-term self-interest, they are too often dismissed and treated with contempt. The way in which the successful, prosperous members of older generations live is to many of today’s youths “boring” and “bland” – a symptom of today’s regrettable “generation gap.” Many young people find no excitement in stability and no pleasure in living life according to the rules of logic and morality.  When put out into the working world, most of them quickly change their tune, shape up, and begin to lead responsible lives. But, as teenagers, too many of them are consumed by a dark hedonistic romanticism which frequently takes lives and inflicts tremendous suffering on self and others alike.

            What created this situation? Is it violent video games? Hollywood films? The mainstream media? Internet pornography? The popular “music” industry? Some of these forces contribute to the problem, but none of them is powerful enough to make a significant difference on its own, and many of them would not even have emerged were it not for a deeper underlying cause. In fact, the more accurate though frequently overlooked answer is that the current self-destructive youth culture could not have emerged without universal compulsory public education.

            Granted, it is not the intention of public educators to turn children into quasi-suicidal brutes. Some of them even loathe the current youth culture but feel powerless to do anything against it. I do not wish to condemn the people who work in the public schools, but rather the system that creates perverse incentives for children to obtain the direct opposite of a genuine education. 

            The natural, time-tested way for children to develop and learn is in the company of many other adults. Parents, extended family, and positive role models in the community give children ample access to knowledge and examples of successful, ethical living which they can admire and strive to emulate. Teachers, tutors, and mentors can also positively shape a child’s development – provided that they actually have enough time in which to do this by engaging in direct, formative interaction with the child.

            But compulsory public education takes children out of an environment rich with adult guidance and places them in a setting dominated by their peers. Although teachers are present in a public classroom, the sheer number of students there minimizes the amount of time a teacher can devote to any one. After all, with thirty people in a class – and sometimes more – the teacher cannot take extensive time each day interacting with each student on an individual basis. While the teacher might devote special effort to assist students who are falling behind in the class, the students who are ahead of most of their peers seldom receive any constructive guidance at all.             And even if a fraction of teachers is unusually skilled at communicating factual knowledge to most of their students, the public school system – however hard it might try – cannot effectively convey life-affirming values that keep young people out of trouble. This is the job of parents, which has unfortunately been usurped by the schools, leading to greatly reduced moral instruction for students.

            With little or no adult support on the important ethical and prudential issues of life, public school students are on their own in dealing with their most disreputable peers – bullies, delinquents, and – more commonly – impressionable youths infatuated with some hedonistic idea. By law, public schools cannot exclude these elements from their facilities, meaning that the best-behaved students must necessarily suffer on account of the worst, who taunt, harass, and even attack them, knowing that they will not receive serious retribution.

            To add to the problem, hedonistic practices carry some appeal for those young people who have not been forewarned of their dangers. Some child or teenager – probably one of the most ignorant among his or her peers – gets a self-destructive idea and quickly shares it with others. With no countervailing force, the idea is quickly adopted and, like lemmings plunging off a cliff, many young people use it to damage their lives. Those few unusually perceptive and resilient students who recognize its dangers are quickly labeled as outcasts and either ignored or viciously abused by the majority. There are plenty of decent, bright, upstanding students in public schools – but the system acts against them. There, it is typically the lowest common denominator that prevails and determines the youth culture.

            The “gangsta rap” industry did not create this youth culture; quite the contrary, the youth culture created the “gangsta rap” industry. Market entrepreneurs make profits by responding to existing consumer preferences and providing products to meet them. The underlying problem is not that products were provided to suit the tastes of millions of American youths – that much is inevitable.  Rather, we must be concerned that such damaging tastes arose in the first place and spread to such a wide consumer base. If compulsory public education is at the root of the attitudinal trends that gave rise to the current youth culture, then it is time to do away with this institution.

            The solution, of course, is not to isolate children from their peers. Rather, it is to allow parents and individual children to pick the peers with which they will interact. Home-schooled students currently exercise this option, and their tendency toward greater civility and amicability is as well known as their statistically superior academic performance.  In a system of fully private education, parents will decide on the educational institution which their children will attend – in large part based on the quality of other students who go there. Because public schools will no longer hold a monopoly position over the educational market for middle and working-class families, many more affordable private schools will spring up to offer parents ever more choices regarding where to send their child. These institutions will compete in positively shaping students’ character as well as their knowledge.

            In a fully private system, parents who wish their children to grow up civilized and reasonable will immerse them in the company of civilized and reasonable adults and children. Those for whom morality and manners are less of a concern will, it is true, be less discriminating. While a private system will not make all young people good, it will ensure that good children will not be forced to associate with bad ones. The generation gap and the disturbingly homogeneous current youth culture will vanish, to be replaced by the more traditional and far better functioning model of children emulating the adults in their lives. In turn, parents will more clearly perceive the example that they must set in order for their children to grow up to lead fulfilling lives and to avoid destroying themselves in the process.  

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue CXVII Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here..

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.