Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Teach 'Em What They Don't Know How

Sitting in a meeting with high school educators and community leaders the other day, the topic of life skills arose.  On one side, we had several who expressed dissatisfaction because too many young people, according to them, didn’t have any.  Some blamed the system, while others blamed parents.  I kept my mouth shut, for I really didn’t have a dog in this fight, and it was getting close to 5pm.  On a Monday.  Following a nice long weekend at the beach.  Remind me never to schedule a work thing the day I return from a vacation.  Anyway, getting back to the point of pointing fingers, I silently played for both teams on the issue.

As someone who’s worked in education now for almost twenty years (egad!), I’ve noticed a slight downward movement within classrooms.  There’s an awful lot of apathy amongst many educators, for myriad reasons, I’m sure:  the pressure of teaching to standardized tests, the fear of calling a kid out on bad behavior for fear of a lawsuit, the anxiety that comes with underfunded schools that have cut the arts in order to beef up security.  It’s a long list, and I empathize with the good teachers who are still out there swinging, trying to make a difference.  I say good teachers, because there are an awful lot of bad ones simply making time.  You’d think that the hoops one must jump through in order to land a job teaching would cut out the riff raff, but they don’t. 

With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder teachers can’t schedule a lesson or two on good manners.  You know, to reinforce what’s being taught at home?

Oh, yeah, that’s right – so little of it is taught at home these days, according to others attending the meeting. I agreed with them on several – not all – points.

We have, unfortunately lost the art of thank you notes.  Looking an adult in the eye and speaking to her is long gone, too, as is the good old-fashioned handshake.  Sure, every young person I know can show me how to close the apps on my phone properly, but ask them to set the table and they’re lost.   They can communicate up a storm via text, but try to talk to them one-on-one and see where that might get you.

Other complaints from the meeting included the following:

Give a kid $20 for a $12.99 item, and he can’t make change without a calculator (neither can I, I thought)

They’re too busy looking at their phones to interact with anyone (I do that on occasion, but only when surrounded by idiots and thumping bores)

They can’t eyeball measurements for recipes (that’s why God gave us measuring cups, lady).

They can’t figure the circumference of a room (Mister, is this really keeping you awake at night? Really?)

Their music is too loud (my parents voiced the same complaint against me in the 80’s …this is a generational thing, and had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.  This was merely some yahoo desperate to throw in, unaware that I had a pile of laundry and a glass of wine to get home to.  Jerk.)

Sure, I’d like to see young people better behaved, and I’m happy to report that I personally know a number of young people who do understand the importance of saying and doing the right thing. They may not know how to make change or convert measurements, but those sorts of things don’t matter in my world.  Sure, their mannerly efforts may not be implemented with the greatest finesse, but at least they’re trying.  Some of them have fantastic support from their homes and their schools, while others do not.  I truly believe it’s a crapshoot as to who will make it and who won’t.  The ones who are making it seem to share a couple of common traits, though:   the right attitude and the desire to succeed. 

Perhaps if we recognized them a little more, and turned a blind eye to the others, things might actually turn out okay for us all.  Additionally, if we offered better examples of courtesy and how to host snazzy, classy parties, we might not have to say to them, “This is how you do it.”  They’re smart, these young people, and incredibly savvy.  They’d figure it out, eventually, I’m sure.