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First, break the monopoly of the public school system. Give parents back their tax money so they purchase the education they believe is best for their children, whether secular private, religious, internet-delivered, home schooled or even old PS 22. Free up the system, but make the results highly transparent.
Second, change the “work environment” and change our expectations of students. Extend the school day until 5 in the afternoon as so many other countries do. Extend the school year from 180 days to closer to 240. Without giving into the empty slogan “education should be fun!”, make schooling more interesting and connected to their futures. Currently in the US, teachers and students are obsessed with the results of paper and pencil objective tests on reading, and math, an obsession which has blocked out time previously devoted to art, literature, geography, history, music and physical education. It is little wonder that students are seeking escapes and the educational enterprise is so dispirited! The drill, drill, drill and test, test, test approach is killing teachers and students alike.
Third, use school-parent contracts to get a new set of student expectations in place. For instance, parents should be “under contract” to provide a quiet, media free study place for their children. They should strictly limit time and exposure to TV, to the internet and social networking and anything that interferes with their children developing the knowledge and the work habits the future will demand of them.
Fourth, re-empower teachers to be character educators. Instead of the current model of teacher-as-information-dispenser, teacher should be prepared and expected aggressively to teach children the good habits or virtues we know constitute a worthy life, that is, habits of responsibility, self-discipline, justice and respect for others. Educators should recapture the tradition of teachers being in loco parentis. If some students are unable to accommodate the new, more serious school environment, removed them to other, more structured environments until they are ready to return. We owe that to both the offending students, but also to the teachers and students who stay behind.
Fifth, de-sexualize school. Switch from the current urban fashion to school uniforms. Outlaw foul language and “public displays of affection” with has come to cover everything from groping, grinding and worse. Leave “condom distribution” to the local drugstore. Teenagers, in particular, always were and are hungry for romance. Nevertheless, schools should be sex-free zones.
Sixth, the young need a meaning system, a worldview, which is bigger than their own appetites. A nation of self-oriented pleasure-seekers will have a short, inglorious future. It is a fundamental duty of parents to transmit to their children an understanding of where they come from, who they are and where they should be going. Churches are a great resource here. So are the schools, religious and private, that are freed from the “science-only” worldview of US public schools. Parents, however, have the ultimate responsibility to, as a friend once said to me, help children escape the “Great Suck of Self.”
When I am asked what steps I recommend to be ready for what lies ahead, I always begin with the obvious: food, water, shelter, etc. It does no good to neglect personal preparedness while you pursue high-minded global change. In other words, if you can’t heat your own house in the winter of a crisis, the fact that you lobbied your utility company to buy some of its power from “green” sources doesn’t mean very much. That’s blunt, I know, but true. Make a list of the things you personally depend on, then under each one write the question: “What would I do if…” Don’t stop until you have answers for each one.
Yet, sadly, many people mistakenly believe that this sort of nitty-gritty preparation is the whole journey, when it is, in fact, just the first step. Securing your own basic necessities is the very least you can do—must do—to prepare yourself for the coming Long Emergency.
No, there is much more to preparedness than that. Next, you must set about making sure you have something vital to offer your community—not the one presently defined by political boundaries or tax districts, but the much smaller circle of actual people you live with or near. As John F. Kennedy once suggested, don’t think in terms of what your community can do for you. Imagine having to justify your inclusion in a clan of people when the burning political question of the day is how to fairly divide up the hardship of scarcity. Why should you get a share? What do you bring to the table that the community values and needs? Here’s a hint: It had better be something with a direct and measurable positive impact on collective survival, under conditions more challenging than anything you’ve ever seen.
The key word here, of course, is “collective”—a badly discredited word after years of capitalist triumphalism. Nevertheless, by helping to feed (or clothe, or heal, or shelter) the people you live with, you will gain access to all that they can do for you as well, each of you leading the other away from hell, if not into heaven. Contrary to the fear mongering propaganda plastered all over the TV, most people want to contribute and belong to something larger than themselves , and would if shown a viable vision of how it can work.
Yes, there is serious trouble at our doorstep. Yes, society is undergoing dramatic convulsions of contraction and change—right now. But we will make things much worse on ourselves if we fail to factor into our calculations the welfare of others, not just our own. We are only as safe as the least secure of our neighbors--period. Some people respond to that idea by building deeper bunkers. What would happen if we reached out instead? Genuine community may not spring up overnight, but a single act of one-on-one kindness and inclusion can begin to undo years of isolation and fear. One gesture of hope and trust can inspire people to lower their weapons and tear down long-held defenses. From there we might discover that we’re all starving to death anyway, attempting to feed ourselves alone. What would it cost us to give cooperation a shot for a change?
This Christmas it is no longer good enough to mouth a few empty words about “goodwill toward men”. It is time to start living it on purpose and out loud, learning to love and care for each other like our lives depend on it—because they very well may. After all, that’s what the baby from Bethlehem grew up to say.
Thus the "individual" as understood in rationalist social-contract theories is, for the Christian, already a reduction, even an abstraction. To be, as Pope Benedict has said, is revealed to us as to be from, to be with, and to be for: it is the Trinitarian mystery of existence. We must not think of people as, primarily, individuals, to which are superadded contingent relationships. Every person is born into a world of relationships: is the child of a mother and a father. In a certain sense, it is correct to remember that Jesus would have died on the cross to save even one of us: he loves all, in such a way as to love each, as if each were the only being in the world. But each of us is not the only being in the world, and could never be, so that when Jesus saves me he saves the fellow who is the son of Anthony and Jane, the husband of Debra; and it is also those relationships of love that he has come to heal and redeem. That is but what it means to save the individual.
I grant that this is a great mystery. But I think it helps us to avoid the unnecessary dichotomy between rights, which are supposed to inhere only in individuals, and responsibilities, which are supposed to be owed only to others. In point of fact, my rights and responsibilities are incoherent if considered as separate from one another, since I am fundamentally from, with, and for others. A family is more than an agglomeration of human isotopes; to deny that it too possesses rights is to mistake what a human being is. If no man is an island, and if every man's death diminisheth me, then every man's evil harms me, and every man's virtue builds me up. All these things we need to consider when we ask, "What does a just society look like?", and, what is not the same thing, "What form of government best serves the end of justice?" We will conclude that it is not true that the "freest" society is the most just, if by freedom we mean the license to behave as if we were alone in the world, pursuing individual ends, but that a just society will be the most free -- because it will be a society of genuine liberty wherein human beings can best flourish. I'm not original here, far from it. More on this soon.