In previous weeks this column has addressed concerns with the breakdown of certain values in our society. I’ve received many email messages and verbal comments regarding these issues and the need for a course adjustment. In fact most of those I’ve heard from would like to hear solutions to address the problems.
Most of us can agree on the problems. The solutions will be far more difficult to embrace because if the solutions were quick and simple we wouldn’t be where we are today. The fact is the solutions start with each of us. Speaking out and voicing our concerns when we see and hear things we don’t agree with isn’t as simple as it sounds. People aren’t nearly as civil as they once were and voicing concerns today is more apt to create a heated argument then a fruitful outcome, but it’s the only way to correct the path we are on.
There is a wholesomeness missing in life today and in far too many circles a loss of hope. When people show their dissatisfaction with nearly anything these days they tend to be minimized and labeled as a “nut,” a “radical,” or “very much out of step” with society. Those methods of deflecting a differing opinion have been so successful that it has caused, I believe, a large majority of common sense people to just keep quiet by keeping their opinions to themselves. Without visible and vocal leaders in society nor an outspoken national media to stand up for common values we’ve all been guilty of just letting things slide, thus bringing us to the sad state of affairs we find ourselves mired in today.
There was a time when we valued greater civility, demonstrated more discipline, and had a stronger sense of right, wrong and a clear understanding of our core values. People at the time earned far less, but were happier and more optimistic about the future. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of participating with over 150 educators, business and community leaders from our four northern counties at an education summit. At one of the discussion groups a person said that at one time the common feeling among parents was that we sincerely hoped and believed our children would live a better life than they had. Today most parents are cautiously wishful that their children can enjoy a life not better, but at least as good as they had. The major difference between those two statements is that the parents in the first statement worked hard and sacrificed to make good on their hopes. The parents in the second statement were raised in an era of plenty when hard work and sacrifices were not as highly valued. They failed to pass along the required skills to function in a less than easy time. In short they lack the capacity or the will to do more then let fate take its course.
The root of the problem begins at home, and carries through to our education system and likely can’t be corrected in the later years of life nor in the workforce, unless somehow each of us gets very serious about addressing several key issues. First, basic core values are learned at home from parents, siblings and a strong family unit. We can’t change the number of adults in society who lack an appreciation for those values and are now bringing up their own children in less than desirable conditions. Therefore society as a whole needs to do far more to counteract and instill a new sense of morality. It starts, in my opinion, with a commitment to return to our community churches and a new appreciation for a sense of community that can only be created in that congregational environment. Recognizing and accepting help is never easy but it’s the only way I know of to reestablish our traditional values and reinforce the lessons from home and school.
Second, our education system needs to be overhauled. In New York, only 57 of 100 ninth graders will graduate from high school. Many of those children who didn’t graduate, dropped out years earlier but hadn’t made it official until they were older. Far too much emphasis is placed on Regents testing and pushing students to higher postsecondary education. In 1973 a high school diploma was the passport to the American Dream and 72 percent of the workforce had no more than that high school diploma. Today, just 41 percent of the workforce has no more than a high school diploma, yet we have lost our global leadership in education attainment and achievement. As a country we rank far down on the list of other countries that encourage vocational education training.
In the past it wasn’t so much what you knew but how much you were willing to adapt and learn. A good high school education gave one a solid foundation from which to build. When one thinks about how quickly technology is changing our world it’s hard to imagine anything learned in school today other than a strong commitment to cradle to grave learning and a disciplined work ethic will provide a foundation for careers in the future.
I’ll continue to use this platform to voice my concerns and I encourage you to share your views with me and others. I will add your thoughts to my column each week so that together we can find ways to reestablish the values that, as a country, have been at the core of our existence. If we are to improve the future for the generations to come we must recognize that we did this to ourselves and only we can correct what has been a long and steady decline.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.