Evangelicals & Culture: The tail is wagging the dog

It is no surprise our culture is deteriorating at an alarming pace. Even when allowing for due consideration for adolescence and the associated growing pains I continue to witness inappropriate conduct there is more the norm than the accepted exception.

I can easily remember my youth and while my friends and I were never “altar boys” we knew there was a clear line between youthful mischief and blatant disrespect. I can still remember “Ms. Peete” from our neighborhood. She was the “neighborhood cop” who reported to parents the ill advised actions of their children while they were away at work.

She kept a tight lease and although we complained and poked fun at her reputation (as youth are prone to do) she was always respected and was understood to be feared. You never wanted to be caught misbehaving because you knew there would be negative repercussions. We did the typical high-jinks but there was a clear line we never crossed.

Fast forward to the present, I work in the high school system and I routinely witness students using profanity directed specifically to teachers and administrators. I will grant I used profanity as a youth but I always was cognizant of my surrounding and quickly modified my speech when I was in the presence of adults.

I can remember how I viewed adults as a student.  The Principal was a revered figure.  The Principal was someone who you knew but someone you never wanted to know you.  You would see the Principal “walk the hall” and there was always a sense of awe and intimidation when you were in their presence.  Kind of like when you might be goofing off but as you approached the neighborhood church you straightened up and “flew right.”

As I mentioned previously, I used profanity but I never dared do so in the presence of adults.  My parents never allowed my brothers and I to refer to an adult by their first name.  We always had to put a “handle” on it as my parents would always remind us.  What made this more frustrating was this was often in respond to some adult instructing us it was okay to call them by their first names.  All of our peers might be to address our youth leader as “Catherine” or “Anette” but for my brothers and I it had to be “Sister Catherine” or “Ms. Anette.”

We were not perfect children but we had clear boundaries.  What is happening with our culture?  I had a student actually attempt to engage my in dialogue that he was to be considered my equal.  Now, granted on one level we are equals in that we were both created in the image of God.  I possess no more worth or value than a student but the Trinity is a perfect illustration of the principle of equality in essence but an hierarchy in function.

In the education environment students and teachers are not equals.  Yet, the boundaries have been so eroded that teenagers are embracing a paradigm that destroys the very fabric of a well-ordered society.  It is no wonder our public school educational system is failing at an ever increasing rate.  When there is a breakdown in discipline and structure you will inevitably experience chaos.  Chaos does not lean to academic excellence.

One of the vexing problems with our society in general and our school system in particular is the consequences are minimal and do not serve as any real deterrent. The school system in particular is broken because schools are funded by their attendance and enrollment rates. Consequently, schools would rather have “fannies in the seats” even they are unproductive or even unruly. Students routinely come to school late but the school devotes considerable resources to ensuring students are marked present during the second period because the state uses the attendance report from second period for accounting person.

That philosophy creates a toxic atmosphere.  What happens to the students who do come to learn? Teachers have to devote valuable classroom instruction time dealing with discipline issues. Yet schools are held accountable for student academic achievement.

Teachers are routinely forced to keep an unruly student in the classroom because the school is struggling to maintain the state level for attendance.  I believe we allow people to deal honestly with the consequences of their actions.  Over time I believe if our society consistently held people responsible for their conscious bad choices we would see an upswing in academic achievement in the classroom.

These same students will be the future generation that will lay blame for their economic struggles as adults on the “system” or the “man.” The paradigm has shifted decisively from holding “little Johnny” accountable for why he can’t read to it being principally the teacher’s fault. That is not to say little Johnny is solely accountable.  He surely is not but he is the decisive factor whether learning takes place.  That is why parent are so instrumental in the process.  My parents are a good example.  My dad had a 4th grade education while my mother had a “Mississippi-level” high school education which is to say she had something along the lines of a 6th grade education.

While my parents were poorly educated they devoted much blood, sweat and tears ensuring my three brothers understood the value of education.  Three of the four of us went on to secure at least a bachelor’s degree. I believe it was direct influence of my parents which set the stage for our educational success.  We still had to do the work but we grew up in an environment where human flourishing was possible.

You show me a student who is not taking school seriously and invariably you will be able to look no further than the student’s parental involvement.  Sadly, I believe this trend will continue to spiral negatively on the whole but I just want to speak into my sphere of influence and challenge Evangelicals of all persuasions to push back against the culture and lead our families well.  Leading our families first begin with raising the future generation in the fear and admonition of God.  Right after that is educational.  It is one of the keys to human flourishing.  Students will not excel if they believe they are entitled or that they are equal partners or if they do not accept discipline and structure.

We must reclaim personal accountability on the individual student.  I would love to hear your feedback as I am positive others have different perspectives on the matter.

Until then keep your hand to the plow and serve for an Audience of One.

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