A Lasssst Thought

Dreams Need Work Clothes (Balance Amid Extremes -- Part 3)

 

Falling Behind

 

The buzz word in education for the last decade has been S.T.E.M., an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, which was first used by the National Science Foundation to develop interest in the subjects represented by the acronym. The educational community embraced the acronym when studies showed that students in the U.S. ranked behind other countries in the areas of reading, science, and math. However, after more than a decade of attention on the S.T.E.M subjects, statistics show that American students' levels of proficiency in those subjects has actually fallen further below the average of our economic partners (http://www.businessinsider.com/pisa-rankings-2013-12).

 

Why?

In my first posts, I suggested that there is a lack of balance in the emphases on subjects studied in schools (public, private and home). We glanced at three great minds (DaVinci, Pascal, and Franklin) to note the balance of subject matter that they assimilated in their studies and work. None leaned more heavily to one field than to another. Could that be part of their genius and success? What other factors may have contributed to their legacies?

 

Work Ethic

 

Franklin often suggested in his writings that a strong work ethic was essential. "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" has been used by parents to coax children to bed for over two centuries. A perusal of Franklin's other quotes, which can be found in abundance online and elsewhere, will indicate the value the patriot set on a strong work ethic. One of his more descriptive quotes is "Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes."

Although there have been a few educational movements in American history that have blended hands-on work with academics, most often, current attempts to blend are temporary such as an internship during the final semester before graduation from college. In the last century, there has been a significant disconnect between education and its purpose in the U.S. that has not occurred in those nations whose students rank higher in "proficiencies."  Businesses have begun to recognize this disconnect in the quality of the workforce, so more colleges are offering co-operative programs so that their graduates have had significant work experience in their fields prior to graduation. High school programs are now starting to offer internships as well, yet the connection between school and work in the U.S. still is not as strong as in other industrial nations.

 

Japanese Schools

 

For example, there are no janitors in Japanese schools. The students are required to clean the rooms and grounds. There, as one American who taught in Japan reports, "School is not just learning from a book. It's about learning how to become a member of society and taking responsibility for oneself" (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/04/04/396621542/without-janitors-students-are-in-charge-of-keeping-school-shipshape). 

Other differences between American and Japanese schools include entrance exams for high school, respect for teachers, and reliability of students (http://www.businessinsider.com.au/japanese-vs-american-schools-2014-7).  Because Japanese students consistently rank near the top of surveys for academic achievement, perhaps American educators need to consider implementing a few more of their customs, which actually had been prevalent in American schools prior to the progressive movement and its adjustments throughout the 20th and now the 21st centuries.

 

An American Plan

 

Nonetheless, we need not look overseas for a plan to successfully educate students and prepare them for life, but back just over a century to the writings of one educator who built a successful model literally from the ground up: Booker T. Washington, whose principles in education are applicable to all Americans of every ethnicity.

Although Washington had the task of educating African Americans freed from slavery in the late 19th century, the balance of intellect and industry that he proposed is still needed today. He found then, as he might today, that "The idea, however, was too prevalent that as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labour."

 

He too had believed as a young man "that to secure an education meant to have a good, easy time, free from all necessity for manual labor until he began his studies at the Hampton Institute. "At Hampton I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour, not alone for its financial value, but for labour's own sake and the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings."

 

Marriage of Intellect and Industry

Therefore, when Washington was given the job to establish Tuskegee Institute, he found that the same principles he had needed to learn as a young man were needed by the students he was to teach. Maligned by critics as utilitarian and degrading and mislabeled by admirers as progressive, the ideas Washington outlined in his autobiography, Up from Slavery, are reflective of the values of the Founding Fathers, that educated men and women have valuable skills to contribute to their communities and have the knowledge to make wise decisions as citizens and participants in government. He summarized these principles in his address at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895:

 

". . . we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour and put our brains and skill into the common occupations of life; [we] shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."

 

 

Many who misinterpret his intent complain that his methods were uncreative and were meant only to train his students to become more efficient laborers. Though efficiency and improved approaches to labor were effects of his plan, his principles clearly called for the marriage of intellect and industry, "a generous education of the hand, head, and heart," "a foundation in education, industry, and property." 

 

An Example

 

The embodiment of these principles could be seen in the faculty Washington chose for Tuskegee, most notably George Washington Carver whose creativity and industry were unsurpassed and  provided innumerable new products and improved methods of production. Carver, who was not only a famous scientist but also an accomplished musician and artist, exemplified the principles that he and Washington taught at Tuskegee. Balance of the intellect with industry produces more results and satisfaction than an imbalance of the two ever can.

Buried next to Washington on the Tuskegee campus, Carver's epitaph reads: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world." Is that not a summary of education's purpose ‒ to teach students to find happiness and honor in being helpful?

 

Whether compared to the founding principles of the Tuskegee Institute (now University) or the success of Japanese schools, the trends in American education, particularly since the 1970s, have produced an imbalance between intellect and industry. By weakening one, both have suffered. By not dressing dreams in work clothes as Franklin suggested, motivation has been crippled, and U.S. students' proficiency ratings will continue to fall.

 

It's Not Too Late

Schools can implement life skills and work experiences within the curriculum, but parents have an invaluable role in developing the work ethic of students too. Early training can begin at home with instruction in simple housekeeping skills, and then later with banking and budgeting skills. (There are materials available now that can help parents teach these that I wish had been available when I was growing up! A few are listed below.) Both parents and schools can provide opportunities for students to meet professionals who hold various positions within the community and are glad to share their experience. By having instruction and role models at home, at school, and in the community, students can  learn responsibility and develop the skills to be contributing members of society.

 

Suggested Reading:

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Life Skills for Kids by Christine M. Field

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

 

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