THE BLOG
09/24/2014 09:32 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

The Disneyfication of American Education

Among the many factors that impede student learning in America today is America itself, with its siren call of bewitching distractions. The Gospel of Instant Gratification preached by our culture conditions the young from the cradle never to expect delay or effort. Whatever one wants need never be worked for, but possessed at once as natural birthright. One can have it all and have it now! Waiting is an intolerable burden, as un-American as doing without.

Madison Avenue is, indeed, too much with us. Getting and spending, even our children have given their hearts away, as they lay waste their powers by glutting their every whim and desire, foregoing childhood innocence in becoming jaded adults, victims of a marketing scheme that will sell them whatever they crave beyond any sane limit, no questions asked.

The destructive social side-effects of stoking this frenzy are, needless to say, of no concern to Big Business, whose only goal is maximized profits. It's the school that must deal with the fallout or, more exactly, the collateral damage of children, and for whom it, unaccountably, must shoulder the blame.

Today's young are the spawn of this luxuriant seedbed of gargantuan entitlement. Seemingly living among us, they inhabit, in fact, a parallel universe that holds them in thrall to a far greater degree than anything the school could possibly equal, much less surpass.

Theirs is a world of all-consuming addiction that renders them helpless to the enticements of Facebook, texting, smartphones, Twitter, iPods, iPads, YouTube, Internet, video games, ad infinitum. It is a hermetically-sealed, solipsistic domain that enslaves its adherents with its seductive allures, disabling them from learning and facing life's struggles.

School obligations are dispensed with as quickly, as routinely, and as disinterestedly as possible to hasten the swiftest return to this realm of enchantment. The rigors of learning have scant appeal to denizens of such languorous dreamscapes induced by these technological opium dens.

The rules of engagement with the school are simple and few: whatever entails effort isn't seen as worthwhile. There is no time for patience, discouragement, setback, or failure, only feel-good success.

Lost on them is the difference between cheap, easy victories and those born of sacrifice, self-overcoming, and being pushed to the limits -- all meaningless words from a faraway past, with the exception of sports, where America would rather its high schools be training grounds for Spartan warriors than serene enclaves for Athenian learning!

When children expect the quick and the easy, the slow and arduous regimen of learning proves doubly distasteful. When effort is measured by the flick of a switch, the turn of a key, and the push of a button, the struggle for knowledge proves too Herculean.

Delayed gratification is dismissed as too medieval. Why wait for anything, when life's about now, the moment, possessions, and pleasure? Everything must be dipped in sugar and consumed at once, even learning itself!

Students relish fast-food knowledge without depth or substance, gulped down quickly, savory "factoids" for the sybaritic palate, abetted by a technology which feeds this addiction, while blinding young eyes to scholarship's deeper dimensions.

When novelty's bloom is off the rose and learning's no longer "fun," students grow listless -- they've had their dessert, and shun the main course with its nutrition and fiber.

It's knowledge-as-entertainment, with instant, effortless, fun-filled visuals, as students tap their screens for a kaleidoscopic display of images that beguile the eye, while disengaging the mind in this Disneyfication of American education that keeps children riveted to the surface of things and of life itself.

The young see the school as endless diversion. Even the proverbial indifference of the world is sugar'd o'er into their Personal Nanny, who will dry their tears and take care for them, a view once outgrown by sixth-graders, but which now persists into college.

This is the problem with education today. Everything these students have ever known has conditioned them to believe that life is a game, an arcade, a pleasure dome -- even the acquisition of knowledge, whereby, lost in distraction, they have but to languidly amble through enchanted gardens amidst whispered sweet nothings to a unicorn approaching out of the mist.

To be sure, the young need fun to be balanced and healthy, and just to be kids. However, what is happening today is much more alarming -- children becoming far too passive and self-absorbed, withdrawing to the welcoming embrace of fantasy that has become their reality, and that ultimately may be their undoing.

What the young sorely need is a crash course in Life 101, the only therapy that will cure them of this curious sickness quite beyond the practice of teachers, who until now have always dealt with a different kind of student.

Students in the past had already begun to take the world's measure, understood that life was real and earnest, and making one's way a bitter struggle, yet couldn't wait to enter the fray. Today, however, life is eternal play-without-consequences.

But this is a crash course which the school alone cannot teach. Like everything else of importance in the life of a child, this, too, must begin in the home, where the soul of the young is first fashioned and nurtured.

Parents must share the same vision as the school, and impart the old-fashioned lessons and values as they once always did, where there was continuity between the home and the school, not contradiction. What the home hasn't sown, the school cannot hope to bring to fruition.

Nor is this all. The lessons of home must also be reinforced by the culture at large that should have the long-term interests of children at heart, not their short-term exploitation for corporate profit that unsuits them for learning and the struggles of life.

There must, then, be agreement between the school, the home, and society. Otherwise, cultural schizophrenia results among children who take in contradictory messages played out in, though not caused by, the school, because the home, society, or both have been remiss in their duty. And the school becomes the convenient scapegoat and villain in this bizarre social ritual of seeking a victim to blame.