We are aware that the ever increasing rich-poor disparity of wealth is creating two Americas in increasingly conflict with our nation's founding principles. Protests generated by Ferguson and the like might signify this growing crisis.
While our Founding Fathers sought succession from England, they envisioned a new nation governed by its people, built on liberty and equality.
Our Founding Fathers clearly expected individual rights would be linked to "moral character and virtue" in order to establish a strong self-governed nation. Equal votes obviously also required the principle of equality. But the price for uniting the colonies in their Declaration of Independence was accepting slavery, a compromise of equality that ultimately led to the Civil War.
Settling the West, plus the Industrial Revolution, opened up opportunities for immigrants to realize the "American Dream," giving rise to the Statue of Liberty message, "Give me your tired, your poor..." The study "Three Hundred Eminent Personalities: A Psychosocial Analysis of the Famous", published in 1978, found that 60 percent of these outstanding individuals disliked and/or dropped out of school and 50 percent never went to college.
But America today is largely settled in a new technology age where opportunities require a college education.
One of the tenets of our democracy is capitalism -- private incentives plus money equals more money. This has created many millionaires, and now billionaires. Capitalism also has created a privileged class in which many want to do some "good" with their wealth -- like helping others less fortunate repeat their success.
Since money and stature gain influence and power, this privileged class -- convinced a strong academic education is essential for personal success and the nation's as well -- has been able to control America's educational system for more than 50 years.
This has made the primary value of America's educational system academic achievement. Unfortunately the end does not justify the means; and while this system appears to prepare students for college and work, it is running roughshod over America's founding principles of liberty and equality. Increasingly, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with dissent growing.
America is now a majority of minorities. Valuing academic achievement over all else discriminates against some and favors others, because of their abilities and heritages.
Asian cultures, for example, have observed the intellectual philosophies of Confucius and Buddha for more than 2500 years; Greco-Roman cultures revered philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle for over 2400 years, with Anglo-Saxons intensely building on them for 1500 years. However, the Hispanic culture had relatively no written history, and African slaves were deliberately kept illiterate.
If you don't think heritage matters in our competitive academic environment, consider this: the average boy is a year and a half behind the average girl in reading and writing: 60 percent of college graduates are women, who have earned almost 10 million more degrees than men over the last 30 years. This gender achievement gap has a grim effect: for every girl aged 15-19 who commits suicide, 5.49 boys the same age do, and for every girl aged 15- 17 housed in a correctional facility, 8.37 boys the same age are.
This educational system fails to meet the true growth needs of boys, as well as those with Hispanic or African heritages. On a larger scale, it simply discriminates between individuals based on their academic abilities, just as it would if it were their athletic abilities.
However, we can reform this system so it far better serves all American children, and even improve academic performance.
The one common denominator all Americans have is family, in which the primary value is character development. Isn't the obvious step to make character development the primary value of American education?
- Character honors what the Founders envision for the role of liberty and equality in establishing a strong self-governing nation.
- It draws both the student and family into the school, extending the student's progress at home into the school, and vice versa, giving both parent and child confidence and a sense of partnership.
- Character development prepares and motivates the student for academic work focused more on curiosity and unity than competition, thus creating a positive learning environment.
This first step of character into our schools will unify our nation. A united America will be an unbeatable power for good in this world.
NEXT in the series: The beginning of the support our nation needs