School Is Work (Part I)

America’s patron saint Ben Franklin did not claim to be born again in the Biblical sense of that phrase, but he had sense enough to practice the Scriptural principle and proverb, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings”, and so Poor Richard was and did.  He was not a Puritan; most people are unaware that our nation’s formal founding did not take place until 150 years after the Pilgrims came to America.  But, like many generations before and since, Franklin (and our founding fathers generally) were the spiritual heirs of the Puritans’ piety and work-ethic.

Today some 2 centuries have passed since the days of Franklin, and the afterglow of Pilgrim devotion to duty has ceased to illumine our ways.

This piece does not have to argue that shoddiness and sloth are to be found presently in every area of work, whether it be “labor” itself, business, government, industry (ironic term), or even the professions.  One immediate explantation is that the labor market (again, read “professions”, etc.) abound in dilettante workers, who are not working so much in order to eat (which is  prime motivation for all diligence) as they are “double-dipping” in a dozen different forms, of which mercenary mothers is the most familiar.  This accounts for much job-jumping, absenteeism, poor production, low morale, lack of dedication, and concern for the perks of employment more than its obligations.

Now, usually when we talk about the workaday world we overlook the biggest sector of all, one that involves so  much (wo)manpower and money that it is big business with a capital B.  All the ills mentioned above are characteristic of this calling, plus the fact that no profession is plagued to greater degree by people who landed in that occupation indeliberately, having failed to choose or prepare for something else.

But, besides being a victim of the endemic disease of dereliction in one’s daily duties, the very nature of education is such that it not only perpetuates those faults in itself, but proliferates them in every other area of life, including such non-remunerative occupations as parenting and home-making.  Even if modern American education were conveying adequate technical training for adulthood – which it is not – the personality patterns and ideals which it communicates to minor citizens do not pass muster.

Someone, especially a preacher, might point out that contemporary day-school education neglects the Bible.  Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson said that a person is not truly educated who is ignorant of the Scriptures.  But even apart from its general contents, the Book is so full of educational principles that it might well be regarded as a pedagogical primer which any educational effort neglects to its hurt.  Perhaps the most succinct of these, as regards our present subject, is the precise statement in Ephesians 6:6-9, repeated emphatically in Colossians 3:22-4:1, and addressed to teachers and students as well as any one else in the work-world, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as unto the Lord and not for people; not as poeple-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God.”

But leaving principles aside for the moment, let us be concrete by showing that specific evils in adult employment are simply reflections of bad workmanship learned in our schools.  The numerous faults of the work-wold are two general kinds:  deficiencies as to quality of work, plus the basic lack of sheer quantity.  Examples of the latter are alluded to above, and include tardiness, misuse of sick-leaves, extended “breaks”, unearned vacations, needless holidays — all so common in all kinds of employment that very few clock-punchers average anything like a forty hour work-week.  Add to this the low productivity of many persons when they presumably are working.  If “breaks” are supposed to enhance efficiency, Mondays and other post-holiday work-days should be the most productive of all, while fact is they are usually the least.

Most of this, I submit, is learned (like almost everything else) in youth, and in the official training places for youth – our schools.  As to the quantity of work that every minor citizen ought to perform as his fair share in the world, let us accept for the sake of argument the theory that 180 days out of every 365 are the maximum number for formal learning.  But then that figure ought also to be regarded as minimum.  As it is now, a teacher has only to call the roll in the morning and it can be counted as a complete day, allowing the “students” to scatter for such frivolous “social experiences” as celebrating a basketball championship on the city streets.  Every long-suffering parent can multiply examples of such dereliction of plain duty.

But parents themselves are guilty of shrinking the school year to ridiculous proportions and thereby robbing their own children of much malleable learning for which they are paying high costs.  Ask any conscientious teacher as to the unreal “excuses” that are given for keeping a child out of school, not counting the repeated deaths of one’s grandmother.  The days just before and immediately after already-long vacations are notorious victims of absenteeism.  Too many teachers, in turn, err in this area by taking sick-leave to go fishing or to tend to personal affairs, with demoralizing results for even the time when the teacher is on hand and working.

As to the quality of work expectable in a normal classroom, where did we ever get this monstrous notion that a child need not master a minimum amount of material or skills in order to be promoted?  This will sound radical, and in the good sense of the work it is indeed just that, but what is so sacred about grading “on the curve”?  We lament the Supreme Court opinion that moral standards are relative, but what about academic ones?  The basic defect of IQ and academic achievement tests is that they are based on the stultifying principle of II Corinthians 10:12 instead of Philippians 3:12-16.  Educational journals sound a slogan, “The Pursuit of Excellence”, but what is wrong with Perfection?  The nonsense of athletic “scholarships” is well known, but an athletic mentality has so pervaded all areas of human endeavor (with such figures of speech as ball-park, game-plan, left-field, even in international relationships) that the usually astute Sidney Harris says he is satisfied with “making a hit” in one syndicated column out of three, on the score that he is batting better than .300.

The successful Oriental educator H.K. Wong insists that nothing less than 100% should be the goal of every teacher and student engaged in education.  Neither Scripture nor Wong requires perfection in every (or any) one, but it should be expected, just as every earnest athlete seeks to break records, even his own.  Come to think of it, in what other business (besides education) is a two-thirds approximation of rightness, accuracy, and truth regarded as acceptable, respectable, good enough?  Certainly not in medicine, aviation, foodstuffs.   Nor even in such merchandise as tires; a little puncture makes that commodity as useless as a big one, or many of them.  What recommendation for any job is adequate if it says the applicant is almost honest, nearly or generally trustworthy, fairly reliable, mostly moral?

Next week, the conclusion.




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