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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Little Red Schoolhouse: A Fable?

I have been thinking about what has happened in education over the past several years, and  of what has been in the news lately.  I wrote this story several years ago, and it was published.  However, I felt it was time to share it once more.

Once upon a time, there was a little red schoolhouse that was filled with children and had only one teacher.  This little red schoolhouse was located in the middle of a small community.  The purpose for the little red schoolhouse was to educate children. The people who lived in this community believed that what happened in the little red schoolhouse was an important part of their lives, and the lives of their children.  These people believed that educating their children would provide a better life for all of the people in the community.  They felt that the importance was so great, that each member of the community had a responsibility to share in the role of seeing that the little red schoolhouse was the best it could be. 

     The children were expected to learn all they could while there were in school.  Parents kept in contact with the teacher to know how their child was progressing.  If Johnny and Jane were not trying their best, the parents helped to correct the problem.  The parents and the children treated the teacher with respect because the teacher was sharing knowledge that would benefit them all.

     When things for the little red schoolhouse were needed and money wasn’t available in the school treasury, the community pulled together to get it.  If repairs or improvements were needed, the people of the community pitched in to help raise the money that was needed.  Money was not always spent to make repairs or improvements because the people would often gather at school on a Saturday and fix whatever needed to be fixed.  They took the responsibility of the little red schoolhouse personally as if it belonged to each of them.

     Good manners, respect, and work ethic were the order of the day, and these things were taught at home as well.  Children were expected to behave properly at home and at school.  Parents gave children responsibilities at home to teach them basic life skills.  They taught their children morals, values, and self-respect.  Parents saw that children did their school assignments before they played.  It was understood and believed that an education was a privilege, and a valuable possession.  Children were taught by role models that man had a responsibility to his fellowman, his community, and his nation.

     The children reflected the beliefs of this community.  They knew that obtaining an education was work, but a worthwhile pursuit.  They understood that obtaining the best education they could get would be the key that would open doors to a better life for all. Believing in the benefits of obtaining a good education paid great rewards.  Life was good for the community and the little red schoolhouse glowed with pride.

      Then, one day, the values of the community began to change.  The people became complacent because the investment they had made in their children had paid great dividends and their lives had become much easier.  The children had become inventors, scientists, teachers, and doctors.  The children created new technologies that made jobs plentiful and their efforts raised the standard of living for everyone. 

     Life began to change and everyone wanted the things that the new technologies had created.  There was an increased demand by all for the new products and services.  Eventually, more and more of the children chose not to obtain a good education but they also wanted all the things that education had produced.  The people reaped the rewards of the educated but over time they became greedy.  They began to adopt a different set of values and morals.  It was not long before occupations that provided amusement and entertainment were valued higher than those requiring a good education.

     Time passed.  Values and morals changed even more. Leisure, entertainment and self-gratification became the valued goals.  Soon the people who provided such things were receiving a larger paycheck than the people with the higher levels of education.  However, the people with the higher levels of education were expected to continue maintaining and improving the lifestyle that everyone else took for granted.  The people and the little red schoolhouse who provided the knowledge that made the “good life” possible were not as respected as they had once.

     The people quickly forgot why life was so good.  They became more self-centered and they wanted the little red schoolhouse to take on more and more of the responsibilities that had once been theirs.  Finally, the little red schoolhouse was expected to provide almost all the needs of the children that had at one time been provided by the parents and the community.  They wanted to reap the rewards of the skilled and educated society without investing any money or self-effort.  They lived, happily, for the moment, enjoying the fruits of their ancestors’ earlier investments.  They ceased to make an investment in their children’s future or their own at the little red schoolhouse.

     The number of people who depended on rewards of previous investments in education had increased.  The number of educated people had decreased.  The little red schoolhouse was sad because the people no longer believed in it or supported it.  The “good” life began to disappear.

      The parents no longer took care of the little red schoolhouse and it began to fade because of neglect.  The children stopped believing in the little red schoolhouse.  The children had too few role- models and the little red schoolhouse could not do everything without help and support of the community.  The children’s behavior began to reflect what was happening.  They no longer used good manners, showed respect for themselves or others, or believed in the work ethic.  They no longer believed it was important to get an education.  They began to drop out of school at an earlier and earlier age.  Society began to show symptoms of decay as the instances of drug abuse, violence, and a multitude of other problems with the youth increased.  The people began to get upset and looked for someone to blame.

     The people blamed their leaders, they blamed the little red schoolhouse, they blamed the school board, and the government.  They behaved like drowning men grasping at straws in the water by grasping at any solution that was available except the one that would have saved them.  They refused to believe that what happened at the little red schoolhouse relied on their support, on their being directly involved, and investing in education to improve what was started long ago.  They refused to believe that they were also responsible for what was happening to the children and to their society.  Because the people were not willing to do what was necessary to correct the situation, the problems increased.   Their world had become unstable and fearful.

     One day the little red schoolhouse closed its doors because no believed in it anymore.  Teachers became an extinct species.  Time passed and the people began to have less money to buy things that made life easier.  The number of people who had jobs decreased.  The number of people who lived in poverty increased.  More and more people became homeless.   The world as the people had known it began to disappear. 

     Machines that had made their life easier began to break down, but no one knew how to fix them.  New ones were needed, but no one knew how to design or build them.  People were ill and needed doctors, but doctors were a vanishing breed.  Only a few wise men were left, but they had been so ridiculed for their preoccupation with learning that they had gone into isolation, and no one knew where they had gone.  Various individuals of the community tried to solve the problem, but without success because there was no one left who knew how.

     The “good life” became a myth, a fairy tale, that all the people longed for again.  However, because the people had waited too long and did not take the steps required to change the course in which they were headed, life did not get better.  Eventually mankind returned to the dark ages.  The “good life” existed only in the stories told to the children around open fires.  These stories were about a time when the world was full of wonderful magical, mysterious things, when man lived in beautiful houses, had machines that did menial work, traveled through the air, and even a time when man walked in space.

     The how and why such a wondrous world had ever existed were gone forever.  The only thing left to remind man of a time that had existed was an odd, faded, red building that had been called a schoolhouse.  No one remembered its purpose.  No one remembered that magic had occurred in this little red building.  No one remembered that in the “middle age” of man on earth, the people had believed in the little red schoolhouse.  No one remembered that the magic was the people, the community, and the little red schoolhouse working together.  No one remembered that it took all the people working together to produce the magic of an educated society.  The magic was gone, only the flicker of the open firelight and the dim memory of a better time remained.

v  This was the last entry in a journal belonging to the last wise man that was found in a cave in the mid-western region of a country once called the United States of America. The anthropologists who found the journal wondered what kind of world they may have found if the faith in the little red schoolhouse had not been forsaken. 

2 comments:

Stuart Aken said...

A lovely story, and timely. It is a future I also fear, Sylvia. One which is slowly coming into being. I hope many people read this and give some thought to the consequences of such neglect. I don't think I'll be around when the decline begins to be irreversible, but I fear for my daughter's generation. I shall tweet this, in the hope that others come here and are inspired to think.

Thoughtful Reflections said...

Thank you the comment Stuart. I know, I fear the same. Because I am so connected to the education process, I have watched a decline over the years. I worry about grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. This world may become a very scary place.