September 9th, 2010 // 11:01 am @ Oliver DeMille
In recent years we have seen a domino effect of compounding crises, one following another.
Behind each crisis is a history — a series of causal events and circumstances that made the crisis inevitable.
Our failure to recognize the common root cause makes it unlikely that effective solutions will ever be put in place to free us from this cycle.
While many correctly note that education is the key, this is usually only an introduction to an even more troubling crisis.
Violence, addiction, cultural decay, the degeneration of the family unit, deterioration of an aging infrastructure of buildings and resources, high rate of dropout of students as well as teachers, political manipulation of curriculum and personnel, and mediocre and falling test scores are all issues of extreme importance.
But after all of the other criticisms that can be made of our educational system, the final indictment is that too many of our children simply aren’t learning.
Because of this education disaster the twenty-first century has not fulfilled its promise as an Information Age, a Post-industrial Age, or an American Age.
It has instead been an Era of Crisis.
To break free from this long-term pattern of crisis we must first fix education, and to fix education we must address the real problem.
The deep reality of this failure is that education now too seldom involves the right kind of connection.
Consider the deeply moving and transformational experiences you had with teachers and educators in your life and I think you will agree that connection was a defining characteristic in virtually every example. Somehow that great teacher or mentor found a connection with you, and it helped you when you needed it.
Now add to your mental list the best characteristics of the greatest teachers in history, from Socrates to Mother Teresa. Now include those of the greatest mentors in literature and books, like Jo in Little Men, or the priest in Romeo and Juliet.
Add to the list the best from great teachers in contemporary movies, like Dead Poet’s Society and Freedom Writers.
Within this list we find a prescription for how to truly connect with, teach, and mentor young people.
This list is what great education is. This list is what Leadership Education is all about.
Our purpose is to put great mentors in the classroom with students and then watch as greatness emerges. And it does — because when teachers know that their entire purpose is to be the things on that list to the students in their care, miracles occur.
As I wrote in my book A Thomas Jefferson Education, academia today struggles because both teachers and students have lost the vision of their role in the educational process.
Every conceivable “fix” has been tried or proposed, while neglecting the obvious: It is the student’s job to supply the desire and effort to get an education for himself.
To this end, it is the teacher’s role to inspire — to do all those things on our mental list that lead to connection.
When teachers do those things, students study and learn and work hard; they actually get a great education and prepare for a great life.
Imagine a world where classrooms are filled with teachers who believe their students have genius within them and that it is their job to help each student find it and develop it.
I hope that in the decade ahead millions will read the book A Thomas Jefferson Education and help make this vision a reality in their homes and schools.
We must all spread the message that we can’t accept mediocre education anymore without dooming our nation’s freedom and prosperity, and that great education comes only when students choose to do the hard work of studying.
Students do this when they are exposed to transformational teaching and personalized mentoring.
So, what can you do? Be a mentor. Get fifty copies of A Thomas Jefferson Education and give them to people you know; tell them of your conviction that the future of America depends on great education as outlined in this book.
Start telling the story of the teacher or mentor who most changed your life, and ask others how teachers changed theirs.
We need to start talking about our great teachers, to make this discussion an American pastime. Great education means the difference, literally, between a future America of free enterprise and opportunity or something much less desirable.
In the next decade, we are choosing what kind of future we will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
And the choice will happen in our classrooms.
*This post was adapted from prepared remarks that were delivered as a speech by Shanon Brooks on behalf of Oliver DeMille at the George Wythe University 2009 Philanthropic Gala at the Utah State Capitol.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.