Canada gone soft?

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A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on Facebook.  Her heart was in the right place, but she didn’t get much support.  I felt that I needed to respond as well, but it quickly became apparent that Facebook wasn’t the best medium.  So here is Lindsey’s post and my response.

RIP Broken Canada.. You went soft on discipline!.. You went soft on immigration! You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. ‘No you can’t smack the kids’….Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn’t clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Canada..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation, and turned them into selfish disrespectful thugs!! Things need to change!

Wow, I bet you weren’t quite expecting that response. I agree in sentiment, but not not in the practicality of your post, so here’s my 2¢ from an educator’s point of view.

At the turn of the last century, the world was increasingly industrialized, and needed a workforce to fit. Our current education system evolved to fill the need. We were then able to produce obedient, hard workers who were able to follow directions for long hours without question. These workers were making a meaningful contribution to society and typically pleased and proud of “putting in a solid day’s work” because they were meaningfully engaged with society.

The world’s economy is no longer about production, but management of the flow of ideas and the North American education system has not adapted. Hence we are educating/producing factory workers who have their creativity and thoughtfulness trained out of them and cannot interact meaningfully with society because they have been taught not to. The result of all this is a generation of listless and bored youth; by this I mean they are unengaged in any meaningful activity, not just lacking interest in something to keep them busy. Down the slippery slope they slide and we have riots in London and flash mob burglary in Philadelphia.

Some may argue that’s just a result of their lack of discipline. Well, Alfie Kohn and others have made it very clear that discipline is something that comes internally when meaningfully engaged, and cannot be beaten into anyone through spanking or prison (think how many prisoner are repeat offenders) or rewards like bonuses and gold stars, so “going soft” can be seen as an acknowledgment to a system that fails to actually address the issues. Carrot-and-stick rewards and punishments work great for the monotonous tasks of industrialized labour, but fail to have any long-term positive effect on tasks that require any higher level of thought.

Well, what about these parents?  Couldn’t they have instilled better morals and behaviours in their kids? I’d say no, not in general.  Of course some are more in-tuned to effective parenting and responding to the needs of their children and will do well to raise responsible, members of society. However, keep in mind that many parents will in-turn parent in the way that was modeled to them by their parents.  So many of the parents of this listless generation only have the parenting tools to raise children in their parents’ world which is long gone.

In all this, some might think that society is doomed.  I couldn’t disagree more.  It’s not doomed, but it is significantly different than what we grew up with and we need to realize that much, accept it and embrace it in order to end the cycle of listlessness and boredom.  If we do, I think that the world is on the brink of something really great.

Embracing change will need to start in the schools and I’m excited to say that it has started.  Teacher-leaders are breaking the mold and doing what they know is right to educate a generation of collaborative creative thinkers and problem solvers.  They are working with other classes around the world, giving up control and ownership of the learning to the students, abstaining from grading, getting rid of awards and punishments and encouraging and supporting their colleagues in doing the same.  Doing so will produce a learners with the skills and attitudes to make the most of what this dynamic society demands of them–both in the workplace and in the home.  After this has spread to become the norm and continued for a generation, we will be empowered to truly change the world!


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