Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaching Responsibility

On Tuesday, October 27th, New York Times writer Bob Herbert began his latest column with the following paragraphs.

“One of the most cherished items in my possession is a postcard that was sent from Mississippi to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in June, 1964.

“‘Dear Mom and Dad,’ it says, ‘I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy.’”

As Herbert goes on to explain, that note was from Andrew Goodman, one of the three men along with Michael Schwerner and James Goodman, who were murdered by the Klan in the Freedom Summer of 1964. Many people know the story through the exciting but historically inaccurate movie Mississippi Burning. Herbert uses this poignant anecdote as a jumping off point to bemoan the apathy and listlessness of people in today’s world and the need for men and women of good will to get out there and work for change.

At a time when we’re engaged in two wars, one of which is unpopular and the other of which is becoming increasingly so, an economic scene that is as bad as any of us can remember in our lifetimes, and daily news of astronomically high compensation packages for executives whose banks were bailed out by taxpayer dollars, many people seem too numb to be angry.

There was a bumper sticker during the early years of this century that said, “If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.” Is it that we’re inattentive or that we’re too frazzled to know how to respond?

Waiting tables for many years taught me a phrase called “being in the weeds,” which means that a server is so busy that s/he cannot even slow down to figure out what s/he needs. Many were the times when I was waiting on so many people that I knew I needed help, but I did not know who to ask for what. Maybe in today's world we’re so frantically running in place to hold on to our jobs or trying to prevent things from worsening that collectively we’re “in the weeds.”

One could argue that it’s precisely in times like these, though, that we parents and educators need to educate our children to be engaged citizens and fight for the principles in which they believe. This is not about political partisanship; this is about looking at our world critically and taking a stand for what is right and wrong.

At Crossroads College Prep, we stress responsibility as one of our core values, along with scholarship and imagination. I hope that we’re teaching our students that it’s not enough to know a great deal of material nor is it sufficient to be incredibly creative. If our students and our graduates do not use what they have learned to make their world a better place, then we have failed them and our society at large.

Learning for the sake of learning can be a wonderful experience but it may be an unaffordable luxury in a time of unprecedented economic hardship and warfare. While it may not be our job to tell our children what to think or what to believe, we should teach them to question and to fight for what they feel is right and against what they know is wrong.