Governor Cuomo believes that schools should teach values. By values he means compassion, a sense of personal worth, respect for individual rights, and working for the common good rather than only for one’s personal interests. Our children now only are exposed to the message of materialism. They are less and less exposed to another point of view which would make them feela concern and empathy for others.
I once had a discussion with a parent about what she wanted for her daughter who was about to enter college. She said she wanted her daughter to have it all and not suffer. She felt her daughter needed to be less compassionate than she was and become tough so that she would be more successful. Compassion, in this mother’s mind, worked against success. She did not seem concerned about the stresses involved in being tough and was not convinced when I suggested that compassion opens one to the beauty in the world and is what makes life worth living.
Our children are modeling our behavior and are getting the message that concern for others only hinders one in getting to the top. Further, getting to the top seems to be the only worthwhile goal. Many schools perpetuate this model. Medical students and law students, people who should be learning compassion, are learning that, not only do you not help your fellow student, but you might consider sabotaging his efforts because that strengthens your position on the grading curve.
Things will not change until enough people see the danger of producing adults who lack compassion and concern for others. Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, of Notre Dame University, once proposed a non-military counterpart to ROTC. This program would provide full four-year scholarships in return for a pledge from the students to serve four years in the peace corps. This would give the students an opportunity of becoming leaders in the cause of peace and not in the cause of war.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching included recommendations that every college student complete a service project and that colleges offer deferred admission to students who devote a year to volunteer work. These recommendations were made because the students in the colleges were primarily concerned with personal interests and showed a lack of concern and commitment to social issues. Dr. Ernest Boyer commented that this mood was so pervasive that one had to ask about the purpose of education.
In l985 an organization of university presidents and chancellors was formed called the Campus Compact. Its purpose was to stimulate student participation in voluntary community service. In California, the State Legislature adopted a resolution which would require community service by all students who attend four-year public colleges or who receive financial aid at private institutions.
There are two great needs in our country. One is the need to model behavior for our children so that we create a generation of caring people who find fulfillment not only in personal development but also in giving service and empathizing with their fellow citizens. The other need is to encourage and support the attempts being made to engage our young people in activities where they give service for the good of another. The rise in drug abuse, child abuse, spouse abuse, sexual abuse, work abuse, suicide, and violence in this country all point to a lack of concern for others and a lack of purpose to the lives of our youth. Many of our youth, when given the necessary time, encouragement and opportunity to re-evaluate their goals, might decide that the race to the top is not the most rewarding way to spend the rest of their lives.