We have now seen how parents should raise their children. Now comes the question of what role, if any, society should play in fostering these values. Some believe that society should play a strong role, often tying it to their particular religious faith. Others believe that society should play no role at all, saying that individuals should dictate their own moral code. I take a middle ground. I believe that a society as large as ours based on a religious work of some kind is destined for doom, since there are so many different denominations. On the other hand, I believe that our society should play a stronger role than it does now to encourage morality. Like a parent who sets down a rubric of rules and restrictions and then goes on to violate every one, our society is full of red tape and laws which vex and confuse the largely law-abiding majority, while it glorifies not parents and teachers, but athletes and entertainers who may do little more than hit home runs or fire off one-liners on comedy shows. We can do far better. For an example, let us examine two professions – journalism and education – and see how they can be improved.
The world of journalism has undergone drastic changes in our day. Once, the role of journalism was, as H.L. Mencken put it, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Now it appears that the role of journalism is to achieve the highest Nielsen ratings or circulation figures. Those who run the industry say that it is “the marketplace talking,” but since when was any logical system of morality based on money? Serving up the latest news on who’s been shot in the neighborhood or who is making the most outrageous statements is not journalism. It is the Hollywood-Wall Street mentality of what makes money. It is said that this is what the people want, but is this true? Do the people want to mistrust their fellow man and gawk at misfortune like customers at a freak show? This is an appeal to the animalistic side of our nature, which is not something that our society needs. Journalism is supposed to tell the people what they need to know. They do not need to know about every murder that takes place in the city or about what titillating exploits the rich and powerful are engaging in. They need to know about true problems such as corruption and basic unfairness, and (though journalists almost blanch at the thought) what is going right in our society. Some say that good deeds are boring, but not all good deeds are. The work of charities such as Christmas in April often go unnoticed, except perhaps for a sidenote in a local-news column. For some reason, good charity work is relegated to the back pages, but a murder is page-one material. This is astonishing and should not continue.
Equally astonishing is the plight of our educational system. Many fine potential teachers, faced with the current system, quite reasonably choose to pursue other endeavors. Why is this so? One of the top factors is economics. In 1994, the highest paid teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the wealthiest counties in America, received an annual salary of less than $60,000. A person in the corporate world can make twice that at the middle-management level. It is not surprising that many bright young people who would make excellent teachers seeks more-rewarding lines of employment. In addition to this, teachers receive a definite lack of respect in our society. Many students, not caring about education, tune the teacher out or go so far as to disrupt class. Ridiculously, the teacher must now consider the possibility of a lawsuit before administering discipline. Local school systems, reluctant to face this challenge, are reluctant to back teachers. As a result, many teachers feel imprisoned by circumstance; and the quality of education therefore suffers. In some inner-city school districts, where good, caring teachers are most needed, resignation is the norm. Some see their function as little more than caretakers, trying merely to survive the day. This also has to change. The first way to do this: teachers deserve much higher salaries, at least comparable to private industry. If the government cannot provide this, then perhaps privatization is the answer. Second, we need higher standards for teachers. Most school districts set minimal certification levels, seeking to attract anyone who is willing. To go with their increased salaries, teachers need better training in education and discipline. Better-qualified and better-paid teachers alone would improve the system considerably. In addition to teachers, the school system needs more money. Some schools do not have room for all of their students. Others have poor-quality or out-of-date materials. This situation must be rectified. In addition, we must start giving our teachers the respect they deserve. In Japan, teachers are paid highly and venerated by society. Little wonder that their students consistently rank near the top in competency tests where America’s students rank near the bottom. A better-educated society is a better-functioning society, and our country needs (as they say) to get with the program.
How will this cause our society to improve? As we have said before, if our populace, by and large, conducts itself in a moral way, we will be able to free ourselves of the current boondoggle. Like the parent and the child, if our people can earn the trust of society by taking responsibility, we can then have greater freedom. Remember that our current morass of government red tape was brought about by a failure in society to conduct itself properly. If people became actively involved in getting the down-and-out back on their feet, we would not need our overburdened and often-corrupted welfare system. If the best and the brightest were involved in the educational system, we would not need the “new reforms” which sound bold and innovative but are often nothing more than smoke and mirrors. If we did not insist on indulging our basest instincts by clamoring for the mindless garbage that all too often passes for “entertainment,” we would not be faced with youth using the foulest language and lying down in the middle of the street to imitate things seen in the movies. If our society did not so often prove its amazing lack of common sense in such activities as sending poison-pen letters to villains in television dramas, we would not need such guidance as “Warning: Never use this product while sleeping.” If our society were more mature, we would not need childlike constraints.
The time is at hand. Our society needs to agree on basic moral values and implement them at once, or face the possibility of either a nation under the iron fist of such organizations as the Christian Coalition or the splintering into a self-serving anarchic state. Terminal childhood or terminal adolescence: these are the options that lie ahead unless we can agree to proceed to adulthood together. If we implement the changes described above, restoring a sense of pride and shame, improving the system of parenting, and encouraging moral behavior in society, we can progress to a new level of existence, one in which our society will function logically, rewarding higher forms of behavior and scorning the lower functions.
And now, our preparation is done and it is time to head off into the forest. Let me wish you a safe and delightful trip, as well as ask of you this: if you happen to encounter a lost fellow hiker, please help him find his way out of the forest as well. Society will thank you.