On Tuesday, I sat through a long and excruciatingly boring meeting whose focus was the decline of reading scores in our school district. Despite our best efforts, our students are lagging in reading - especially when it comes to non-fiction. For the past several years, they've been trending downward. Every year, we meet and discuss what to do. We work on new strategies. We wring our hands in dismay. We throw up our hands in disgust. We agree to work harder. We do work harder.
So, what gives? Do we need better teachers? Are the students getting lazier? Are the parents less involved than they used to be? Can we blame it on technology - a generation that communicates in emoticons and acronyms - and the fact that they have forgotten how to write in proper English?
Yes, maybe. Any of these things, or a combination of them, are contributing to the education crisis in America (and don't kid yourself - it's reached the crisis point). But I would contend that there is a much deeper cultural shift happening in our society responsible for a host of our problems, and its exemplified by the fact that the majority of people can't answer a very simple question:
Who is Dakota Meyer?
Marine Corps veteran Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor yesterday at the White House for actions he took in Kunar Province of Afghanistan in the Battle of Ganjgal on September 8, 2009. He is the 10th recipient of the nation's highest military honor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the third living recipient.
When Meyer's element was ambushed, he knowingly placed himself in danger to singlehandedly provide coverfire for and save 36 other Marines, recover bodies of fallen comrades, evacuate Afghan soldiers, and kill at least 8 Taliban.
The citations of the other MOH recipients are equally impressive. The fact that some of these heroes have committed such acts of heroism and survived is a blessing. These men are national treasures. Not only is it right we should honor them with a medal, but we should point to them and say to our young people, "See? That's character. That's valor. That's something to be proud of."
My students don't know who Dakota Meyer is. They do, however, know who Snooki, Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, and Justin Bieber are. Remember Audie Murphy? The most decorated soldier of all time? He was also a movie star - but only after he got famous fighting in WWII. That's right - he got famous fighting in WWII. Society used to appreciate people that exhibited the qualities of honor, sacrifice, and service and turn them into ceelbrities. Not sausage people with bad tans and worse hair.
The erosion of values is pervasive. Kids today idolize people who are not positive role models, and it creates a warped sense of what their reality should be like. In that reality, school does not take precedence. Neither do serving your country, your government, or others before yourself. This is Generation Me more than ever before. So, why wouldn't reading scores fall? Reading is not fun. And in a me-centered reality, nothing that isn't fun gets done.
By the way: Dakota Meyer was only 21 when he took the actions that earned him the Medal of Honor. Congratulations, Dakota.