I read the first chapter last night of a new book written by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) entitled The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. This work is not the type of book one would expect from a politician. Sasse is a historian and tackles a crisis that is felt but rarely discussed in any meaningful way.
He made an interesting observation about a trajectory public schools found themselves on starting in the 1970s. Public education became shallower than what we saw in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. He pointed to the Supreme Court decisions that prohibited school prayer and religious instruction in the 1960s as the axis of this change.
Regardless of whether you believe children should have prayer or study religion in school, the removal of those activities had the unintended consequence of removing existential questions about how the individual fits into the bigger, cosmic picture; about our life’s purpose.
The moral hollowing of schooling is also attributable to the erosion of secondary education’s previously secure place and purpose in preparing kids for steady jobs right after graduation. Education historian Paula Fass traces the drift toward the “warehousing” of our young to schools’ loss of their tangible, culminating purpose – to prepare the emerging generation for conclusive entry into adult productivity. Instead, “going to high school became a stop-over during the teen years, with very little to offer beyond academic selection for those who would go on to college…” When a diploma was no longer a predictable ticket to a full-time, middle-class job and a set of expectations about adulthood, high schools began to fray. Peer culture metastasized to fill the vacuum of purpose. Instead of learning how to behave from their teachers, who no longer really saw their jobs as moral instruction and instilling wisdom acquired through age and experience, kids were learning how to behave from other kids, with predictable results.
Sasse describes the shift away from educating students to be productive citizens as the chief goal of public education toward a one-size-fits-all workforce development mentality which is destined to fail when a high school diploma does not prepare students for any meaningful work.
Sasse also explains why homeschoolers like my wife and I reject the modern idea of proper socialization. Kids learning how to behave from other kids does not help mold them into responsible adults.