At Amún Shéa, we are enjoying a substantial degree of success using critical thinking, analysis and debate on relevant issues as tools to foster positive can-do attitudes. Our current challenge in this component is to instill a sense of social responsibility, intrinsic motivation and self-discipline in each student. This is easily the least understood aspect of the program within the educational community and requires considerable tact in its presentation. Empowerment of students sounds enlightening, but the shift in control that occurs when it is actually carried out (and not just spoken of) triggers an incredible resistance.
We have a formal educational community organization consisting of representation from the student council, the teachers’ commission, the parents’ organization, school administration and the Foundation. It is fascinating to observe the chemistry between these groups as we work towards shared decision making. Discipline is the “elephant in the room” theme brought up each time an adult feels pressured by this process. The discipline conversation always directs our attention to an idealistic and more ordered past where social structure seemingly had greater definition, and appearance revealed worth.
Perhaps the uncertainty of the world today causes one to yearn for a simpler, less complicated period. The vision of impeccably uniformed students with greased-back hair, toes pinched in freshly polished shoes and creases you could cut cheese on, mothers pretending they love getting up at four in the morning to produce such a fine specimen and fathers over in the shade nodding their approval, brings to mind a safe haven in the past. Perhaps a reluctance to accept the inevitable changes that children push for, a reluctance to abandon status quo, creates this yearning for “The way it used to be.”
This “safe haven” period generally refers to the industrial age educational system. The world moves on however, and humanity evolves. We have entered into a new age, not yet fully defined perhaps, but marked by what can only be defined as dimensional or evolutionary changes. Either by design, choice or by chance, the past is relevant only as a lesson and a reference point as we move forward. New definitions as well as fresh norms of social conduct are necessary in order to navigate ever-changing currents, hurdles and opportunities in our increasingly complex world.
Strict obedience to authority is absolutely necessary in many minds, and there within lies a major problem in changing attitudes. Our position is that the final product of strict obedience is dependence, which is fine if your objective is to create soldiers and employees for the industrial age, but which does nothing to jump-start new socioeconomic growth. Genuine progress demands out-of-the-box thinkers, independent and skeptical of external approval, willing to take risks and with a high degree of both ability and self-confidence. We must understand that the phrase, “Because I am in charge,” is a direct affront to this process.
Observation leads me to contemplate the extent to which our thinking processes are evolving. Not all of the differences of opinion and position may be attributed to adolescence and generational “growing pains.” Without overstepping my area of experience, I believe we need to take a good look at decision making processes and the impact that honor codes have on that process. I would hazard a guess that those who yearn for the “safe haven” past maintain a strict code of honor which firmly establishes right and wrong within their understanding. An evolutionary process manifesting itself in many younger people seems to be that of developing a decision making process of comprehensive assessment unique to each situation; flexibility.
Care must be taken that our attempt to promote acceptable social behavior among our youth, through codes of honor, does not actually condition them to accept superficial codes. Codes which are imposed and not naturally assimilated are easily exchanged for another. While strict ethical codes are pictured as noble, there are many sectors of society which operate with authoritarian codes that accept no questioning; criminal organizations, youth gangs and cults, to name a few. We would be much further ahead by accepting that both evolution and our youth are moving in the right direction and support them in this transition.
Caught in transition between the industrial/information age and the incoming yet-to-be-named eon, we need to structure our programs with flexibility that bridges rather than breaks down community during this period. A level of tension, both generational and from a difference in vision will be prevalent, even volatile at times. We must learn how to responsibly manage those differences and understand the processes provoking those them.
It is clear that changing attitudes is a long-term endeavor, in all probability involving several generations. The length of the process should not be seen as a problem, insomuch as we have a comprehensive strategy and are moving daily in the right direction.