Where have all the leaders gone? Not to the School System.
By Archie R. Whitehill
“Teacher, teacher I declare, I see someone’s underwear!”
It’s been years since I said, or even heard that line, and it seems to be in the forefront of Norfolk School Board member’s minds. In fact, it seems to be an obsession of theirs to the exclusion of all other thought.
Our entire approach to education has become reactionary and CYA (cover your awkwardness?) in recent times, say the past two decades. It has become a public education system more of self-protection and political correctness than of education. If we are still teaching by example, I shudder to think of what these youngsters will be when they become my age. The picture forming is that of adults who check out every possible loophole, every possible way they may offend, and every possible risk, acceptable or not before they act.
There was this commanding officer of mine who was a picture of that modern manager with no leadership skills. He was a precursor of sorts to the adults we are building, frighteningly akin to a growing number of “leaders” in today’s military. He could not decide anything without days of worry and without enormous self-doubt, without extreme distrust of all those of us who were charged with helping him. His management method (note I did not refer to it as leadership) did not work well during battle exercises, with air, surface and subsurface threats coming at us simultaneously! This is the type “leader” our schools are trying to develop. Do we really want that lack of imagination, that lack of "desire-to-act" in our leaders?
In short, our education system is developing lawyers, social workers, think tank geniuses, mid-level managers, and a host of followers, as well as managers at upper levels who have no decision-making skills. Our education system is no longer developing effective leaders who have the creative capacity and the strength of leadership skills to lead us out of problems, no matter how great.
Leaders. Remember them from your school days? They were the boys and girls, young men and young women, you noticed and who always seemed to not only know what to do, but did it. They also took full responsibility when their ideas didn’t work out. The leaders learned from their mistakes and were not afraid to take even more risks with their new experiential education processed into their ever working, ever blossoming brains. The young leaders were the creative ones who could “think outside the box” before thinking outside the box became a valueless, misunderstood cliché. They grew up to be adult leaders, who led rather than managed, who were able to identify, respond and resolve a problem before modern managers even realized there was a problem. And, no, they were seldom the best mannered kids, nor the ones with the highest marks, nor were they always in obvious leadership roles. They were the risk-takers and they always knew where they were going, no matter what.
How does this relate to underwear and shirt tails and school board thinking, and how does it tie into the needs of our educational system?
Easily. We need to start encouraging teachers to teach basics and to ensure those are well ingrained. We need for teachers to not worry so much about politically correct speech in our kids as in developing the ability to communicate their thoughts in a manner worthy of future leaders. We need to stop worrying so much if a shirt is tucked as we do to worry that the knowledge they need is tucked into their thirsty-for-knowledge minds. In short, we need to stop politicizing education. Let teachers teach and let us provide our schools with all the “goodies” needed to develop future leaders: modern science labs; language labs; well-paid professional teachers who know, thoroughly know, all about the subjects they teach.
Most of all, we need to nourish and push those of our children who exhibit leadership abilities toward working even harder to develop those skills and aptitudes of leadership. We need to encourage them, force them if need be, to “test their mettle,” so to speak, so they will be ready to take the reins from our soon-to-be feeble hands. We need to stop worrying about whether their shirt-tails are in or out; let’s raise our eyes from their belt-lines to their minds, and to their hearts.