COMMENT By Lewis P. Lawson/Charleston Gazette

The public lament for modern education in the United States has reached a disturbing cacophony.

Standards of Learning are now yielding to catchy acronyms like STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Whatever the buzzword or new innovative approach, many schools continue to struggle due to a plethora of circumstances.

Teaching to the test has not always enabled students to prepare adequately for the complexities of modern society. While the myriad programs and measuring sticks have served the purpose of alerting schools to become more exacting with subject matter and declining skills, they do not necessarily give students the moral compass to navigate the ever changing landscape.

No matter the direction of the debate, intellectual growth must be critical to the discussion. Certainly science, math, and technological training are key to the 21st century.

Nevertheless, global emphasis on economic growth, invention, and competition has generated a certain regimentation in the way students learn. Creativity, thinking skills, and exposure to core values must be an integral part in preparing students for the work force.

Bombarded by images of banality, pornography, and materialism, numerous young people no longer completely grasp or appreciate what it means to be fully human and compassionate.

The study of literature, history, world religion and philosophy has been delegated to secondary status in many school districts. Instead, through the timeless works of great authors and philosophers, students can begin to regain their place, not just in the angst of 21st-century economic competition and culture, but in the cavalcade of man's quest for knowledge and meaning. Then, and only then, will the problems of America and our troubled world begin to be understood and addressed in a more profound context.

As it stands now, the impact of texting, the easy access to broad swaths of Internet information with little ability to examine accuracy, and the depersonalization from such phenomena as video games, have hardened and distanced many young people from the eternal verities.

The classics, the truth of the human heart through literature, and questions of love, purpose, and morality all seem to be overlooked in the debate on modern education. Political correctness has claimed its victims in this debate. But should not the purpose of education be to expose, not impose?

Stated perhaps too succinctly and frivolously, the way to meaning and understanding is revealed much more effectively through Sophocles and Shakespeare than such pop characters as Dumb and Dumber.

Drawing upon the image of the human heart, William Faulkner in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, argued man must remove himself from that which is base rather, man must leave "no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed ... "

Does this quest not relate to education, too?

Only until educational reformers realize the soul of a nation lies in its heart, not in its glands (as Faulkner goes on to imply in his speech), will America rediscover its soul and become truly competitive on the world stage.

Knowing is the first part of becoming. Until academia regains its soul, modern man will be no different than the computers that already are beginning to replace us.

- Lewis P. Lawson, formerly of Charleston, is a retired teacher living in Richmond.

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