Maybe it’s just the season. With all the ‘joy of giving’ talk going around, I’ve often wondered if the joy is really focused on the giving, or is it the fact that if everyone’s giving then I’m pretty sure that I’m getting as well. In short, while we frequently extol the virtues of sacrifice and beneficence, do they truly play a significant role in our lives? And, if we take as a given that such behavior is to be lauded, what role should educators be playing in the teaching of such values?
I would suggest that not only do we not clearly communicate the importance of such values, but in fact the traditional school setting actually communicates exactly the opposite! This should give us serious pause as educators who have chosen to teach how to live what Greeks philosophers would call ‘the good life’ to our students, and who care deeply about their future.
It is no secret that individual achievement rests at the center of what we deem a successful educational career. When given serious thought, we may be shocked to realize that we are championing what may be the most self-centered endeavor known to man.
In the classroom of today it’s every man and woman for themselves. This is certainly true in the highly competitive fields of academic pursuit, where cut-throat practices of self-preservation and self-advancement abound. However, the trickle-down effect is felt as early as elementary school grades. It’s about my grades, my awards, my reaching the top of the class. Isn’t it ironic that when we want to teach teamwork and cooperation we send the children to the football field so that they can collectively and cooperatively smash each other?
What is especially troubling is the fact that more than ever success in today’s world calls for collaborative efforts. Even if we were to leave out the philosophizing and moral directives, we know that being able to work as part of a team – which includes the ability to sacrifice personal gain for the good of the whole – is an essential skill in the modern work space The complexities of technology, the masses of information and the global markets demand that if we are to succeed we must collaborate. The age of ‘I’ is quickly passing; the age of ‘we’ has arrived. As the teachers of these future citizens we must ask ourselves where, when and how are we teaching this skill?
Think of your classroom. When was the last time you mandated ‘team’ work? Where did you last test the students on solving a problem together? A teacher in a school I work with in Toronto recently had students study together in a group and then each individual was graded by the average of the test scores of the entire team. The message: If you cannot raise the achievement of those around you, you will fail as well. Welcome to the 21st century. I would love to hear ideas from teachers around the world who understand the immediate urgency of this matter and are coming up with creative solutions. We must realize that if we do not address this issue we are doing a terrible disservice to our children.
To best sum up I would like to quote an ancient African proverb which I learned on a recent trip to Johannesburg. It read: If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.