SOME PERSPECTIVES Oct 28, 2014

By Joseph M. Valenzano, Jr., President, CEO & Publisher of Exceptional Parent

As 2014 comes to a close, I thought I would use this opportunity to share some personal perspectives with you. I have had the privilege of serving families caring for children and adults with disabilities and special health care needs for almost a quarter of a century, most of that time as President & CEO of Exceptional Parent. But I have also taught at the graduate school and undergraduate curriculums of some of the finest universities in our nation, along with a few community colleges as well. I have tried to do this virtually every semester dating back to the early 1980's, purely because I like teaching and giving back to the community.

That effort has been in the main very rewarding. But it also has opened my eyes to several frustrating things about our elementary and secondary education system here in the United States. For example, I have young men and women in my classes in Business and Accounting and Journalism who haven't the foggiest idea of how a bill becomes a law! I have had students stare with deep gazes at me when I asked them simple questions about why our National Debt which stands at $17.6 trillion, and how it reached that level? I once asked my class to discuss the three branches of our federal government and what their respective roles were and they could not do it!

But virtually all of my students can explain new technology products like the iPhone version 6 from Apple, or Samsung's new product! When asked which companies they might like to work for, the response is a resounding: "Google" or "Apple" or "Microsoft" or "IBM" . They are adept at technology and are fascinated by new games that seem to come out on a weekly basis. They are extremely "high-tech" but very "low touch". They would rather text a message to someone than pick up the phone to call.

They would rather use Facebook to discuss their most recent date and what they had to eat, as opposed to having a cup of coffee to discuss their thoughts face to face.

But the issue is even deeper than that. They have immersed themselves in the world of instant gratification. They want success and they want to make a lot of money—and they want to do it now, this second. So they are fascinated by the world of Wall Street and hedge funds, option straddles and trading.

These, they believe are tickets to the good life, to earning large sums of money quickly because they have command of technology, as if that were the key to success. As a consequence, learning about product development and innovation seems a bit boring to them, as is learning about the disciplines of marketing and product promotion. Of course the real burden comes when I try to introduce the concept of SWOT analysis...to help them evaluate new business opportunities or new product introductions. SWOT is an assessment of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, a necessary step to any major new investment opportunity or product launch. But for them it is just way too much to bother with!

On the whole I find their sense of history and its importance abysmally poor and their attention span for world events at about the same level. Few read newspapers, even online, and fewer watch the evening news on TV. As a consequence, they have little appreciation for what is going on in the world and its significance to the U.S. and their daily lives. When asked whose responsibility it is to provide for health care coverage for people in the United States, their answer is unequivocally "the government". When asked who pays for it, their response is "the government," without any sense, of course, as to just who "the government" is. When I explain that this mysterious entity called the U.S. Government is really them, and they are actually paying for it through their tax dollars, they are befuddled and astonished.

As many of them are well over the ages of 18, I have asked them if they planned on voting in the upcoming elections. For those who were even aware that elections were taking place, their response almost universally was that "they did not have time" or "they were not aware of who was running for office or what the issues were." For me, that was a sad day. I mentioned that thousands of Americans had sacrificed their lives to give them this privilege but, beyond that, I left it to a future lecture.

They are ready and willing to argue why "Under God" should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance because it may be offensive to atheists or Muslims or Buddhists, but are in disbelief when reminded that virtually every monument in our nation's capital, from the Washington Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial, has God prominently displayed— and that our Founders steadfastly adhered to the principle of religious freedom fundamentally tied to our Christian belief system. They are prepared to argue why a white student wearing a U.S. flag on his shirt is suspended from high school on May 5, 2014 ("Cinco de Mayo") in Southern California but several Mexican students can raise the Mexican flag on a flagpole in that same high school and be allowed to stay in school. It's political correctness run amok! They will have no hesitancy in saying that our borders should be open for all who wish to come to America without restriction just like it says on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.....yu know..."Send me you tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp eside the golden door." But they are hard pressed to explain how they will be fed, or educated or cared for when they are sick...and especially who will pay for it. And they have not given one single thought as to whether or not they should be allowed to vote or who will hire them to work!

When I was in elementary school, the good Sisters of Charity drilled into us the principles of good citizenship. We learned how a bill became a law, and we knew backwards and forwards that the three branches of government were Legislative, Executive and Judicial, and each were as important as the other with specific duties and responsibilities mandated by our Constitution. We knew that government was accountable to the people, not the other way around. And we were told time and time again the importance of history and the principles and values upon which our great nation was built. Above all else, we were taught to respect our elders and those in authority; to listen to those who were wiser and more experienced than us; to love our country and take pride in it and remember that its founding is inexorably tied to Christian values. We were instructed that patriotism was a virtue to be respected and that our greatest leaders—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt—were men of integrity, character and honor and these attributes were worth aspiring to. The nuns did not teach "revisionist history"; changing historical facts to suit some liberal professor's theories about what might have happened. They taught us what occurred and why and that even though there might have been alternative approaches or solutions, this is actually how things occurred. We learned to question and probe but we also learned to respect. We also learned to respect one another and to help those less fortunate, especially those with disabilities.

The Department of Education can come out with programs like Common Core or No Child Left Behind, but if we do not get back to basics and begin teaching our young students in elementary and high school values like integrity and character, discipline, basic civics, as well as history and basic economics, we will do ourselves a great disservice and continue to graduate or push along individuals who are not prepared to become college level students...and this applies to Ivy League Institutions, as well as Community Colleges.

We need to tap into our Baby Boom Generation and get some of these folks to come and teach in our elementary schools and high schools, augmenting the role of our existing teachers, and share life experiences with them. Baby Boomers who have run companies, been leaders in our nation's military; taught at universities; went on to careers in the arts, business, science and literature. They are a source of great value that should be treasured, not ignored. And as for political correctness...well, that dog won't hunt. Let's move forward, not backward!

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