Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is there an erosion of standards?

In the editorial section of the March 1, 2007, edition of The (Toledo) Blade, there was an “Another Opinion” column reprinted from the Washington Post entitled “Dismal performance of high school seniors,” and the article states that, “high school seniors, though taking more advanced classes and getting better grades, are performing dismally on national tests.”  The article goes on to answer the question, “Why?” with the following explanation: “Advanced classes may have high-falutin’ course descriptions, but the curriculum has been dumbed down.  Pressure to pass students has caused grade inflation.”  The article ends saying academic standards and accountability must be raised, “so students graduating from high school are able to meet the demands of college work.” 

In reading this column I was struck by the fact that the erosion of standards in America’s public high schools isn’t the only area where erosion is taking place.  It can be seen in higher education, language, manners, honesty, television, sex, and ethics as well as in many other areas. 

The United States is recognized as having the world’s best system of higher education, but that doesn’t mean the system is graduating students who are prepared to understand the world or, more importantly, have benefitted from the wisdom of the great thinkers, writers, scientists, and historians.  Students today have little interest in what past generations of college students accepted as an essential education.  For a growing number of college students, higher education is all about focusing on a career path and studying narrowly about the skills required of that career path.  This short-cut route to postgraduate adulthood leaves behind the building blocks of an educated person.  Today the ideas of Oprah and Tom Cruise’s blog musings are held in higher regard than Plato’s Republic or Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. 

In addition to higher education, the ability to use the English language has eroded.  The chances are that a graduating college student will be unable to write ordinary, expository English with any real degree of structure or lucidity.  A high school student planning to attend college is unlikely to be able to write English at the minimum college level when they get there.  If students are not planning to attend college, their skills in writing English may not even qualify them for secretarial or clerical work.  Students in elementary school are not being given the kind of required reading material, much less writing instruction, that would make it possible for them eventually to write comprehensible English. 

Manners is another area where standards have eroded.  One poll found that we’re ruder than ever, and it can be witnessed in the daily assault of selfish, inconsiderate behavior on the highways, in the office, on television, and in stores.  In this same poll, nearly 8 in 10 respondents said lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem, and 61% agreed that there is more rude behavior today than in the past.  We’re rude, and we’re mean: there’s road rage, air rage, cellphone rage, checkout rage, bike rage, sports rage, parking rage, rail rage, bank rage, roller rage, boat rage, desk rage, car alarm rage, and drivers who even honk at people on crutches.  According to one expert, there’s also “funeral rage”—people actually flip the bird and cut off funeral processions.  

The erosion of honesty in our society is shameful.  Dishonest practices, bold-faced lies, and scams are so pervasive in the auto repair business that dealers and repair-shop owners no longer consider themselves dishonest.  If everyone else is doing it, that makes it “normal behavior.”  That dishonesty, however, pales in comparison to deliberately misleading advertisements, corruption, miscarriages of justice, tax evasion, unnecessary medical procedures, harassment of whistle-blowers, and all other forms of dishonesty.  The threat to democracy and a free economy is not from attacks on our country by religious zealots but terrorism carried out daily by a den of thieves. 

Television, too, contributes to an erosion of standards.  Much of the news media has focused on violence, but that is a small part of the problem.  There are explicit sex scenes and crude language during prime time and pornographic content on talk shows and soap operas.  Television assaults the values that many Americans hold dear.  Our culture has been hijacked and replaced by something that openly rejects, rather than reflects, the values people try to instill in their families.  In the world of television, sex is a recreational pastime, indecency is a cause for laughter, and humans are killed as casually and senselessly as bugs.  It is a coarse caricature of the America people love. 

There has been an erosion of standards in the area of sex as standards of sexual morality have been dropped.  Television, movies, popular songs, and the printed media present an enormous temptation towards sexual misconduct.  The lack of personal discipline and self control regarding sexual matters has caused difficulty and is likely to be reflected in the increases in teen pregnancies, abortions, adultery, sexual abuse of children, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  One poll indicated that one in five Americans have a sexually transmitted disease. 

When there is an erosion of standards in manners, honesty, and sex, you would expect it to be reflected in the area of ethics as well.  Americans have witnessed a significant number of individual ethical lapses that have resulted in organizational and systemic failures.  Corporate malfeasance, sexual abuse by priests coupled with woefully inadequate responses by church hierarchy, unethical and corrupt acts by government officials, an increase in cheating by students, and the fabrication of scientific evidence by researchers, violations of journalistic integrity, and violations of the standards of fair play in athletics, are just a few examples where ethical lapses have occurred.  

This essay has barely touched the surface of an enormous erosion of standards, but one fact is clear, such erosion undermines individual responsibility and civic values, harms individuals, generates a loss of public trust in the institutions of our society, and leaves everyone searching for guideposts—instructions on how to proceed when faced with complex emerging issues. 


At the website, the title of the entry is: “Does the erosion of moral values also erode the strength of our society?”  The discussion of this question is provided by Clint Daniel with the opposing side offered by Michelle R. Bishop.  Both sides of the discussion are interesting and worth reading. 

At the Flaming Liberal! website, the essay there, “Society at the crosswords,” covers far more ethical lapses than the essay above.  The essay includes the following parts: 1. The Erosion of Ethics, 2. The Source of Values, and 3. Capitalism as a system of ethics, and 4. Is there another way?  I like the solution that Gordon Glasgow, the author of this essay, offers readers.  Read the essay and decide for yourself. 


Copyright August, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. One must only take a moment to look at random twitter or facebook updates to see the true state of education in America. It is abysmal (that's bad for those of you who need help with vocabulary).


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