One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was from my wife, a box set of the classic TV show “Leave It to Beaver.”
While the show is a situational comedy, what attracts me to it is the climatic moment that occurs in each episode when the father, Ward Cleaver, has a serious conversation with his boys, Wally and Theodore aka The Beaver.
As the slow, serious music swells up on the soundtrack, the father gives parenting advice on a life lesson the boys have to learn. In fact, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, creators of the show, used their own adventures in parenthood as inspiration, which explains the truthfulness that resonates in the program.
When you peel away the silly jokes and the bad laugh track, there remains a core of sound values.
If you watch these teachable moments today as a parent, you may recognize them from your own life. Or maybe not.
How much time do parents invest in their children’s moral education? Not as much as before.
As I watch a show that is nearly 60 years old, I am struck about how a sitcom like that would not be produced today with all the vulgarity and overt sexual overtones that is part and parcel of nearly every comedy on TV, and how the lack of such entertainment, highly satirized as “goody-goody,” is a reflection on the moral decline in our society, or, at the very least, the perverted obsession with people acting badly.
Like gawking at car accidents, we can’t seem to tear ourselves away from the twerking Miley Cyruses of the world. Even recent film releases that have earned critical acclaim such as “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” glamorize morally bereft individuals.
People crave entertainment that brings out the worst in people.
Look at how many of the news stories of 2013 revolve around people acting badly such as the story of a football coach who took his middle-school aged boys to “Hooters” to celebrate.
It used to be that children were taught right from wrong by their parents before attending school. Now, we have kids misbehaving at school with parents counting on the teachers to straighten them out. Things have become turned inside out.
According to Harvard professor Richard Weissbourd, polls show that “70% of public school parents want schools to teach ‘strict standards of right and wrong.’”
Some think that this is so because with so many single-parent and dual-parent income households, there is no parent at home with enough energy to do such teaching.
School districts try to fill this void by utilizing ready-made programs such as Character Counts or employing a “word-of-mouth” program (as Glendale Unified does) which highlights positive traits such as honesty.
These efforts, though well intentioned, have little to no effect on molding the ethical backbone of the youth if the programs are one-time assemblies or material sent home to parents. Schools that actually incorporate character education into their curriculum show more sustained success on having a benevolent impact on kids.
With so much attention on raising test scores and the new Common Core standards, someone high up in the education hierarchy needs to put the spotlight on making a student’s citizenship a core aspect to a young person’s schooling.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in a 1947 college essay at Morehouse that “intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
Yes, we want our kids to get good grades and go to good colleges, but we should also want them to be good as well.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.