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Lack of civics in classroom leads to apathetic voting base

by Dennis Sharkey

Many Americans will not head to the polls next month because they feel disenfranchised by the federal government and only see two sides pointing fingers at each other. Others won’t head to the polls because they either don’t care or don’t think their vote matters.

Election 2010Many things can be blamed for leading voters down this path but retired educator Dale Cushinberry is looking in the mirror. Cushinberry recently retired as the principal of Highland Park High School in Topeka.

Cushinberry was the guest of the Oskaloosa Rotary Club last month. He urged those at the meeting to join him in looking into the mirror.

“We’ve created a scenario on a boat with a leak,” he said. “If we don’t do something we’ll all drown.”

Cushinberry traces today’s hostile political environment and an apathetic voting base back to the classroom, where he says students are not learning what it really means to be an American.

“A kid can go through high school today with all A’s and pass everything,” he said. “But we forget to teach them how to be good citizens. No one should be surprised our country is polarized and paralyzed.”

Cushinberry said a generation ago the United States was in the top 10 in the world in education but has slipped to the lower 20s. Today’s students and teachers spend more time worrying about state assessment tests than they do teaching or learning about civics.

“They learn how to pass a test but they have no skills,” he said. “We don’t teach our kids in school about the value of the vote. We don’t teach them about the democracy we know of.”

Cushinberry said today’s students also don’t realize the value of a high school diploma. He said recently he spoke with an educator from India where they sometimes have up to 60 kids per classroom but exceed the performance of our students. The Indian educator told Cushinberry that discipline problems rarely creep up in their classrooms. Furthermore, unlike many of our students, those students realize what is at stake. Get an education or spend your life doing hard labor.

“The kids in their (India) country know what they’re playing for,” he said. “They know their nation needs them. What are we playing for? Ipods and cell phones.”

Cushinberry said the problems of the classroom didn’t start in the classroom but rather in our society. He pointed to the space race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s. When the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik, it galvanized the country. He said young people have learned how to be selfish.

“It’s not about ‘We,’” he said. “But what can I get? If it can’t be given to them by a TV or the computer, they’re not interested.

“Until you change the culture, you’re not going to change the outcome,” he added.

Cushinberry said we can begin to fix the problem by getting rid of No Child Left Behind and getting politicians out of the classroom. To fix the problem we need to turn to educators.

“It didn’t involve the people closest to the planning,” he said. “Just because they can pass a test doesn’t mean they’re educated.”

Education reform is starting to move to the front burner in America and nowhere was that more evident than at the meeting. Never has a guest of the club garnered such attention in this reporter’s time attending meetings. A fire could have started in the corner of the room and gone unnoticed by the attendees. Club members’ eyes were fixed on Cushinberry as he spoke and many were left with wanting more when the meeting ended. Cushinberry said he would return soon to satisfy club members’ appetites for information.

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