Booker T. Washington, the legendary black educator revered both in the South and in the North during the decades following the Civil War, taught his people that they should work hard to produce things that would enhance the lives of their fellow men. He preached that, as they exchanged their productive work with their neighbors, they would be respected for their skills, and people would stop being foolish about the color of their skins.
Professor Washington was right, as one could make the case that the entire Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gained its power from the respect already earned by productive black people whose parents and grandparents had followed Washington's advice.
Remarkably, however, Americans as a whole have now fallen into the snare that Washington warned against. They have forgotten that human affairs requires that each person exchange the fruits of productive skills with his neighbors.
The vast majority of young Americans are simply no longer willing to work. Moreover. in our schools and universities, the work ethic is not even taught.
Increasingly, Americans engage themselves in a paper-shuffling game in which they endeavor to move a little more of America's decreasing wealth to their side of the table. They do not save for the future. Instead, they gamble in the markets. When the markets turn sour, they gamble with their homes. The poorer people, without a gambler's stake, just buy lottery tickets.
Does this affect homeschooling? Yes! And in the most fundamental way. As Rudyard Kipling brilliantly pointed out in his poem "The Gods of the Copy Book Headings" (reproduced below), fundamental truths remain unchanged. We cannot wish them away because we would rather they were not there. Kipling's poem refers to the educational practice of having students copy passages from great works of literature, including the Bible, in order to improve their composition and penmanship. The books to be copied were usually chosen to teach the student fundamental truths during the exercises, and the "gods" to which he refers are the great thinkers of the ages, not pagan deities.
A family that produces nothing of real value cannot expect other families - whether they be American, Chinese, or Mexican - to continue to produce things of value and and provide them for no real value in exchange.
The great flywheel of American industry is slowing down. It can no longer resist the drag of excessive taxation, regulation, and litigation. Our productive industries are being replaced by those of other nations. Will those nations - during the 21st Century - continue to provide Americans with goods and services regardless of the increasing reality that Americans are producing little to provide them in return?
Not long ago, a front page article in the Wall Street Journal was entitled "It's Not Cool to Make Things Any More." In it, the president of a manufacturing company lamented that people no longer respected his occupation. They were impressed primarily by those who became rich without productive work.
It is easy to succumb to the trends of one's civilization - even within the framework of an independent homeschool. It is easy to prepare your students for a life of paper shuffling at some mindless occupation that seems to be a soft road to riches. Please don't do it!
The world will always need scientists, engineers, inventors, machinists, physicians and veterinarians, farmers, and productive workers. It will always have a surplus of paper shufflers and others who prefer not to work.
No one knows what the 21st century will bring. We do know, however, that it will need people who can and will do things. Be sure you teach your students a strong work ethic and skills that will enable them to use it.
There is an old saying, "There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who do the work, and those who take the credit." The saying advises that one should be among those who do the work - because there is less competition.
The 21st century will belong to those who do the work. They will receive the satisfaction of productive effort, the wealth of goods and services that others will exchange with them, and the confidence of knowing that their skills will always be needed. Be sure your homeschooled student is trained to be among them.
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