For the sake of our children
James Burke
Author, historian,
television producer, and visionary
By Jesse Horn

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato

   Imagine for a moment that you are attempting to reach a destination, only you have absolutely no memory of where you have been. Even if you had a clear map to guide your way, it would be very difficult to plot a course if you did not have a starting point. When charting a course into the future, this is precisely the problem that you will run into if you do not have a clear picture of your path through history.
  One of the greatest books written in our time entitled “The day the universe changed” by author, historian, and television producer James Burke, explains that the world that we understand becomes clearer as we understand where it is that we have come from. In this book, Mr. Burke shows us that not only is our life and history completely interconnected and changing, so is how we view the world.
  So far in this series we have discussed the many challenges facing our children as they grow through this complicated world. In this special part we will examine some of the reasons things have changed, and theories on what to expect from the future. Mr. burke was kind enough to talk to the Mogollon Connection in this exclusive, and he gave his insights on our youth, and what answers we can find by looking in the past.
  “My view is that one of the detrimental effects of technological advance and the rise of consumerism has been the break-down of the old nuclear family in which all three generations were in close contact and grandparents often lived in the same house as their grandchildren, acting as mentors and even role models,” explained Mr. Burke, “inculcating a sense of discipline and awareness of community,”
  This is not only a fading tradition, but a previous necessity that is no longer present in most modern homes. As previously reported, in Navajo County alone there are only 30% of family households who have two adults. This is a partial reflection of the changing landscape of western culture as a whole, and as we examine even the households where there is a two parent structure still present, there is the difficult task of trying to survive economically.
  “These social structures took on the guidance responsibilities later assumed by schools.” Mr. Burke continued.
  “I think it was inevitable that with the rise in literacy and increasing employment, as well as emancipation, the rise in the number of working women should also contribute to the breakdown of the family.
  “Encased in this issue however is the direction that we must go in order to maintain order. We could no more expect a tree to automatically grow, unaided in the direction that we prefer, than we can expect a child to make unguided decisions that reflect the morals that we fail to instill. This unfortunately leaves other individuals of authority to assume these important rolls and to teach accepted behaviors. However, the implementation of this new need has changed as well.
  “The final and perhaps most important aspect of all this would be, in my view, the way in which the educational system has in the last two generations abdicated responsibility for teaching values and ethics.  This, in the entirely laudable name of individual freedom of expression, equal opportunity, democratic transparency, etc.” In spite of this, he still has optimism.
  “But like all such revolutions, there probably needs to be a swing to extremes before the process settles into maturity.  In this case, that would mean arriving at a point where both parents and educators realize that some discipline is advisable, and that with freedoms also come responsibilities. I would like to believe that we are passing through a period of transition from the old era of top-down rule, and conformist behavior, heading towards the next stage in our social development, when people are educated (both at home and in class) to become much more involved in the working of the community at all levels.  In other words, the present 'dumbing down' welter of indiscipline will pass. I hope so!”
  Mr. Burke, who has spent much of his life finding innovative ways to teach ideas, knows first hand the importance of education. Although he has many remarkable credits to his name, and is world renown for his accomplishments, one of his greatest known contributions is the work he has done with raising the awareness of the immense connectivity of history. This is the central idea to the KnowledgeWeb project, a information tool he has founded that will help reshape how we understand the way we see our world.
   “In a nutshell, my view is that the educational system needs to start teaching children to think connectively (you'd expect me to say that), so that at some point in every day there should be time to range outside your curriculum and look at the ways in which so-called 'subjects' are not in fact separate and distinct from each other and from the real world outside the classroom.  As I have said elsewhere, the old way of looking at knowledge was, for good historical reasons, one that valued specialist knowledge.  For this reason today we say that someone with a PhD is more 'intelligent' than someone without.  But this is patently not true.  Every healthy brain has the same 100 billion neurons.  And every brain is built to think connectively.  Up to now we haven't had the technology to let this happen.  But now we do. There is a tremendous amount of talent at large which is not serviced adequately by the traditional systems. If I were going into education today, I'd look at that issue as the one to work on.” Mr. Burke issues caution, stating that “this may be bad advice! The educational system today prefers the old way because it's easier to grade with.”
  In conclusion Mr. Burke explained that there is a big issue facing our children today, with regard to the transition he referred to before.  
  “I think this and the next generation will face being left to their own devices and spending much more time along with /together with others on the net, with not enough clear direction from either parents or teachers.  But in the end I believe we'll come to a new generation of children much more capable than we have been of taking their lives into their own hands.  This will go with a new generation of parent and teacher:  better educated, more aware of their community responsibilities.  Meantime I think the next two generations are going to be the ones who will suffer most from falling into the gap between the old way and the new. Navigating that space will be difficult and for that reason alone I'd advocate more involvement and greater guidance now, from both parents and teachers. Leaving children alone to handle this transition is a mistake and we should rectify it as soon as we can.  More discipline now can mean more freedom later.”
  The Mogollon Connection would like to thank Mr. Burke for his valuable participation in this story, and for anyone who is interested in the important work that he is conducting please visit:
www.k-web.org for more information.