A Lesson from Hildegard


A Lesson from Hildegard.

Hildegard of Bingen once said, “You understand so little of what is around you, because you do not use what is within you.”

Our actions towards the younger generation borders on the criminal. What we have made of them resembles a lost generation. We have made them into cowardly little persons lacking youthfulness, courage, joy, originality, and curiosity. They fear trying anything, fear of failure. We have not given them the tools to try something new, fail, pick themselves up, and try again.

Our youth are not social creatures. Visit any school from middle schools, to high schools, to college campuses. What do you see? There are students everywhere, not socializing, not communicating. They have buried their heads in their cell phones, avoiding eye contact and conversation with the very people around them who will be their co-workers and companions in the future.

Their education has been cursory, at best. We are so enamored by standardized tests that we have forgotten to teach the youth how to think for themselves. I teach freshman composition at a community college. The purpose is to write. Most struggle, regally struggle with this concept. The most asked question is “What do I write about?”

It is bad enough that at the college level, I have to teach them the use of commas and semicolons, but when we spend two weeks discussing a current issue, be that gun control, sexuality, poverty, or education, these student lack the ability to relate to the subject at hand. “What do I write about?” I aske them what in our discussions has tweaked their interest; what in our discussions has turned them on, or upset them to the point of anger and frustration. Too often, the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know.”

When did we stop challenging our high school students to think for themselves. Before teaching in college, I was a high school AP history teacher. My main purpose was to help my students think for themselves when approached by a question that they were not completely familiar with. I gave them the practice of writing on a topic closely related to what the question was. This gave them the opportunity to write an essay that made sense, was historically correct, and related to the issue at hand. Most of my students excelled on the  AP tests.

We don’t do this any more. And don’t tell me that the fact that I am teaching in a community college is the reason. With the high costs of a four-year institution, we see many highly rated students come through our doors, taking the core courses before transferring to a more expensive school, where the succeed getting their bachelor’s degree. These students also have a hard time discerning what to write, but they are equipped intellectually to learn rapidly. Others get left behind.

When I was in college, fifty years ago, I had a hard time getting into the grove. I was not successful my first time around, but when trying again, I was helped by understanding professors and ended up getting a bachelor’s masters, and doctorate degree. I was reminded by my professors how to read a question, how to sort our possible responses, and finally how to put my answers on paper. I repeat, I was reminded. This is important because we were taught this in high school.

I talk with high school AP teachers today, and they give very few essays; the reason – a lack of time both in class and out of class due to the requirements of teaching students to pass the SOLs. What a shame!

What a waste for our youth.

We need our youth to be able to fail; we need them to communicate; we need them to join forces; we need them to continue the communities we all grow to love. We need our youth to be as determined as the youth in Florida struggling to get our leaders to hear them. They are our future. Let’s help them succeed. We have learned something in our years together. Let them learn something in their years together.


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