Tag Archives: education system

Military Ethics, Legality and Morality: The Damage Being Caused by the Emphasis on STEM to the Detriment of the Humanities in Military Officer Programs

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“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

I have lost count of the number of scandals regarding the ethical failures of American military leaders. Today at lunch I was talking with a gentleman in charge of the military outreach for a local university where I am considering beginning a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership.

There are many reasons given for the these ethical failures, everything from the disintegration or the nuclear family, to the lack of religious upbringing, to the supposedly liberal educational system. However, while I think some of these issues may have some impact, I am not convinced that they are the root cause of the ethics crisis that seems to be plaguing the military.

As we discussed aspects of the program the subject got to the subject of military leaders being fired for ethical, legal and moral lapses. This is something that I am giving much though since I am now teaching ethics at a senior level military staff college. What I am noticing is that many officers struggle with basic concepts regarding history, philosophy, ethics, political science, religion, the arts and literature and other subjects that because I immerse myself in them just assume that any military professional should know.

But that is not the case. For the last thirty to forty years the commissioning programs of our services have given preference to those in the STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. In fact the probability is that the liberal arts or social science major will not be admitted to service academy or ROTC program, even a non-scholarship program unless they are in a STEM major. This is especially true of my own service, the Navy and the Air Force but is not absent from the Army and the Marine Corps.

This is not new. In 1981 I joined Army ROTC because the Navy told me that even to be a non-scholarship student in the program I would have to change my major from history to a STEM major.

This is not simply a military issue, but it is a systemic issue in higher American education programs, programs which due to the demands of the business and technology sectors have gutted liberal arts programs and the social sciences. All of this has been done in the name of making sure that people are “prepared for jobs” and that education is related directly to employability and again jobs. That is why in large part for profit schools have proliferated offering programs focused on narrow job fields in technical majors. This has impacted higher education in public and private universities which at one time had thriving liberal arts, humanities and social science programs as well as the military where the emphasis on STEM has created havoc in terms of ethics.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“The ‘polymath’ had already died out by the close of the eighteenth century, and in the following century intensive education replaced extensive, so that by the end of it the specialist had evolved. The consequence is that today everyone is a mere technician, even the artist…”

Education is now viewed by most as a pathway to a better job, not a quest for understanding, knowledge or even personal improvement. That attitude is enmeshed in our culture and has been for decades. It even shows up in seminaries where programs are not focused in the classics and timeless subjects in theology, history, philosophy, ethics, languages and hermeneutics but instead methods of “growing” a church or running a program. When I was in seminary, a large conservative evangelical seminary many students complained about having to take classes that had nothing to do with running their church. Many of my fellow students despised Church History, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and even Systematic Theology and then complained that the courses that were oriented to running a church would be out of date in a few years.

The common theme whether this be in the for profit schools, the public and private universities, the military and seminaries is that we have trained two generations of people to be good technicians and technocrats. Men and women very skilled at getting at job done but that lack the basic ethical and moral grounding that those in previous generations received as part of their education, in the home, in their religious institutions and in the educational system.

The problem is that when you strip away a solid grounding in the arts, liberal arts and social sciences you breed people who may be very good at getting a job done. However they are people who lack the knowledge passed on by people who have shaped civilization for millennia.  They are ignorant of Hammurabi, Moses, Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Aquinas, the great philosophers and thinkers from the East and the West, those who brought about the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and even the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, Universal Suffrage, Emancipation and Civil Rights.

Their technical education divorces them from those that developed the legal, ethical and moral codes of our culture. They lack the cohesive understanding of social responsibility and connection that have held western civilization together. Those have been replaced by ethics that are dominated by pragmatism or utilitarianism, even in seminaries where classes on ethics or moral theology are often relegated to elective status. How else can we explain the wholesale disintegration of moral and ethical codes of behavior across the vocational spectrum be it business, government, the military or religious institutions?

The question for many people, and maybe most people in our society, including the military is not what is moral or ethical but what is “legal,” and what are the loopholes in the law that allow one to escape the consequences of their immoral, illegal or unethical behavior.

We have raised at least two, maybe three generations of technicians and technocrats, and that trend shows no sign of abating. In North Carolina last year the Republican Governor proposed eliminating tuition assistance from any program not directly related to “jobs.” By that he meant eliminating such assistance from non-STEM programs.

What this does, and I think we are seeing this today is produces people who are good at doing jobs, but have a difficult time in critical thinking or looking at the logical consequences of their ideas and actions.

Many cannot see the moral or ethical dimensions of life and even turn religion to an exercise designed to benefit them in a tangible material way. Thus there is a proliferation of churches that preach some kind of “prosperity Gospel” and those that pervert religion and use it to suppress the freedoms of others by force of law.

But let me return to the military implications of my thesis. What I have observed in my career of over 30 years of military service is a culture that has developed in an ethical vacuum. We have sought to inculcate a service culture based on Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps “values” such as “honor, courage and commitment.” However, for many maybe even most those are mere words. They are shibboleths akin to religious creeds recited by people for whom they are irrelevant because they are not job related.

Now this is not an attack on those in the military, for those in the military simply reflect the culture that they come from. This includes the family, religious, social and educational systems of our society. In fact I actually believe that for the most part people in the military do a better job with values, ethics and morality than many in the civilian society. That being said there is something seriously wrong in what we are doing. If there wasn’t there would not be so many egregious lapses that call the moral fitness of senior military leadership into question.

This is especially important because the trust of the nation is invested in these men and women. The responsibilities that they have regarding the lives of people, the security of the nation and the maintenance, security and use of powerful weapons, including nuclear weapons and information technology that can be used to pry into the private lives of unknowing citizens all dictate that the ethical and moral standards of the military have to be above those found in the private sector.

Unfortunately there is no immediate “fix” for the problem because it it so systemically rooted in our society. However something will have to be done, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense have directed the military redouble its emphasis on teaching ethics at every level. However it is my opinion that we will have to go far beyond the recitation of creeds and repetition of words about “values” that have little relevance to people educated and brought up to simply do a job. This will be a difficult task, especially in military organizations being reduced in number while still engaged in war and increasing other operations around the world.

As to the broader societal issues, those run deep, but one thing in my mind is certain, there has to be a renewed emphasis on the humanities, liberal arts and social sciences to include the classics of western and world literature, art, philosophy, history and thought. We cannot reduce education to technical elements that require little in the way of critical thought, or for that matter provide people with “education” that does not force them to deal with the dark areas of life that are uncomfortable and the gray areas that fill our universe.

In the Second World War many of the best and brightest of young German intellectuals joined the SS and its sister organizations, organizing and executing the extermination of the Jews and others in Germany and occupied lands. Most of these men did not give their actions a second thought. They were doing their jobs, most of the time in a very dispassionate matter. They carried out orders because they were “legal.” Ethics and morality were no concern simply because they were sworn to obey orders.

The task to change this cannot be that of the military and its leadership alone. If we fail to change our education systems, our home life and even our religious life we will unleash the greatest generation of amoral technocrats who have ever walked the face of the earth. They will be men and women who will have no problem committing the greatest crimes, simply because they are “legal” and because they have only been taught to do their job.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, leadership, Military, News and current events, philosophy

National Teacher’s Day: Let’s Actually Start Valuing Our Teachers Again

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is National Teacher’s Day and not a moment too soon. However most people probably don’t know or care that it is. Teachers are not valued highly in our society. They used to be but not anymore. Ask a teacher how they feel about classroom conditions, support from the elected officials on school boards that use their office to attack the institutions that they have been elected to serve. Ask any teacher about the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” on their ability to teach and be able to reach out to students that learn differently from the rote memory exercises needed to pass a standardized test.

Higher education likewise is being gutted the formerly amazing California State University System, and the California Junior College system which I attended is being decimated. Professors have not competitive wages in years, programs are being cut while tuition is increased. I attended San Joaquin Delta College and paid $5 a semester plus books. I averaged $200 a year at Cal State Northridge. Programs were amazing, class sizes good, professors and instructors, excellent. That system and many others are in crisis.

You see teachers, especially those in Public Schools have for the last 30 years or so, ever since Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 passed in California and gutted educational spending the target of right wing pundits, politicians and preachers. They are blamed by some people for almost every ill in the educational system. If teachers complain or take their case to the media they are made the villain. In most States they don’t make a lot of money for all the education, training and certifications that they are required to have to teach.  They have few protections and those that they do have, mainly in the protections that they gained through their participation in organized labor are being stripped away in state after state.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s my dad was in the Navy. It was a turbulent time for our family. Due my dad’s transfers as well as a school boundary change in one district I ended up attending six different elementary schools in three states, three schools in three states in 4th grade alone. During that time our lives were in a constant state of flux and as a grade school student it was my teachers that helped me get through that time. Because of the transfers I didn’t get to have the opportunity to remain in a community long enough to get established until Junior High School. I was always “the new kid in town.” Not that that is bad or that I have any bad memories of that childhood. I found the new places, people and schools to be a grand adventure. In fact when my dad retired from the Navy I was not happy. I wanted him to stay in because I liked the adventure.

I remember every one of my elementary school teachers names, save one in 4th grade where were we not at the school long. There was the strict Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Brandenburg who made sure that she write with my right hand.  To this day my handwriting is illegible but who cares now when I type everything. Then there was my 1st Grade Teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs Christian. She was a sweetheart her husband was an airline pilot and in 1st grade, probably because of my handwriting I was tested for some learning difficulties. I guess that there was nothing wrong because that didn’t last long. In Second Grade I had Mrs Jackson. Then in 3rd grade a new school was opened and I attended Olympic View Elementary School.  My 3rd Grade Teacher was Mrs King.  It was in 3rd grade that I really began my adventure in reading. I devoured every book in the biography and history section that I could find in the Library, especially those dealing with military and political leaders, sports figures (especially baseball players) and military history.

I began 4th Grade at Olympic View but my dad was transferred to a travel intensive assignment in Long Beach California in the fall of 1968. I had my first male teacher at Olympic View, Mr Alguire who I really liked. We moved to Long Beach and it was a difficult move. there were a number of deaths and serious illnesses in the extended family and I attended Robert E Lee Elementary in Long Beach for just a few weeks before my dad had my mom, brother and I go live with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia. We arrived there in early December and I found that I was out of my element. My teacher at Miller Elementary was Mrs Gates. She was very tough and I was hammered with more homework than I had ever seen. I was also the “new kid” and since we had just moved from Long Beach a “city slicker” and was challenged to a fight in my first week. It was a draw. However Mrs Gates was a great teacher and I continued to read, write well but illegibly and learn to speak in front of the class.

When the school year was done we moved back to Long Beach when in a different neighborhood just across the cement lined San Gabriel River from Orange County I attended Hawaiian Gardens Elementary School where I met my friend Chris Brockel who I have managed to stay in contact over the years. That was probably my most fun year in school. I was asked if I wanted to skip 5th grade but I told the principle that I wanted to remain in my 5th Grade Class. My teacher was another gem, Mr Oliver. It was a great school year combined with the fact that my dad was always taking us to California Angeles baseball games.  But dad received orders to the elderly Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock CVA-19 home ported in Alameda California at the end of that school year which made another move necessary and initially thought had ruined my life. heck I had baseball, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary and Sea World. I saw my first professional hockey and basketball games and it was a dream life.

Since it was the early 1970s and the Bay Area was in turmoil and I had a great Aunt in Stockton  we moved to Stockton just down the street from her. In Stockton I attended Grover Cleveland Elementary School and had the woman that I think was my best teacher of elementary school Mrs Dietrich. My dad was underway or deployed most of the time between 1971 and 1974 when he retired. That first year was hard and like my other teachers Mrs Dietrich was a rock of stability who encouraged me to learn and think for myself.

I attended Stockton Junior High and Edison High School and there are were teachers at every grade level who I remember fondly. My French Teacher from 7th-9th Grade was Mrs Milhousen who was very patient with me. My history teacher was Mr Silvaggio who my brother would later teach on the same faculty in his first teaching assignment. I remember my Printing Shop and Wood Shop teachers, back then you had to become familiar with trade skills as well as academics. I learned to play the French Horn in band class which was taught by Mr Hull.

At Edison I still remember great teachers like Gloria Nomura, Mr Riley, Mr Oji, all who taught History or Social Studies, Donovan Cummings my Speech teacher, Coaches Charlie Washington, Vick Berg, Duke Pasquini.  There were others but two of the most important were my Naval Junior ROTC instructors LCDR James Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.  I could go on and on about teacher.

That continued in college and seminary. I am indebted to the wonderful, gifted and dedicated men and women that were my teachers.  My mom was a teacher’s aid when life settled down in Stockton when dad left the Navy and retired from the school district. Likewise my brother Jeff is a teacher and in administration at an alternative school in the district, his wife is an elementary school teacher.  I now have a BA and three graduate degrees. I am indebted to my teachers and cannot forget them. Teaching is hard. I have taught a couple of undergraduate level Western Civilization classes and the amount of work is enormous.

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Right Wing Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that beat up public school teachers at every opportunity. School Board members who seem to be more interested in political careers than education and those that hack away at programs that cater to the whole person I am disgusted. When I went to school those things that made me what I am today, the library, the gym classes, athletic programs, the foreign languages, art, music, speech, and things like shop were required. They helped give me an appreciation for the world and for people in general. They helped make me a more rounded person. From what I see now those kind of programs are being decimated and our kids will be poorer for it. This is not the fault of the teachers. They work with the crap being forced on them by politicians in Congress, statehouses and on school boards with ever shrinking resources and always increasing requirements.

We need to actually care about our teachers and educational systems. Policy and budget priorities set by politicians coupled with parents that are either bullies or absentee are the reason our schools are in trouble.

I hate to lecture but teachers matter. Education policy matters. Educational funding matters. If we want to be competitive in the world we need to make education a priority again and start giving teachers some measure of respect and stop using them as a straw man to divert attention from the real causes of our educational crisis.

Today is National Teacher’s Day. Admittedly it is after hours but take some time in the next few days to thank a teacher.  If you don’t have kids, go back and thank one of your own.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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