Beauty will save our children, Part 2–Leah Farish

     I was able to visit Riga, Latvia, a few years ago.  Since I was there with the nation’s Ministry of Education, we were able to visit a school outside the city.  The students themselves had been allowed to redecorate a few areas of the school, the first being the entry.  As we entered the rather old building, we felt a combination of drama and serenity I have never sensed in the foyer of a school building.  We looked up and the ceiling was painted a passionate blue, and spangled with gold stars.

The teenage students could hardly wait to show us the classroom they had decorated.

Desks had been replaced with tables for two, and the walls were hunter green.  Large windows admitted plenty of light, but each table was also warmed at its center by a brass study lamp.  We visitors were humbled by the unspoken message of these youngsters: “We want to learn, and we want to do it surrounded by beauty.”

Children naturally respond to loveliness and order.  This idea may be obscured under the mounds of toys, homework papers, and food debris they tend to leave behind when their lives aren’t ordered.  But they do crave it and they naturally celebrate it.  Look at the kids’ sheer delight and spontaneous movement to the music of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” in the online video, “Som Sabadell flashmob.”

I was about five I first heard a recording of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah.  I asked my mother, “Why are those people angry?”  She laughed and said, “They’re not angry, they’re happy.”  But somehow I gathered this was a different kind of happiness than five year olds usually feel.  Later I realized: it was fierceness.  As C.S. Lewis says of characters in his Narnia books, “Their joy was like swords.”  I was hearing the swords.  There was an intensity to that beauty that made me want to grow into it, that made me want to mature.

Warning: When kids are over-stimulated with an exaggerated clutter of artificial images—like the saccharine vistas of the laborious Avatar cartoon movie—they can lose sensitivity to the ordinary aesthetic wonders around them.  When children overdose on hectic, highly-produced media—earbuds at bedtime, 24/7 texting, constant car audio, video games, etc.—they may never find the pleasure of singing a song with the family or painting a picture for themselves.  If they never feel that anything they do, however small and imperfect, can be beautiful, they will quit trying to achieve it, and eventually to appreciate it in their everyday lives.  Don’t let them suppose that beauty is for “the experts.”

So expose kids to the Great Masters—and to the simple beauty of shadows, smells, and harmony.





The Problem is Us: Tim Elmore, Guest writer

Sometimes I get misunderstood as a guy who’s against kids. Since publishing my latest book, Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save their Future, some think I whine about how this generation of students are undisciplined and feel entitled.

Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I love this generation of students. But they’re in trouble. More than you may think. According to Michelle Rhea, former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, “The truth is, despite a handful of reforms, the state of American education is pitiful and it’s getting worse. Spending in school has more than doubled in the last three decades, but the increased resources haven’t produced better results. The U.S. is currently 21st, 23rd and 25th among 30 developed nations in science, reading and math, respectively. The children in our schools today will be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than the previous generation.”[i]

Ugh. It’s both sad and unnecessary. So what’s the problem? Why are 3 of every 10 students dropping out of high school?  I have an educated guess.

  • They’re not necessarily stupid.
  • They’re not necessarily bad.
  • They’re not necessarily troubled.

They are bored and have disengaged teachers. Not all of them. Many teachers today are fabulous and are my heroes. But far too many moan about the need for “student engagement” when they’re the ones that need to re-engage.

So, how can so many bad teachers be teaching? It’s simple. It’s the only industry I know where you can perform poorly and keep your job. One of the key problems in American education today: “tenure.” It’s all about job security. Even if you’re a pitifully unproductive teacher—you get to stay in front of the class. So, if the bad teacher won’t leave…the students do.  By the millions each year. The new chapter president in the D.C. teachers’ Union said his top priority is job security for teachers. You see—education is not about the kids. It’s about the adults. That’s a crime.

When I sound the alarm about “Generation iY” I’m not whining about the students. Quite the opposite. I am challenging parents, teachers, coaches and youth workers to re-engage in the most important task we have today—preparing our kids to lead the way into the future.

What are some steps we can take?  Here are a few.

  1. Join us as we engage in this challenge. You can give online at:
  2. Check out Michelle Rhea’s campaign: Students First. (She’s formed a lobbying group to counter the special interests that have hurt graduation rates.)
  3. Read and pass on our latest book, Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. Just go to:

Let’s act now. Let’s solve this problem by first admitting: the problem is us.


[i] Michelle Rhea, “I’m Not Done Fighting,” Newsweek, December 13, 2010, p. 36.