Time to Return: A Heartfelt Letter from One Teacher to the Rest of America

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Dear fellow Americans,
I've been thinking of this post for awhile now, but didn't quite have the words to say it. In talking to many people I know, in school, with family, and in church, all over the country, the general consensus is the same. No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, we can all agree that America isn't what it used to be.

While our technology has increased the quality of life a hundred-fold over the last few decades. It has started taking the life out of living.

Our world is changing. Schools are changing. I'm not just talking about the flexible seating trend or the unrealistic standards politicians have imposed on children. I'm talking about the children coming into schools.

Children used to have social skills, some empathy, and the ability to hold a pencil when they entered kindergarten. With all the swiping of tablets and smartphones, children's muscle strength is weaker than ever. With all the screen time, children don't have the imagination and creativity they used to, or the skills for coping with others. Especially when they don't get their way. Tolerance and compassion have become a thing of the past in the narcissistic world we are living in.

As educators, we are expected to teach the children these skills that parents used to teach prior to the first day of kindergarten. We are asking educators to be the parent as well as the teacher. While many of us embrace this to a point, there has to be some family values to back it up. Teachers cannot be all things to all children.

Parents have to instill values. Parents have to put down their devices and play with their children. Parents have to allow their children to play with other children, both inside the house and outside. Parents have to limit their child's screen time, regardless of the tantrum the child throws. Parents have to read to their children. And parents have to filter what they let their child watch and hear.

As a society, we giggle at the toddler twerking on Facebook. This is not cute, people. This is disturbing. We dress up our children like mini-adults when they absolutely are not. Our children are growing up in a world where it's okay to dress sexy in grade school, or to sing a rap song full of derogatory words and comments in 1st grade. This. Is. A. Problem.

It's time for a values revival.

As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on farm fresh food. Thanks to farmers markets, we are beginning to return to that but we still have a long way to go. As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on our religious freedom. Many still celebrate Christmas as a pagan holiday and get excited to "get stuff," but those of us focused on the shopping are missing the whole point.

As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on our education. The teacher strikes and walkouts, the disillusioned politicians, the increasing demands on teachers and students without any consideration of what those demands means in real life, and the multiple mass shootings are a far cry from a system we can be proud of. As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on our workforce. With more and more jobs overseas and an increasing number of people on welfare, our work ethic and our ability to find work is dismal.

As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on our support systems: our military, our firefighters, our healthcare workers, and, of course, our police. These were people we were proud of and trusted; the majority of them are still worthy of our trust and they all deserve our support. And as Americans, we used to celebrate our diversity. But with an influx of people arriving illegally, our systems are being put to the test and our country is becoming divided.

I'm not saying we should overhaul everything we've worked on for the last 242 years, but I am saying it's time for change. We can complain and protest all we want, but real change comes from action.

Where to start? Get up and play with your children. Take them to church, whatever type of church that may be. Read bedtime stories. Let them see you write with a pen or pencil. Give them one to practice with, too. Let your children play outside. Let them meet new kids. Let them see you support their teacher and doctor. Let them shake hands with a police officer. Limit their screen time. Talk to them. Give them boundaries--like not standing on the chair in a restaurant, or turning off the phones at dinner. Eat dinner together.

Say no sometimes. Say yes, too. Eat a popsicle on the front porch with them on a summer night. Let them run in the sprinklers. Give them more memories, values, and support. Give them less "things." Teach them to be courteous of others--hold doors, say "please" and "thank you," take turns. Model empathy, gratitude, and humbleness. Let them see you read for pleasure. Take them to a library.

Have tolerance for others. Support others in their endeavors. Have some modesty. Keep some things private. You probably don't have your own reality TV show. Posting all your business on social media doesn't make it so. Celebrate the diversity in your community. Keep close to people who show good character. Let go of the ones who don't. Screaming at others doesn't get you your way. Improving your argument helps. Eat a home-cooked meal. Invite others to join you.

Model respect. Model humility. Model acceptance. Model compassion. Model love. Model faith.

It's time for a return. A return to family (whatever that looks like for you), to values, to respect, to compassion. To faith, to support, to peace, to simplicity. A return to roots, to healing, to hometowns, to connections. It's time to help others mentally, spiritually, and socially. It's time to return to American values. It's time to have values and teach them to our children.

Yes, times have changed. Yes, there will always be advancements. Yes, our kids are living in a different world than we grew up in. But what kind of world are sending them into? And what kinds of kids are we sending into the world? We can't change everything, but we can change our circle of influence. How are you influencing your circle today?

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