We sipped our hot coffees and sat on the stools looking out at the traffic cruising past. We shared a love of strong coffee and the lasting nature of our friendship, but beyond that we were quite different. She had pursued a stable career; I wanted my independence. I married young, she never did. I eventually became a grandma, and she became a grandma-figure to hundreds.
As a public school teacher, my friend has spent most of her life in a classroom—year after year. If you want an accurate picture of society’s decay, ask a teacher who has taught as long as my friend has—which is close to 30 years. She has no plans to retire, but she’s weary of the battle that rages inside the children who come to her classroom.
She talked, grieved would be more accurate, about the change she’s seen and how worrisome it has become. We can point to things like video games and electronic distractions that weren’t there when she was a fresh, young teacher out of college. But that’s not the problem, according to her.
Sexual images plastered across magazines, TV shows, and computer pop-up ads aren’t the problem either. Nor is it the over-scheduled youth with little downtime to relax and experience a childhood.
Yes, all of those are symptoms she says. And they do indeed cause pain. But that isn’t the disease, according to my wise teacher friend.
Looking away from the steady traffic, she turned to me and said, “It’s marriage. That’s the disease. Parents don’t take it seriously anymore.”
The decay in relationships begins at home. Children, who are continually shuffled around while they’re still developing their own identity, quickly learn that they can’t trust mom and dad. When that happens they toughen in some ways and become brittle in other ways. And it’s happening more often and in the youngest, most vulnerable children.
Marriage no longer seems to matter, with half of all births happening out of wedlock. Add to this the 50% failure rate of marriages and you begin to get a sense that kids aren’t a priority. It’s about parental happiness. They seem to have lost their sense that if they choose to have children, then those children become a major concern in their life.
Now when kids come to school they’ve packed more than a lunch. They’re bringing the broken pieces of all the relationships they’ve seen. Not surprisingly, they seek outlets for their hurt and anger and most often it’s negative.
My friend rose to her feet and leaned over to hug me. She needed to go home and grade a stack of homework before tomorrow. I watched her climb into an old used car. She’s made a living, but teaching doesn’t get you to the upper class. Yet tomorrow she’ll be back in the classroom giving her heart to those students who are fortunate to have a stable force in their life—at least for the length of the school year.
She’s tired of taking the rap for failing students. She’s right when she says that the problem isn’t her. Good marriages help in raising good kids for the future of the family and our nation.
I pondered my friend’s parting comment, “You know where marriage matters most? Our schools.”
True enough. There are no solutions to fix our broken schools until we find a way to fix our broken souls.