We're in the middle of a national malaise that shows no sign of breaking, and that malaise is mediocrity. Too many people today fail not only to meet the challenge but to even confront it. They're satisfied with putting out just enough effort to keep their heads above water without once relying on their inner reserve to be more than they have been.
I see this in the classroom every semester. A few students will excel but most won't. And it's not because they're dumb or stupid or intellectually inferior, it's because they're lazy. They're satisfied with just getting by, and many of them aren't motivated by their parents to do any better than they're doing. For the most part, I can identify and separate the do'ers from the slackers the first day of class by where they sit, how they sit, how they act, whether they bring materials with them to take notes and what kind of attention they give me.
For the most part, they get their behavior cues and their ideas not only about education but life in general from the family they grew up in. Norms and values are instilled in the home that will go with people wherever THEY go. If you're taught to give a man a full day's work for the wages he pays you, then you will. But, on the other hand, if you're taught to work only as hard as you have to, you'll do that too.
We've been overrun by far too many of the latter and not nearly enough of the former. People just wanting to get by. People having no desire to excel. People who are satisfied with less. People who never approach the potential they have in this only life they get to live.
It's puzzling and mystifying to many how this can happen but it's not to me. If we're not taught by somebody to be the best we can be, how are we supposed to gain that insight? Show me a successful person and I'll show you someone who had somebody in their life that wouldn't allow them to accept being average. It may have been a parent, a sibling, a relative, a friend, a coach, a preacher or a teacher but SOMEONE challenged that person to be more than he thought he could be.
But if you don't have someone like that in your life, the chances of you motivating yourself to reach toward the stars is remote. If you learn from others that the easy way is the best way, that you ought to be satisfied with what you have or what you are, and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn't for you, then you can rest assured you'll never have it.
It's frustrating to see so many people who were fortunate enough to have been born in the greatest country in the world where you are free to pursue any dream you might have, stifle their lives in mediocrity. To not only fail to pursue their dreams but to not have any dreams to begin with. We live in a land that millions of people around the world would die to live in to have the chances we have and many HAVE died trying to make the dream of becoming an American actually happen while natural born Americans turn their backs on the opportunities given them at birth.
I beg and plead at the beginning of every semester for my students to see the light, to realize the great blessings they have of living in America and the unparalleled opportunities they have to be anything they want to be, knowing when I'm saying these things that they're falling mostly on deaf ears. The few that will learn came prepared to learn before I challenged them to do anything and those who didn't, those who came looking for the easiest way to do as little as possible and still pass the course came with that preconceived notion as well.
My greatest frustration as a professor over 30-plus years has been my inability to change this dynamic, not only in students but adults as well.
And I'm afraid it will continue to be.