By Tim Hyden
I have always enjoyed the work of David McCullough, the noted author and lecturer known for his in-depth knowledge of United States history. Filmmaker Ken Burns chose McCullough to narrate his very successful film The Civil War back in 1990; it’s now difficult to imagine watching it with anyone else’s voice portraying the horrors and triumphs of those four tumultuous years so long ago. McCullough was recently featured on an episode of 60 Minutes, the CBS news commentary program. It was a fitting summary of his work and beliefs, allowing the audience to witness the passion he has for his country. He is a true American, concerned with the possibility that, through no fault of their own, future generations will not be exposed to America’s true history. He is afraid they will not be allowed the privilege of knowing the wonders, successes, faults, and failures of our nation and its early leaders. We are, he said, slowly becoming a “historically illiterate” nation.
As I watched the episode, I began to realize the validity of what McCullough was saying–that the direction of our educational system is beginning to undermine the beliefs and efforts that make America so great. It was my realization of this message that made me want to stand up and shout, “Yes, I feel that way too!”
He and host Morley Safer traveled from McCullough’s home in New England to historical locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Paris, France, discussing how the significant efforts of individuals 200 years ago that had profound and long-lasting effects on our developing nation. It was truly an interesting and inspiring episode, which is accessible through the first link at the end of this article.
Then, as if to drive the point home with unparalleled efficiency, the show went to commercial. There on the television screen was an ironically discouraging example of the challenges McCullough was describing. It was a commercial for a reality show whose content appeared to be as intellectually numbing as other numerous attempts at selling Americans on the “reality” of life–productions that apparently we have still not learned to turn off. I had to ask myself, “Who is watching this stuff,” and “What is it doing to the minds of our future generations?”
When we discuss the educational system in the fire service, we again must consider the challenges that we face. As we continue to develop methods that enhance the “convenience” of getting a certification or degree, we cannot allow the possible loss of control when it comes to the quality of education. If the purpose of providing educational opportunities becomes driven more so by money and convenience than by quality (including our public schools), then the motivation to obtain a degree may shift. Rather than striving for a useful education, people may instead focus on the piece of paper or title that is awarded for an oftentimes less-than-adequate effort. This is a deficit usually caused and enabled by the offering institution, the instructor, the student, or any combination of the three. Fixing the skewed motivations behind education is a battle worth fighting, but this problem lacks a definition that would allow a broad, comprehensive approach toward a solution. The problem does, however, become clearer when enhanced by the views of people like David McCullough and through the historical context of our great nation. It is an issue that we must all strive to gain control over and overcome.
As an example of how voices of years past can have such application and effect on the human psyche today, I wonder how many remember, and will admit to watching, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid (or adult, if one should be so bold). I did, and although I realize now that I did not see and hear his message so clearly when I was young, I appreciate it today. I particularly appreciate the dedication, passion, and honesty he showed, without reserve, in working toward a better tomorrow for young people. If time is taken to closely listen to that message, much of it could be applied to fire service leadership theory today.
While I am not a fan of the electronic voices and music manipulation (remixing) that has become popular with some of today’s music, I do appreciate the work of the folks at Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Studios. They have created an impressive tribute to Mister Rogers with a very thought-provoking message for us to take away: “There’s so much in this world we can learn…no matter how young or how old we are.”
Check out the second and third links below, and then take a quiet moment to think about it.
Tim Hyden is the training and safety officer for East Manatee (FL) Fire Rescue and a 19-year veteran of the Florida fire service. He has an associate degree in fire science and an advanced technical certificate in fire science administration, and is a graduate of the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association Emergency Services Leadership Institute. He holds several state certifications through the Florida Bureau of Fire Standards and Training; is a contributing writer to Florida Fire Service and Fire Engineering magazines; and speaks on leadership, motivation, officer development, risk management, and marketing.
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