Kids These Days….

I have a friend on Facebook who trades back and forth, the front spot of which of us is the first to post random news items on our pages.  He’s a researcher by trade, so when I get to scoop him by posting certain things on FB first, I feel pretty good about myself.  Yesterday, it was his turn to beat me to some news.  Some news that had me leaking out of the corners of my eyes when I read it:  Dick Winters, the hero and author of Band of Brothers*, had died in Pennsylvania on 2 January 2011.  He had asked for a small and unannounced services, and his death went unreported for 8 days.

EIGHT DAYS!!

I am astounded by this.  Our media is overrun with the comings and goings of barely dressed, barely educated twenty-something drunkards, our government would rather measure penis size than govern, a large portion of the populace on unemployment has found that continuing to accept benefits is more lucrative than actually finding a job, and the death of a man who played a major part in allowing those freedoms to exist only to be abused goes largely unnoticed.

Shameful.

Major Winters and the men he served with in Easy Company during WWII are members of an all but extinct class of person.  They served their country out of a sense of duty and purpose.  They snuck out of hospitals after injuries, before being cleared officially for duty in order to be standing by the side of their friends at the next battle.  They lived by unspoken codes of honor that acknowledged hard work as a matter of course and not something to be put up with for compensation.  They were heralded as heroes, and yet, not a one accepted that moniker as his own; merely explaining that they did what they did out of a sense of personal pride, loyalty and brotherhood.  Some returned home to make their fortunes, but most continued with lives of modest means, blue collar jobs and a code of personal ethics that would die within the next few generations.

I look around me and see in my own world, a shriveled and calcified chancre of a society.  Where people used to be embarrassed by having to accept government aid and were spurred by responsibility to make their lives better and provide for their own, there is now an unwarranted sense of entitlement, an idea that handouts are required and due.  Community and camaraderie have been replaced with vanity and self-importance.

Unions have worn out their welcome and serve now only to impede progress and grasp the most benefit for the least work.  Life in general has become litigious, with large portions of people looking only for a big payout instead of accepting the consequences of their own stupidity.

We are teaching our children how to be winners (Everyone Gets A Trophy!) but neglecting to show them how to lose.  This practice encourages them to look at us expecting that we’ll brush them off after failure and place them a few steps ahead instead of expecting them to try again and ‘make it’ by virtue of effort instead of handout.  We allow bullying in our lunchrooms and prescribe medications instead of encouraging dialogue.

Our girls are driven by unrealistic standards of beauty and encouraged to hide their intelligence, learning early that a flash of vagina is funny and the vapid batting of eyelashes could make them famous.  Boys find brotherhood in gangs and low-riding pants, and discover on the playground and on TV that might is right.  Both learn to eschew personal responsibility from a dissolving family unit, parental models that stand with their hands out themselves and a mainstream media that is constantly pointing the finger for larger woes at politicians or video games or violent television series.

Right and wrong are wavering lines depending on who has the better story or can lie more effectively.  Gone are personal responsibility and strict moral code.  A make-your-own-luck  attitude replaced by the certainty that something is bound to, has to, will drop itself in your lap.

These men, like Major Winters, who fought for our freedoms, who looked at the ugliness of places like Dachau and endured the miserable winter in places like Bastogne, could never have imagined how badly we’d go on to bastardize their efforts.  They didn’t fight so that we could have everything for free.  They fought so that it would be possible for us to continue to work hard and operate freely.  It saddens me, crushes me, nauseates me to know that his death went so unnoticed while Snooki’s book gains and uncontrollable momentum.

It’s time to reset priorities.  Time to stop the culture of the hand-out.  I’m in favor of a cultural revolution.  One not based on the newest song by Britney Spears, but on the knowledge that something has to give, because the balance doesn’t work if we’re all continuously taking.

*If you have not had the fortune of reading his memoir, co-authored by Stephen Ambrose, or of seeing its eponymous HBO miniseries, I highly recommend that you do both.  You should set aside a full day, however, because the minute you’re finished with the first episode, you won’t want to leave your chair until you’ve finished all 10 hours….it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen; I’ve watched it from beginning to end five times, and that fifth will certainly not be the last.

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24 thoughts on “Kids These Days….

  1. While I respect your opinion, and can see why you feel this way (and agree somewhat about the increased sense of entitlement – though that is more a product of the middle class, from my unscientific observations), I must disagree with you somewhat. I think it’s a dangerous game to assume things about the past, and romanticize it. To steal a phrase from someone else, it’s “the way we never were”. Not to mention that military culture is (and has been, for a long time) different from the larger culture.

    I don’t think people necessarily had more personal responsibility or a strict moral code – it was simply a different time with different ills of society (and a lot of the same), and a time with harsher retributions for disrupting the societal norms.

    I think that’s it for now from me. 🙂

    • It’s an interesting point that you make, and I certainly won’t dismiss it out of hand. There is absolutely a danger of romanticizing the past, and I freely admit that the sentiment I felt at the passing of Major Winters had much to do with the depiction of him on the HBO miniseries.

      It was a different time and there were different circumstances. The general feeling was “buck up and take care of your business”, though, and when I compare that to a modern culture of incessant scapegoating…..I don’t know if I can agree fully.

  2. ” We allow bullying in our lunchrooms and prescribe medications instead of encouraging dialogue.”
    Sorry, but I just cannot agree with that. Who is this “we” exactly? I am a high school teacher and I am essentially burning myself out completely with a neverending daily struggle to do exactly the opposite of what you state. My colleagues and I *do not* allow bullying and do not pat young people on the back without teaching them how to face failure, or how to overcome difficult challenges, or how to try dialogue instead of conflict.
    Contrary to what you seem to believe, young people today do not get a free ride on the ego-validation, here’s-your-unearned-praise entitlement train. I have students who are neglected to the point of being almost feral, beaten to the point of catatonic withdrawal from the world, violent, miserable and self-hating because the adults who were supposed to care for them decided to focus exclusively on their own comfort and ease.
    The problems you identify are real, but the symptoms you notice are formulated in such a general way that you seem to be blaming the victims here, and listing a very wide, very vague array of manifestations that have a lot more to do with post-industrial latter-day capitalism than with North American educational practises.
    Every time I read yet another condemnation of “kids these days,” I absolutely bristle, because I spend 18 hours a day living with the supposedly amoral, sociopathic, selfish young adults that everyone loves to compare to the “greatest” generations that *we* purportedly (and very self-righteously)miss and emulate nostalgically. The central fallacy that makes my blood boil is that people gesture to a golden age of imagined greatness, and decry the decadence of the younger generations, only to condemn ritualistically without actually delving into the situations they invoke. “We” prescribe medication instead of encouraging dialogue? Really? If you’d had the day I’ve just had at my school, you too could be laughing bitterly at that statement right now. It’s so easy to repeat such claims, and so much more difficult to actually try to explore what goes on with “kids these days.” That makes me very sad.

    • I think, that you have misread the central point of my post, and taken a personal and defensive stance when there was no offensive action against you. (Although, I do welcome your comments and the chance to clarify a couple of my point.)

      1. The “we” that I speak of is our American population. Yes, I’ve made a sweeping generalization, but in this case, I believe that’s apt. Here is why: Everyone is responsible for the output of our culture. Whether I’m a producer on the Jersey Shore, or a consumer by watching it, or a bystander by not voicing my disgust, I am part of a culture that has allowed such drivel to exist….it is a symptom of a larger problem. If you take issue with my generalization, remember, that just as there are exceptions to what I’ve pointed out, so are there exceptions to YOUR rule. I know for a fact that there are teachers out there who are burned out, hate the kids they teach and are only sticking it out to collect a paycheck, so you can’t hold yourself up as an example of my wrongness.

      2. You have taken my post as an attack on teachers and even on the children themselves. This is patently untrue, and it’s here where I am certain that you’ve only given my post a cursory skim.
      3. I disagree with your opinion about the “entitlement train”. I will, for instance be taking a job with a tutoring company. They are tutoring children who have otherwise failed to learn to set standards for whatever reason. These children are bribed to learn with IPods. I look at that this way: “Oh, you didn’t learn what you were supposed to? That’s okay, try again, and this time, we’ll reward you for being in this situation in the first place.”
      4. I was not condemning “Kids These Days”. My title was meant tongue-in-cheek….I was referring to myself as an ornery old lady and using a cliche for its irony. You’ve taken only the title and not the content into consideration.
      5. I’ve done more than my share of exploring what goes on with our youth. I’ve been exposed to it on a level that I haven’t voiced and don’t expect you to know about.

      I’m suspecting that your class size is overwhelming, your parental support slim and your resources scarce. This is also a part of a larger problem that WE are struggling with. A skewed cultural priority.

      Please re-read, I think you’ll find that your ire is much overstated, and I haven’t really said anything that you wouldn’t yourself agree with.

      Thank you for responding.

  3. “Imagined greatness”, that is a disgusting misunderstanding of what that generation did for our country. Selflessly volunteering for a job where the death rate was astronomical and watching your friends die horrible deaths all around you while fighting to protect the lives of people they’ve never met is imagined greatness? As a teacher I’d expect you to have a better grasp of history. Maybe you are part of the problem. America was not a super power before WWII. These same men returned home asking for nothing. They will not admit that they were heroes or accept praise. Your comments are a shining example of the lack of understanding of history and the keys to success.

  4. Hear, hear! I applaud your position and your perspective. Sure, you made generalizations, so do many history books and current-day pundits. Have you ever read Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged?

  5. I think this piece is beautifully written, but I tend to disagree with much of it.

    I think this is a lament that has probably been voiced since Aristotelian times. I agree on matters perhaps relating to media. In the case of Dick Winters, he went to great lengths to keep members of the media in the dark; whereas Snooki and her ilk court attention.

    I think that as a society, North Americans do not value history or learn from it. But does any culture or country learn from its mistakes? I doubt it. But perhaps the collective amnesia is what generally allows people from other cultures who would otherwise be at each other’s throats to co-exist somewhat peaceably. I say that as the descendant of an Irish Catholic-Protestant marriage that required my great-grandparents to flee their homeland and move to Canada.

    Do people neglect their children? Yes they do. They did in the past as well.

    Do people bully others? Yes. And they did in the past. My father-in-law endured terrible beatings at his public school in the 1950s at the hands of his peers–violence that would result in criminal charges today, and rightly so.

    If we judge our society according to traffic spikes at People.com, then I think, yeah, North Americans probably suck. But don’t forget that in the past, people used to have picnics at the public gallows for family entertainment.

    If you look at American citizens in particular, I think they’re the most generous contributors to charities (I can’t point you to a statistic on that, but it was something I read somewhere).

    If there really is no such thing as progress, then the past is no better or worse than today–it’s just the same in a slightly different way. I think the problems seem bigger because there are more of us today and we’re more aware of them because everything seems to get publicized.

    That’s just the way I look at it.

    • Thank you for your insight, Patti. You too make interesting points with respect to the publicity and media perhaps making issues seem larger and more dire. The media is our present-day propaganda machine, I totally agree. (And you are absolutely right about Dick Winters doing the opposite of Snooki with respect to courtship of the media).

      I guess the problem that I have is that we’re so willing, as a people, to worship things like the Jersey Shore, but the passing of such a great man goes largely unnoticed (albeit, by his own insistence).

      I see your points, and they’ve given me much food for thought. Thank you again for your response.

  6. I’m inclined to disagree with you as well, John. It’s a case (again) of romanticizing the past and the need to be careful about engaging in revisionist history. Did some of the people who volunteered to go to war do so because of patriotic values they had? Absolutely. Is that admirable and honorable and worthy of praise? Absolutely. Are there men and women who do the same thing now with the same end results (not wanting to be recognized as heroes, for example)? Absolutely.

    However, not all of those men were quite so honorable, I am sure. Just as not all the people who serve now are. There are a myriad of reasons for joining the military & just as varied behaviors/beliefs by people who are serving. It’s important to recognize that noting a characteristic overall for a group is not the same as that characteristic applying to individuals and their behavior (see: ecological fallacy).

    Not only that, but via my reading of her post, I believe Princess was using that statement to describe something similar to what I was – the looking at the past as this “golden age” where all the people were more responsible and cared more about their community, had “better” families, etc. while people today generally suck (for lack of better words). However, the fact is this – sometimes we use the critical lens when looking at the present, but forget to use that same critical lens when looking at the past. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’m not saying that things are awesome now, but they weren’t necessarily awesome then, either.

    Additionally, acknowledging the flaws of the past or certain people does not diminish their contributions to society, but paints a more realistic, well-rounded picture…. and thus, allows us to examine our own (current) lived experience more accurately by comparison.

    Of course, all this examination (of both past and present) has only a certain amount of usefulness while people chose not to actively engage in change, within themselves and their local communities. The revolution starts within… but unfortunately, many or even most would-be revolutionists get caught up in conspicuous consumption and pop culture (or by the pressure of poverty at the low end of the economic spectrum), so the “revolution” ultimately becomes nothing but dialogue.

  7. @johnmoore1980 I think you missed her point entirely. This post does nothing but heap praise on that generation of war heroes.

    Today, the casualty rate endured by Allied troops during WW2 would not likely be tolerated by the populace.

  8. I want to clarify that I am not American. Therefore, to anyone who would assume my stance is symptomatic of something somehow American, that is not the case. Perhaps my perspective comes precisely from that angle, which may seem foreign to those reading my response.
    I am not taking the initial written piece as an attack on teachers, but an attack on those younger than us, who are portrayed here, I think, inaccurately, with very broad strokes that come close to caricature. The initial piece reads as quite loaded with anger, and I responded in much the same vein, but I am not trying to personally attack anyone here. In fact, I am not so much angry, as saddened by what seems to me a lack of empathy for those who will one day be pushing our wheelchairs and changing our diapers.

    I think that when it comes to the drivel of popular culture, we actually agree.
    What worries me is a general heaping of blame onto people whom we judge easily, by comparing them to our perception of the past.
    (and btw, when I spoke of “imagined greatness” I was not refering to *imaginary* greatness: I do not deny the achievements of those soldiers. I was simply trying clumsily to say that *we* did not live it, and therefore for us, these exploits live in our imaginations…as does all of history. No offense or denigration meant there at all)…..
    I simply cannot agree that younger people share a sense of entitlement, or that they are medicated into a state of disengagement from their responsabilities, or that they are consistently insulated from real failures and challenges. I cannot help thinking that my perspective is very different from yours, because I work with young people who, for the most part, come to me thinking they are essentially unwanted “garbage.” Pretty much every week, some thuggish-looking person in low-riding pants tells me that I am the first person to tell him that he is worth something on this planet. I am not angry at you, or taking your writing personally, but I can’t help thinking that if I could take you to my school for one day, you would be unable to write what you wrote in those paragraphs about teenagers. I do not presume to know your life or your experience.
    All I really wanted was to let my voice be heard here, because I just could not agree with the generalizations you make about teenagers….my purpose was to temper your commentary with the very unpopular–but real–other side of the coin, the one that most people cannot see because it is revealed when students come to see us in private and show us bruises, burns, and even deeper, more troubling wounds. No malice intended; I am saying these things in respect and obviously, from my own limited and emotionally invested position.
    Kids these days are mirrors of us these days. Let *us* look at ourselves.

    • I can absolutely get onboard with your “let us look at ourselves” stance. I agree that our examples are the ones to be followed. My frustration which was also clumsily put, now that I’ve read it another 70 times (lol) stems from the fact that I can set all the example I want, but somehow, best intentions are trumped by a larger cultural and media machine.

      We disagree on the medication and and absolution from responsibility—but still come back to the same agreement that it’s because parents and drs and that same cultural machine find it easier to fix with a pill, than to engage in that discourse I was talking about. I’m not attacking the youth, I’m attacking the culture which is breeding them. There is a large difference between the teenager you teach, and the example that they are learning to follow through mainstream popular culture.

      It’s not that I don’t have empathy, it’s that I think that there is so much empathy, that we are handicapping our youth. I am all for encouragement, and letting kids know that they are worthy and capable, but on the other side of the token, requiring them to perform and to earn respect through action. You yourself and your colleagues may do a wonderful job of imbuing self-respect and a sense of pride and drive and responsibility, but it can’t just be a smattering of teachers right? It has to be the entire community surrounding the kid that shows the positive message doesn’t it? It’s not the kids, it’s what they’re barraged with everyday from all directions that isn’t so pure of motive. See my point?

      (and I really am glad to have a dissenting opinion. helps me hone my own.)

      • hmmm I hope you will not rue the day I stumbled across your blog and read your musings, because I don’t want to be such a systematically joyless fly in the ointment, but again, I tend to feel my scalp prickle when people say the old “It takes a village to raise a child.”
        😉 Sorry to be such a pain….but…
        I hate that saying, just as I want to challenge people who repeat that an entire community or culture or elaborate social project has to be installed in order to salvage the minds of our young people. To me, that is just too close to a cop-out stance: well, it seems to say, everyone has to be on board or else it won’t work….let’s wait for the whole community/culture/government, etc… to be on board.
        That just isn’t going to happen.
        The village hasn’t been there and it ain’t about to materialize in order to raise our children.
        My attitude–and the reason I can still get up in the morning and do my job–is that I believe all I can assert is that “it takes ME to raise this kid.” In other words, forget the rest of the folks who don’t care, are sabotaging the kid, are poisoning his mind…none of that can be helped, but all I can control is what I do for this kid, today, right now, in his moment of need. I dream of a world where instead of saying “it takes a village,” we all say “I am going to do what I can to help raise this child, regardless.” The urge to defer and wait for everyone to join in has not helped anyone. I firmly believe (and studies tend to support this) that one person can make a huge difference, and that even if we feel (and mostly are) powerless, we must try every day to do what we can, for today, for one kid at a time.
        Of course, our views can co-exist….

      • You’re right, our views can co-exist, and the more I read your responses, I think that we aren’t so different in our thinking.

        I do, however, believe that it does take a village. And I don’t think that that is a copout. (Here, we’re back to leading by example. To keep on with what seems to be my recent penchant for cliche: Be The Change You Want To See In The World. It’s why I vote. I can’t influence everyone else around me, but I BELIEVE that my vote COUNTS no matter how insignificant I am in my community/nation etc.—this is back to my argument about personal responsibility.)
        Some points I’d like to make:
        1. Yes, one person can absolutely make a difference. Sincere effort and care will outshine falsehood any day. But the chances that the 40 minutes you spend with a student each day will be effective combat against the other 1440 minutes that they are bombarded with other influence? It’s a David and Goliath battle.
        2. Yes, your students are faced with overwhelming odds. Beatings, maltreatment, neglect, etc. I agree this is terrible. I agree that it makes your job difficult and painful. However, in the end, it’s not an excuse for any child as they get older. All children grow to be adults. Adults are responsible for themselves and their actions. I don’t think it’s acceptable for a person at 40 to say: well, I was mistreated as a child, so I am collecting unemployment now. Those children grow to be adults, whether you are able to “save” them or not. Adults that are responsible to themselves and their communities.

  9. I’m jealous of the comments you’re getting BTW. Being a comment whore, I look at the yardage here and am green with envy. You’re really getting people thinking and that’s always good. This goes way deeper than, “Great post.”

    Obviously, you touched a nerve. This story–she has legs.

  10. I have written 3 different responses and deleted them all because i can’t seem to say everything i want to say coherently. Those who have objected to the post must live in a fantasy world. Please look up incarceration rates and statistics on youth drug use and look at pictures of our cities 60 and 70 years ago. Close your eyes for a second and imagine the entire class of people who survive on the entitlement system being forced to fend for themselves.
    The post writer is completely right, left unchecked we are headed for disaster. Furthermore, the post writer is completely right that a culture once ruled by hard work and moral values has been replaced by the mess we have now. It is not romanticizing history to notice, it is not wrong to see how things are and how they were. The federal entitlement system has led people to abandon their communities and their churches, there is no social responsibility … it is unnecessary.
    I think that the news media missing the good Major’s death and instead covering the low hanging fruit is a fantastic inditement of our news media. There is no investigation, i mean we can’t expect them to actually go and find the news, just keep on rewriting press releases and we’ll keep on injesting the garbage. It is their JOB to find out that Major Winters died and report it, instead on January 3rd we read that an activist from Hong Kong has died and a beat poet that no one has ever heard of.
    Great post, well written … if it did anything wrong it wasn’t harsh enough!

    • Denis – I think it’s fair to say that I am a social scientist, so if you’d really like to roll with the statistical argument on this one, I’d be happy to oblige. However, I’d think you’d find that things are more the same than different – particularly once the statistics are appropriately weighted for changes in law, law enforcement practices, regulations and population change. It is simply inaccurate to compare raw numbers or percentages (I tell you this as someone who has taught both statistics & research methods).

      As for looking at our cities 60-70 years ago…. they were vastly different, yes. There were ghettos with a variety of populations (different “racial” backgrounds, including the Irish and Italians in slum housing) and industrial complexes with limited concern for safety, much less the environmental impact these dirty plants had on the cities in which they inhabited. There was still violence and corruption. So, you shouldn’t say “look at the cities now compared to then”, without REALLY looking at the cities then.

      Also as a sidenote, what’s considered moral changes over time and cultures (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – personally, I like pants, for example), and so the changing morality from 60 or 70 years ago is to be expected… as it was changed from 60 or 70 years before that (and so on and so on).

  11. I wrote something along these lines (but kept it to myself) recently, but focused more on why people are being such douche bags, such self-centered “me first” assholes…and I know, after reading what you have to say, that you said it ever so much better than I could or did.

    Kudos to you, my friend…

  12. It’s against my religion to comment on any post that includes US Military references but let me just say the comments rocked my socks! Fucking brilliant conversation you’ve got going here. Totally jealous.

  13. This is so well-written and I feel privileged to read it, even if I am doing it very late.
    I think that if I were ever to gain any sort of public recognition, I would also ask for a “small and unannounced” service. Maybe the non-reporting was because of the funeral home and his family/friends respecting his wishes? I mean, I hope so. I hope it was something that was done out of kindness and not neglect.

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