Tuesday, May 07, 2013

the soup they're in | a small idea from Raising Adults

They didn’t plan it; it just happened.
Like other extraordinary generations, their parents didn’t know what to do with them—anybody could see it in their reaction to pompadours, t-shirts and jeans, rock & roll and “race music.” The kids sure felt it. That was obvious from the Saturday night cruising cultures—kids burning cheap gas in fast cars for no other reason than to be out, meaning not home. They embraced heroes like James Dean and Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, then Beat writers like Ginsberg and Burroughs. 
“Edgar Rice Burroughs?” their fathers would ask; “the Tarzan guy?” 
“No, Dad: William Burroughs; the Naked Lunch guy. Gad! You are so square.”
And yes these were also the hippie kids who hung out in parks, smoking dope and pitching Frisbee Brand Flying Disks.
They were the leading edge of a wave of rising crime, juvenile pregnancy and suicide. A wave the rest of us followed and follow still. I think it may have been the Frisbees.
Against that backdrop, perhaps most trivial of all these indicators was the decline in scholastic achievement and test scores. 
Compared to a growing prison population (not to mention the growing number of crime victims); compared to growing teenage pregnancy rates (not to mention the cost to single mothers and their children and the numbing effect on prodigal fathers of sex for sex’s sake); compared to the tragic loss of life—the suicidal abandonment of hope by more Americans than we had ever witnessed—lower test scores hardly seem worth mentioning. 
But school achievement is concrete; it seems like a problem we might be able to do something about. So, of course we would mention it. Of course we would fixate on what-to-do-about-those-darn-schools.
Big Basic Question: Does it make sense to explain the decline in achievement and the rise in public health problems to things that occurred when the class of ‘63 were seniors (namely, the Supreme Court decision on school-sponsored prayer)?
Big Basic Question Answered: I think students in the Class of ‘63 were shaped by the 17 years it took them to arrive in their senior year. How could it be otherwise? 
The class of ‘40 grew up in the adversity of the 1930s, graduated, and went off to fight the war. They had no control over the circumstances of their lives—they were children. For better and worse their Depression-era upbringing shaped them. 
That was their cultural soup. Five years later, when they conceived the first wave of a new generation, how could those children not be shaped by the 50s?
Come to think of it, how could our kids not carry the distinct flavors of the soup they’re in? 

— from Raising Adults

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