Friday, May 03, 2013

what's up with the class of '63 | a small idea from Raising Adults

Fast-Forward a dozen years. It is 1963. The Civil Rights movement is in full swing. The Supreme Court rules on school-sponsored prayer. We are unaware that President Kennedy is nearing the end of his rope even as he launches the United States into the Space Race and threatens to heat up the Cold War. School children practice duck and cover routines while construction companies do big business on Fallout Shelters.
And for the first time anyone can remember, school achievement declines. The Class of ‘63 doesn’t score as well as the class before them. In suicide, pregnancy and crime rates, they do even worse. 
A year passes. John F. Kennedy is dead. The Civil Rights Act is law. The British mount a Prime Time invasion of North America (pushing west out of Liverpool, the Beatles take New York in a single day). The Class of ‘64 achieves less than the Class of ‘63. 
A year passes. We learn that U.S. military advisors are on the ground someplace called Vietnam. Things get out of hand at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Class of ’65 achieves less than the Class of ‘64.
And so it goes year after year; America’s children achieving less than their grandparents in the boom at the turn of the last century, less than their own parents in the depths of the Great Depression. What gives?
One theory ties the decline in achievement and increased rates of juvenile crime, teenage pregnancy and suicide, to the Supreme Court decision banning compulsory, school-sponsored prayer. An interesting notion.
I was in grade school when I saw Madeline Murray O’Hare, the plaintiff in the school prayer case, on a television talk show—seems to me it was the Tennessee Ernie Ford program but I’m not certain. I recall something about her son being forced to pray at school. I understood her to be an atheist and I understood that to be a bad thing. Other than the recollection that my parents were upset by the Court’s decision, I don’t remember much else. I suppose we must have stopped saying “The Lord’s Prayer” at school about then, but I don’t remember the day it happened. I recall more than a few God-if-you-help-me-on-this-test-I-promise-I’ll-study-for-the-next-one prayers—if you care to call that prayer. I don’t recall any overall effect on our multiple guess scores when we stopped reciting what my Catholic friends called “The Our Father,” but I may have missed it.
Here’s another theory: 1963 was the senior year for the first wave of Baby Boom school children—the ones who began without enough desks or teachers for a traditional education in Readin’, ‘Ritin’ and ‘Rithmetic. They’re the kids whose parents worked day and night to provide what they didn’t have as children—stuff; material possessions. The Class of ‘63 were the first children who mainly grew up in suburbs instead of small towns and old neighborhoods. They grew up without steady exposure to grandparents, aunts, uncles and lifelong family friends. They were the ones raised with the new medium of television who learned to absorb information a little differently than those who came before. In fact, they learned to think differently. Members of the Class of 1963 were the vanguard of an extraordinary cultural shift.

— from Raising Adults

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