I will have to integrate this entry into other entries on the same topic, but it does have a different focus than the others. Most of the time, I’m writing about the fact that I do not see the kids other teachers complain about in my classrooms. This horrible change of our stalwart, Boy Scout type kid of decade X (depends on the age of the teacher but corresponds basically to when they and their friends were in school where they ignored kids who weren’t in their social circle and so don’t remember anyone who failed algebra) into the feckless, lassitudinal, aimless, irresponsible and disrespectful little twerps filling our classrooms.
I have seen kids like that, but they do not represent, come even close to representing, most of the kids I deal with. Some of the people I’ve battled with over this tell me I was in a special situation, no matter how I delineate the demographics of my school and classroom. Others accuse me of minimizing and glossing over the terrible changes in our society, possibly for political reasons. There are those who paint me as indifferent to the suffering of teachers who have to put up with these monster kids and their equally monstrous parents.
For these reasons, I spilled most of my cartridge ink on asking other teachers to either back up what these people are saying or back up what I’m saying, that those dooms-day depictions of “kids these days” simply do not fit most kids in our classrooms.
I just read an article in the NYT on the impossibility of predicting or even explaining the rise and fall of crime rates. Most of us tend to attribute either to our own pet notions of what turns the gears of society. Mine is economic and I am certain that the reports of massive drops in all social pathologies (teen pg, drug use, homocides and other crimes, etc.) were due to massive employment in the 90s. When Bush got in, the crime rates went up.
Researchers cannot find any such clear-cut correlations, let alone explanations. Those who pin their hopes on reducing the intake of alcohol or on church attendance or on education or better health care or on fewer immigrants…. or more, or on better policing (one factor that does seem to hold more firmly than all others….. and it makes sense, but not policing in the punitive, conservative “lock them up and throw away the key b/c they’re all sinners” formulation), or on fewer single-parent homes, and on and on, cannot wrest evidence for their beliefs and hopes out of the crime statistics.
The standard Liberal explanation is poverty, very similar to my designation of employment. A study some time ago tracked the criminal behavior of Black and White youth, finding that both groups committed the same number of crimes (usually petty, youth-type or statutory offenses) but that the White youth went into a diversion or community service program while the Black kids went to jail. The reason was not racial bias on the part of judges but lack of resources in Black communities for the Black youth.
Teasing out facts like those in the above paragraph require money and effort and expertise (the article alluded to a paucity of funds for crime research). Employing any of those three elements is like heading into the wind: the shouting about race and poverty and blame and shame drown out responsible voices. Everyone wants their program funded, wants research sponsored that backs up their viewpoint, and needs time before Congressional committees to present their exaggerated tales of imminent disaster. Can you imagine a committee granting funds to an organization whose head says, “We are taking action against a threat that so far has proved minor but needs attention so it won’t grow larger” as against the person who claims, “…research shows that one out of every three Americans was shot to death last year” ?
The article mentions the wave of predatory teens descending remorselessly on society. This was supposed to happen in the 90s. That jogged my memory. I did read and hear about that and thought it absurd then. The article pointed out how rap lyrics and showing your underwear bode ill for society but those kids went on and grew up. A few didn’t, but these Cassandras honestly believe that everyone who grew up in their day, the 50s for most, grew into mature adults. I myself pointed out in some of the discussions of blow-torch intensity on the Listservs that the same kids conservatives on the Lists were saying in the 90s, when I started to participate in the lists, were going to amount to nothing, went on to fight in the Iraq and Afghan Wars with dedication, courage, and skill…. not to mention great sacrifice when many of them knew the war was as hyped and phony as the Spanish-American War was.
I recently read, also in the NYT, about the supposed epidemic of crack babies; they existed but they didn’t turn out to be the drain on the educational system once predicted. The same with the supposed promiscuity of teenage girls; rates of teen sex fluctuate but haven’t taken a noticeable long-term rise. When I tell people that my mom, born in 1916, told me she always wondered how her girlfriends in the 30s managed not to get pregnant. Many of these “kids these days” crowd simply will not believe that girls in the pre-War years were no more nor less “moral”, in their understanding of the term which means 95% sexual behavior, than girls now.
That’s another factor. While teachers focus on school-related behavior, society in general focuses almost entirely on sex in assessing the morality of an age. I wonder how many of these people are condemning the Wall Street criminals and the greed mercants? Only if they used their ill-gotten gains to hire hookers.
What has changed? Many things, no doubt. What has been their effect on society and on education? Hard to say. We can certainly recognize the impact of loosened immigration policies starting in the 50s and massive Mexican immigration, a lot of it illegal, in the 90s due, in part, to NAFTA.
Starting in the 50s but not picking up steam until the 90s is the racial integration of our schools and, eventually, the rest of society. The impact of this on our society is hard to explain to anyone under 50 or maybe even 60. To cite White people’s need to define themselves positively over and against Black people is to incite howls of protest. It is true, nonetheless. More recently, with Obama’s election and Sotomayor’s confirmation, pundits are speaking more openly about it cf. Maureen Dowd’s column, White Man’s Last Stand, a week or so ago. Integration or attempted integration has torn this country apart and continues to do so even as the racists like Charles Murray and Jeff Sessions cling to already lost ground. (Note: Murray is a self-admitted racist as declared in his book The Bell Curve while Sessions stands convicted by his behavior and comments). Patrick Buchanen is probably the most out-there voice for old-fashioned White Europeans under the banner of Christianity. They tell us all is lost if we don’t keep White people on top b/c there is something inherent in White people that leads to freedom and democracy and other people don’t have it.
What else? I had a whole list of things in my head. Hmmm. The demographics of marriage have changed so we have more kids living in single-parent homes but that is not entirely bad; I think it was Stephanie Coontz who said her aging parents lived in an apartment building filled with people like themselves and not one in ten of those long-lived marriages were happy. People just stayed together. For children, that often meant a childhood of bickering and often worse. Living in a single-parent household means poverty very frequently but perhaps there are pernicious influences missing once mom kicks dear old drunk dad out.
Drugs? Greater variety but no more and perhaps less harmful than the god-awful booze people have always drunk in huge quantities. Diet? More fast foods and junk food and that directly affects classroom behavior. The Internet? Mostly positive but definitely a major influence and a major change. I don’t see how it contributes, though, to the Cassandra’s cries of impending doom. Loss of religion and religious faith? In Europe, that has happened but it certainly has not happened in the good old USA. Of course, I find faith to be a stumbling block more than a help. Church participation, OTOH, does seem to have an salutary effect on families; I’m just not sure how to get the church membership without the religion.
I will add to this list as I think of things. At this point, I would like to affirm the progress made in education. Many of the items I will designate as signs of progress will strike some as the opposite.
Special education: we are finally reaching out to all children to educate them rather than consigning those with disabilities to the trash heap.
Unions: teachers belonging to unions are no longer at the mercy of pompous, incompetent, and immoral principals who use their power to intimidate and coerce. Teachers have rights, incl academic freedom.
Racial integration: aside from the obvious affect on Black youth, integration has brought the White majority (not for long) into contact with people more like the rest of the world. The Norwegian laconic, stiff, socially inept, hierarchical culture that permeated expected school behavior in the past has given way to an exciting, socially adept, variegated educational experience for millions of students. We have kept the Scandanavian, Norther European culture which was the basis of our culture for a long time, but now recognize Southern culture, both Black and White, as well as Asian and Latin-American and even, believe it or not, Native American cultures.
Banishment of Religion: a major element of coercion in schools, esp in communities where one religion dominated. Despite attempts by fanatics to get religious beliefs back into the classroom, our society has become way too secular for that. We’re better off than the Europeans, who are facing scary demands from Islamicists and are dithering about how to resist these inappropriate calls to institute rules and laws which violate the very culture that created the wealth, stability, and opportunity of European societies. Here in the U.S., pace Lou Dobbs, I don’t believe Latin-Americans live in such concentrations that they can introduce Latin-American patterns of political behavior (caudillismo, personalismo, etc.). That’s why we have a Constitution, no matter what Bush tried to do.
Relaxation of social expectations: expectations like dress, speech, food preferences, etc. have relaxed immeasurably. That helps with the clique issue a bit but allows many kids to attend school without fear of ostracism and ridicule. Muslim girls can wear the hijab, cowboy kids can wear jeans, Hispanic girls can dress in Latin-American styles without seeming unAmerican, Subcontinent or “Desi” kids can wear traditional shalvar or kamis, etc., East Asian kids can wear fashions popular in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and Polynesians can wear shirts and shorts that fit their cultural patterns. Hair is not an issue. Remember the hair wars? Afros were a sign of violent militantism, long hair a sign of impermissible rebellion, no hair or mohawks a sign of mental instability, crew cuts a sign of potential militaristic violence, duck tails a sign of delinquency, etc.
Stepping back from zero tolerance policies: a hopeful statement. Zero tolerance is a loop hole for stupid people. I won’t even discuss it, it is so deeply stupid and an obvious out for really dumb people who cannot think.
Niche marketing: a good example is cable TV. Ethnic foods and music are available as never before. The effects of niche marketing are open; it didn’t exist as I recall when I was young. I welcomed it but some see it as a way we have destroyed consensus in the society. But then I would question how much consensus there ever was considering anyone not a White Christian male was excluded.
The Therapeutic Society: related to Special Education, this term is usually used pejoratively by those who oppose any concession to the “weak and inferior”. Those opposed to the therapeutic society are a clear throw-back to Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement. In reality, a so-called “therapeutic” approach to society has grown out of social science research that shows one area of a society affects other areas, e.g. disease allowed to spread among a settlement of itinerant migrant workers will spill over into the larger society. Meat inspection prevents disastrous outbreaks of food poisoning. Those who oppose the therapeutic approach are best represented by those folks who apply a bumper-sticker to their cars saying “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a family.” This is in opposition to Hillary Clinton citing an African proverb that the whole village takes part in raising children. First of all, these folks oppose anything associated with Africa, even African-Americans. They want to keep society fractured into small units that can be exploited economically, ideologically, and can be easily propagandized. Frightened, insecure mom & dad + 2 kid units are vulnerable and will flock to megachurches and vote for politicans ascribing their insecurities to foreigners and liberal elites. The politicians point them away from economic and policy issues and toward feel-good solutions like prayer in the school and a return to old-fashioned virtue
I’m going to stop here. This will be an expanding list, both for questionable factors of change and for ones I believe have really occurred, along with what I see as their effects.