Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Kids and Parents Today

Michael Dirda reviewed Huck's Raft, by Steven Mintz, in Sunday's Book world. From the review:

Unlike us, the young have yet to squander their lives. So we lay into them, hoping to rescue the apparent yahoos from their downward slide and somehow transform them into what they really ought to be -- which is roughly ourselves, but better, smarter, richer. Sadly, we grownups can't help these shameful desires. To feel proud of one's children -- this is the drug that every parent hungers after. Only when the kids start to disappoint our expectations, as must eventually happen, do we settle for wanting them to be merely happy.

...children of the past did possess something lost to their descendants of today: freedom. Once kids were allowed to ride their bikes all over town or idle away the summer in daydreams; they could fail a course or even a grade, and no one got overly excited about it; they might even make serious mistakes and find themselves pregnant or working on the line at Ford rather than studying lines of poetry at college. But now, in our test-driven, increasingly regimented educational system, we forthrightly aim to leave no child behind, which means that we leave no child alone...Little wonder that teenagers complain they are bored, with nothing to do. But when have they ever done anything for themselves?...

Our challenge is to reverse the process of age segmentation, to provide the young with challenging alternatives to a world of malls, instant messaging, music videos, and play dates. Huck Finn was an abused child whose father, the town drunk, beat him for going to school and learning to read. Who would envy Huck's battered childhood? Yet he enjoyed something too many children are denied and which adults can provide: opportunities to undertake odysseys of self-discovery outside the goal-driven, overstructured realities of contemporary childhood... (book excerpt)

Mintz notes that Cornelia A.P. Comer, a Harvard professor's wife, complained in the Atlantic Monthly that the younger generation "couldn't spell, and its English was 'slipshod.' Today's youth were selfish, discourteous, lazy, and self-indulgent. Lacking respect for their elders or for common decency, the young were hedonistic, 'shallow, amusement-seeking creatures,' whose tastes had been 'formed by the colored supplements of the Sunday paper' and the 'moving picture shows.' The boys were feeble, flippant, and 'soft' intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Even worse were the girls, who were brash, loud, and promiscuous with young men." This was published in 1911...

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