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The Future is Now…and It Sucks! (or..."When I Was Your Age...!)
I realize that every day, there are parents out there who complain about the way the younger generation does things, from the style and manner of dress to the music. I also imagine that there are individuals belonging older generations who think, “I know everybody says bad things about the new generation, but this generation is different!” I don’t believe that line of thinking to be a matter purely of personal perspective; this younger generation really is different in most ways that matter. And we as older adults have no one to blame but ourselves. It simply stands to reason that our decisions as the shepherds of the following generations sowed the seeds of everything that’s come to be wrong with the way things are now, particularly with regard to our young people.
What’s worse, those who would defend the “new” social (and totally dysfunctional) reality of modern America do nothing but enable the most negative aspects of what America has become. Their acquiescence of the bad of the here-and-now is a validation which perpetuates this new disturbing reality. The result is an America where an accommodating older generation, together with a younger generation with no frame of reference for better times validates what things have become by retorting that “things are not that bad” or “times change.” This causes many people to live in a bubble comprised of this new ethos, which lacks the substance of spiritual, intellectual, and moral nutrition of the way things were I was growing up (I belong to Generation X). And given how much individual institutions in our society (as a whole) have degenerated in terms of constructive values and general substance, the best approach demonstrate my point would probably be by simply ticking off the highlights—or rather the lowlights—of life in modern America insomuch as generational differences.
What can I say that hasn’t been said about the America’s public education system before? To say that it’s in disarray is an understatement. Everyone knows that America is not competitively ranked compared to other industrialized (or even industrializing) nations in math and the hard sciences, both in K-12 and in many colleges. What’s more shocking is that many young people cannot handle our comparatively uncompetitive curricula. This is partly because many school districts are structuring their curricula around standardized testing (the infamous “teaching for testing” practice) as well as implementing less rigorous “block schedules” (four 85-minute classes a day). Most schools, especially those in urban/inner-city areas, have lowered the bar when it comes to expecting today’s generation of students to rise to meet high standards. Schools have resorted to setting basic lessons to rap, including math and even Shakespeare, in a type of surrendering to young people’s lack of interests in anything outside their already narrow experiences. In addition, with the practice of mainstreaming—integrating emotionally-impaired and/or learning-impaired students with “normal” students in the same classroom—many classrooms have become places more fit for studying the dynamics of social-psychology rather than places where learning takes place. It doesn’t help that teachers—adults—have become far more casual in their relationships with their students. It’s no wonder we hear case after case of teachers sleeping with their students. In many school districts, parents have lost respect for teachers. There is very little in the way of boundaries nowadays.
School for those of us of Generation X (and Baby Boomers before us) didn’t have anywhere near the level of almost oppressive stress that today’s schools have. Our teachers were respected, professional, and seasoned. So much so that they were allowed to structure their own individual curriculums, as long as they adhered to general guidelines of education within the subject. We actually learned. And part of the reason we learned is because he had parents who assisted the teachers by being responsible. Our parents didn’t send us to school to simply get us out of the house, or to be babysat…we were sent to school and expected to learn. Boundaries were established, not crossed. Sure, we might have had crushes on our teachers, but those fantasies were confined to the recesses of our immature minds, not bedrooms or the backseats of automobiles. It was not respectful to call teachers by their first names…or even know them. We had 6 or 7 classes a day…and were expected to learn the subject matter in the allotted amount of time. Whereas the block schedules used in today’s schools fail to encourage students to learn to quickly adapt to ever-changing expectations, situations, ideas, and thinking in general, the fact that shorter periods which previous generations had to learn more ideas meant that we didn’t have the ethos of shorter attention spans forced on us by. We were expected to learn the classics, in the way they were meant to be read and presented; we were expected to rise to transcend our experiences, not learn to our experiences (West Side Story, Julius Ceasar, and Raisin In The Sun were learning vehicles we’d be expected to adapt to in order to broaden our horizons). In previous generations, every kid with a hangnail on his/her left hand wasn’t labeled “learning/emotionally-impaired.” And they definitely were not placed in classrooms with those who could adapt to the rules and expectations; such individuals—rare though they were—were not given a “pass” with the questionable diagnoses such as “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” or “Other Emotional ‘impairments.’” Parents were more responsible, actually raising their kids not to embrace their negative labels. School systems were not beholden to government regulations that forced disruptive and troublesome students in the same classrooms with those of us capable of sitting still and following the rules…all under the auspices of their “rights.” We didn’t allow 1 or 2 students’ “right to learn” hold hostage the rights of the majority to learn in disruption-free environments. They were segregated…for better or worse for the greater good based on their mutual impairments. Both irresponsible parents and short-sighted educators are responsible for this culture of failure in public education.
What passes for “music” and/or “talent” today is nothing more than a pathetic shadow of what it once was. With a few notable exceptions—Adele, Alicia Keyes, Christina Aguilera, and John Legend come to mind (along with a few others)—today’s musical offerings by the younger generation, in a word sucks! Badly. Most of today’s music, lacks the heart, the soul, and the substance of [the] artists of my and previous generations (The Beatles, Jackie Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Hall & Oates to name a few). Today’s pop music is really nothing more than the end product of an assembly line process where television audiences vote via the latest reality TV submission to the devolving tastes and sophistication of the American public. “Pop stars” are now made, and are no longer accidentally discovered cleaning music studios or singing on a street corner. The hard work of aspiring singers working hard and rising through the ranks of already established singers has been replaced by those seeking singing for the sake of fame…or those awarded record deals simply because they were somehow connected to the current flavor of the month who happened to luck into pop music notoriety True talent of previous generations, symbolized by those who could actually play an instrument as well as sing, has been supplanted by those who simply belt out notes in a limitedly appealing manner…which we often see on the latest episode of TheNextGreatTalentedAmerican-WorldIdol. Simply said, there is a marked difference between the singing of yesteryear, and the bellowing and crooning of today’s group of “talent.” Pop music itself—and especially the videos associated with current acts—has become soft porn. The notions of love and lyrically praising those who make us feel loved have been replaced by sexual innuendos bellowed out by half-dressed “stars” (ditto) who forget that while sex sells music, true talent sells itself. Rap, a musical vehicle once heralded because of its social and political relevance to the times, has been substituted by new brand of rap offered by Southern “rappers” (to use the term loosely). They have managed to turn a once socially musically relevant art form it into an exercise in lyrically-gratuitous chest-beating by wannabe alpha males with something to prove to the world, set to repetitive beats, an equally repetitive (not to mention senseless) promotion of sex, profanity, money, getting high, and all things associated with guns. And R&B music is marginally hanging on by a thread when it comes to talented young people offering something musically substantive, buttressed only by the arrival on the scene of neo-soul artists…who not surprisingly do not receive as much airplay and notoriety as rappers and most other pseudo-artists. Predictably, most of these younger people defend the fact that their music caters to and promotes the worst aspects of society by asserting that they are just “talking about real life.” Well, a bowel movement is a part of “real life” also, but I don’t hear any of these youngsters rapping or singing about it. They simply don't or won't see that they are catering to the lowest common denominator in social mores and values. In earlier generations, we didn’t have to turn the radio dial to find good music; it was there the minute you turned your radio on!
Other than news and a rare piece of production television, I can’t say that what I watch on television interest me. I simply can’t “do” reality television. I find my life more interesting—and more important—than the petty lives of those seeking airtime in front of the camera simply for the sake of fame itself. I don’t care who’s sleeping with whom. Watching the next person shed tears over not being considered the next great pop star is not what I consider a constructive use of my time. The antics of some Southern-fried Little Ms. Exploit-My-Childhood holds absolutely no interest for me. In my most arrogant tone yet, I am simply above such insanity. I prefer to have my imagination stimulated. Broadcast production television used to do that when I was younger. Most of those of my generation grew up with Little House on the Prairie, The A-Team, MacGuyver , Three’s Company, Good Times, and the news…sans the ideological bent. We knew it was all fakery, but it appealed to our sense of imagination. Despite there being only three networks (later four), television was a lot more interesting back in times of earlier generations. Television from earlier generations was artistically created productions which provided us with a 30-minute or 1-hour escape from reality. Saturday morning cartoons gave us kids something to do with at least a quarter of our weekend off from school. And interspersed between our favorite animated forays into fun, adventure, and sometimes live-action escapism were grammar lessons from ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock, informative news segments from the previous week from CBS’s In The News, and healthy public service announcements NBC’s One To Grow On in addition to a few other. No wonder we were so much better educated than the current younger generation. Network television was a lot more responsible during those earlier generations. They rarely pushed the envelope, preferring to censor themselves to maintain comparatively conservative standards. And the few times a broadcast show did push the envelope, it was done tastefully to convey a greater message, such which often occurred during episodes of All In The Family. Even if we didn’t have parents who informed us, previous generations were smart enough to tell the fantasy of television from the reality of what was happening right outside our windows…despite growing up with The Three Stooges, Popeye, Roadrunner cartoons, and other shows depicting acts of physical assaults (that others say makes today’s generation prone to violence). We didn't eye gouge each other, eat spinach and go looking for burly sailors to beat up, and we certainly didn't paint fake holes on the side of solid objects hoping to trick someone into running into them! Today's "video games/movie industry causes violence in kids" talking point is a cop-out for lack of responsibility in parenting. Back in my day, television used to be pejoratively called the “idiot box.” It’s the one aspect of previous generations that applies even more aptly now than it did back then.
I’m going to simply come out and say it. Being currently a case manager, and having worked with kids and teens in some form and/or fashion for the last 15 years, I rarely see anything in the form of hope for this current generation. For whatever reason (laziness I suspect being the top one), parents today do not encourage their kids to use their imaginations. They have everything previous generations don’t have; the internet, gadget-filled cell phones, laptop computers/tablets, high-tech video games, $300 sneakers, televisions with hundreds of channels, overly-interfering child “experts” who say that “spanking is abuse,” and lazy parents who enable their behaviors with excuses and justifications, but still complain about being “bored.” Many would rather sit around inside all day and watch television. They see school and learning as a punishment. And they seem to have “issues” which compel them to use drugs as an “escape” or coping mechanism for some imaginary “pressures” they “have.” Many of the people I grew up around had only slightly more than our family, but we managed to actually create both fun and constructive activities from our imaginations, not the latest multi-hundred dollar gadget. We were actually imaginative enough to cobble together lawnmower engines, scraps of metal, steel, and other part to make motorized go-carts which we raced around the neighborhood. If we couldn’t find a motor, we used wooden planks, abandoned Big Wheel wheels, string, nails, and made “go-cars” powered by pushing a rider. We pieced together entire bicycles by scrounging around for other unused bike parts. We made houses for action figures out of upside down cardboard boxes with “windows” and “doors” cut out. Previous generations could use the lack of technological sophistication in order to keep ourselves amused to levels of total complacency. We got enjoyment out of reading and discussing our favorite comic book superheroes. We were able to use manual typewriters to create originally- and hand-researched term papers (that means without computers, the internet, or buying them online). We actually went to the library—not to waste time online to read about the antics of Lil’ Whoever—but to actually check out books and (insert gasp) read. And what could be said about teen fashion…or lack thereof of today’s younger generation? Females striving to dress as “sexy” as their favorite pop idol or other similarly appealing celebrity, kicking all sense of modesty to the winds. Young males who sag their pants as a show of how “cool” (or is that “stupid”) they are. Money spent on the flavor-of-the-moment brand. The extreme commercialization of style as a reflection of how much emphasis we should place on the approval of others. It’s all contributes to the decaying (and decayed) values of this current generation. As late night television show host Jay Leno once joked, you have to feel sorry for real whores and prostitutes; with young girls dressing up like tramps its simply too hard to tell the two apart. As we learned during previous generations, conservative can be sexy too. As for the young makes who make it a habit of showing copious amounts of underwear and butt crack in the name of “style,” if they all were attending plumbing school with the intention of actually obtaining a job in the field, it could be overlooked. But in the meantime, it’s just a reflection of a sick social pathology among the younger generation. Finally, previous generations came from the mindset of real economic reality; we didn’t make going to someone and asking them to buy us something our first option. We knew if we couldn’t find a job, you make a job. We collected aluminum cans for their deposits or recycling value. We walked around the neighborhoods with rakes, lawnmowers, and/or shovels, knocking on doors and offering to rake leaves, mow lawns, or shovel snow for a few bucks. We didn’t cry because the unemployment statics for younger people didn’t favor us. We lived in a time when people were glad to reward such initiative for making money (and staying out of trouble). MacDonalds not hiring? No problem…we sold candy, freeze cups (frozen Kool-Aid cups), or whatever we thought there would be a market for. We also were willing to catch rides to the fields of local farms to pick fruit and vegetables for extra money, especially in the summer months. Our generation of youth was able to make things happen, not sit around and wait for them to happen.
Simply put, today’s generation lacks imagination, substance, gumption, initiative, motivation, respect, and everything else which made previous generations more self-sufficient and better able to adapt to a world we share with others. We had parents who didn’t buy into the pseudo-medical propaganda of questionable emotional and/or mental maladies, encouraging children to continue to follow expectations of self-control, good sense, and social mores. We had block parties in the neighborhood--without drugs and liquor (with the latter restricted to beer by the adults, and only out of view of us children). We had school systems that supplemented what we were taught in the homes first and foremost. We were not in such a hurry to grow up, just to drink, smoke, and face adult responsibilities. We had maturity, the need to deal with the “pressures” of life with our faculties uninhibited, but mostly our generation had a sense of duty, not the sense of entitlement which we have imparted on the current generation.