Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kids These Days

We all do it. We take a look at the headlines, hear the stories coming out of our schools, see a kid crying in the grocery store, and then we lament on the good old days when kids had respect for adults, cared about their futures, and were afraid to defy their parents. Kids these days! Where is this country heading?

Yesterday I got my first real taste of the new school year at my now annual late summer editor's meeting and woke up this morning with one thought on my mind. If only these kids were running our country instead of Congress, we might have a chance...there might be some hope.

Sure, they get a little gaga over One Direction and giggle and whisper when boys come past the room, but if you were in that room yesterday, you might have been surprised by what you heard.

Topics of conversation included the audacity of Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" flap, the need to elect leaders by popular vote rather than the glorified board game known as the Electoral College (they even knew why the electoral college was set up in the first place), and the tragic state of our nation when one choice seems a bit weak-willed to do the job to them while the other seems to lack the compassion they'd like from their leader.

What's more amazing about the eight young ladies I sat with yesterday is what they are about to do. By the end of the year, they will have published a 224 page yearbook that will more resemble a catalog for a prestigious art school than a high school publication. At the same time, they will publish eight issues of a newsmagazine that, if only we could afford color, would make you think you were flipping through Vogue or Rolling Stone. They will be in charge of its content and production, and even have supervisory duties over the rest of the staff. They will have just one to two weeks to write a full feature story and maybe less to design their spreads with the pressure of knowing that being late for yearbook plant deadlines could cost the program thousands of dollars. (It costs about $35,000 to produce a yearbook these days by the way.) These same students are cheerleaders, singers, dancers, and even ukulele players who will be enrolled in several AP courses, some for actual college credit. And that's not even getting into the home lives some of them have to overcome.

You probably haven't accomplished feats that impressive since, well, high school.

So while it's easy to look at the headlines and listen to the complaints of parents, teachers, and administrators, know that you're not getting the full picture. I will have around 100 students this year. Three to five will impress me to the point where I just know they will go on to make the world a better place. They will totally knock my socks off. I will grow to adore another ten to twenty. At least half of them will do fairly well at their jobs of being students. A quarter of what's left will truly want to do well, they will try their best, but lack of skills or various conditions will prevent them from doing so. And in the end, only a handful will truly try to make my life difficult and show that they simply don't fit in an academic setting. And of that handful, only two or three will be the type you see in the headlines and on television that make you worry about the future of our country.

Now look at the Senate. One hundred full-grown adults elected to lead our nation. Can you say the same about that group of one hundred? I rest my case.

Now look at your community. While the kids at my high school are collecting piles of toys for needy children, what are the adults around you doing to help those less fortunate? While the kids at my school are staying late to work on their yearbook spreads, going straight to cheerleading practice, tutoring for National Honor Society, having a very late dinner, then staying up until two to three o'clock in the morning to get their homework done for an AP course load, what are your adult neighbors doing? While my editors spent a week of summer vacation at a yearbook camp, planned the ladder for a 224 page publication, redesigned templates for a newsmagazine, and worked on writing summer articles so we would have something to put on our website when school opened, how did those adults around you spend their time off from work?

Sure adults give back, work overtime, and take work home on weekends and vacations. The point isn't that these kids are somehow better than adults. The point is that they aren't what you might think they are, and I have a front row seat every day to see the truth.

You may look at the class of 2013, throw up your arms, and ask, "My God, is this the future of America?"

But I look at the class of 2013 and say without hesitation, "Thank God, this is the future of America!" If only we don't ruin them between now and then.

And if you still think there was some magic day where teens were more respectful, more civic minded, and stayed out of trouble, just look at the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. This is a movie from those golden years when everything was roses, sunshine, milk, and honey. Yet there we are following three teens who all end up in jail on the same night. But that movie is about the poor parenting those teens received you say? About how the adults failed them? About how they are misunderstood?

Well, I guess some things never change.

"Disposable Teens"

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