What’s the Mattter With Kids Today — Relative to What?

Written By: Warren Gross

Recently a hornet’s nest was disturbed in our somewhat lethargic City. It was so disruptive that over 20,000 or so postings came forth driven by reactions to Ms. Anton, the Pirate Librarian. Her indiscretions were obvious and sadly reflective of too many similar similar acts throughout our nation. It led to other, more strident outbursts and reactions driven by a lip sync celebration by students of one of their faculty favorites, Mr. Rapaci. You can read all you need to read or remember on TOTS; it is very easy to find.

What interested me was the large number of student responses; first time I have seen even a glimpse of their interest or involvement in a civic affair. It was somewhat like a generational conflict to see adults and students in opposing camps or almost as often, adults, likely parents, supporting the students. Now, if only we can harnass this energy into something more positive; perhaps a commitment on the part of the young people to become both educated and then active in civic and community affairs in New Rochelle. This slumbering City, besieged by sectarian, political, or even demographic self-interest, requires positive people, with a commitment to make things work, to bring us to where we need to be. I also throw this challenge out to our adult community; especially those who either stroke their darker angels, worship in the altar of complacency, or deny what should be apparent to anyone with a modicum of sense or amygdala input… we have a problem, like all too many cities and towns in our region, and you are the solution. If not, then, accept the fact that you are the problem.

Anyone with an interest in titillating, entertaining the masses, or who hasn’t a clue what can or should be done to ease a problem, can sit back and strike out and put on the critic’s robes. Yesterday, we were treated by Bob Cox to the commencement speech given by David McCullough Jr. and his high school in Wellesley. You can read for yourself on TOTS why Bob chose to share this with you. I will say that McCullough, whose address is gone viral on the Daily Beast and was first noticed in Swellesley, has, in my judgment said the right message in the wrong venue. It seems like a form of premature intellectual ejaculation and surprisingly, you might conclude that McCullough forgot for a time, the cultural meaning of ceremony or celebration or, for that matter, the maturation of the adolescent brain at the age of eighteen or so.

Maybe so, perhaps his father, the eminent Pulitzer Prize (2x) historian, whose biographical works are required reading, neglected to tell David Jr. more about a colleague’s work, Robert Wright, who is obligatory reading for Historians specializing in cultural evolution. Ask Bill Clinton who made it required reading for all staff.

But perhaps, as Cox says, I am rambling, but I am usually on very sound academic footing so bear with me for a while. It is germane because young McCulough says that the graduates are not “special” But, if you end it there, you make the same mistake as many readers who, perhaps separated by several generations, say “see, I told you. The kids today have it too easy, blah, blah, blah! Sure they do, but it is very situational. A modicum of sense and sensibility will tell you that we all have it pretty easy. We wrestle with parking largely because we have three or so cars per family. We cry about lack of shopping opportunites because of a lack of a proper transporation plan. Our children have trouble in basic skills due to the preponderance of internat access to social media, negative blogs, 24 hour repetitive news media. Every child has to have a Cel, an IPAD, all of the bells and whistles because YOU DO.

Maybe we have too many freedoms? Sometimes we are thrown a largely meaningless bone. For example, we woof about openness and transparency and our legislature responds with an Open Meeting Law and collateral legislation which is fine, but lacks one thing…. it is largely uninforceable. You can bring suit in Supreme Court if you have the dough, but who has the do re mi.

Is this germane to our children who see us as the conspicious consumers we are. You bet. Try telling a kid to be other than his or her peers. Maybe if you are a first generation U.S. parent, you can get away with this, but most others have to make serious concessions.

So, in comes grandpa or grandma and they reminisce about how neighborhoods were in our day. We were an extended community family, it was safer, if a cop or a teacher swatted you on the butt for some infraction, well, mom or dad gave you another one or two for good measure. There were no social media hardware on hand or software to get you by the rough spots. Television was just coming into focus. We joined the Armed Forces because it meant something for our country, our community, our family.

Quaint is it not young people. And, you adults after the Viet Nam generation when things all went south, you might stop for a moment and reflect on the meaning of “speciality” and do so in total compliance with the entire McCullough message. Read backwards if you must; the last 4 or 5 paragraphs mean the most. Here is the message; much too premature for high school graduates seeking rightly celebratory ritual with their families but just right for you. Stop your woofing and whining. Do some positive acts and if you have the courage to be, be someone who reflects on his or her life and takes the splinter from his or her eye and sees whether you qualify for McCullough’s sense of speciality.

McCullough Sr. went a tad out of his comfort zone in 2011 and wrote an interesting work on young people who went to Paris in the mid-1800s to “find themselves.” He saw the value of broadening experiences and sadly, the book was not strongly endorsed by the critics. I enjoyed it and bring it to your attention. It is called the “The Greater Journey” and it may have been prologue for David Jr. You would have to ask him, but the key message is that these young people sought this experience on their own.

Our young people are products of a post 2001 world which is fraught with negativity. lost opportunity, duplicious adult ‘role models” and a selfishness due in large measure by the succeeding few generations who actually value selfishness over selflessness. We huff, puff, pontificate and do diddly squat about things that we ought to be able to influence if not change. The Churches and Synagogues have become ceremonial at best or insulated at worse, neighbors are almost non-existent as a force, booming voices of peudo-intellects infest the blogospehere, cable news, and Kanye West sneakers are $350 or so dollars a pair, are “must haves” and the $8.00 dollar or so an hour people in Bangladesh, cannot keep up with the demand.

So, bullshit… the kids are alright, basically where they should be given what is all around them. McCullough mistakenly tries to strip them of a cultural entitlement, smart adults taunt them with “we know better” and communities leave them to fend largely for themselves. Thus, they form into groups around what selfishly driven momentary norm drives them because there is not that much more available to a lot of them.

This is why adults out in this community who are in a position to make a difference need to make a difference. Stop with the social engineering, throwing words like “diversity” around, and wake up to the indisputable point that the kids today have it a lot harder than you had it even if it seems that the materialistic content and concepts are different.

When those cursed planes hit the Towers everything changed. You know that don’t you. When you see a City like ours suffering from a chronic virus of neglect, benigh or otherwise, is that what you want? Is it enough for you to have a lawn, a soap box derby up north while kids down these parts take to the streets in search of ….. well ask them!

We have so many things twisted. Bob Cox loves the word, “facts” but surely he understands that they are unsubstantial, often simply a higher order of opinion and even the most seemingly indestructable of these facts are being challenged. The great citizen of the world, Albert Einstein may soon see his Theory of Relativity fall under the advances seen in fibonacci Chains or particle accelerators. We once would have staked our lives on (and some did) on the sun revolving around the earth. No, healthy dialogue should not be groundless but it can be extempore.

Young people; a suggestion from me is to celebrate your youth, energy, strength while if you are blessed with a family, acknowledge the fact they love you if not always understanding you. Hedge your future bets on life by reading David Walker, John McWhorter, Robert Wright, David McColloug Sr and especially, especially Socrates.

I am fully in your corner and wuuld encourage you to venture out into a colder world than we had. Maybe beginning in a safe haven like the fully undervalued Jim Killoran of Habitat is a good start.

Otherwise, this is Mister G, a former substitute teacher at Isaac Young and elsewhere in New Rochelle who thinks you should celebrate your place, tone down on making too much of this place, take care of bullying wherever it shows it ugly face, be your brother and sisters’ keeper, love your family, friends and community, and go forth and do the right things.