The Envied Generation

It depends on one‟s perspective and experiences, as to whether or not we should be considered the “Envied Generation.” Friends and I were talking not long ago, about how several of our childhood buddies died at such a young age, because back then, there were no treatments for their illnesses. On another occasion, someone was reminding us of how many people were killed in the Viet Nam war, and how many veterans are still suffering from PTSD.

Individuals who dealt with those circumstances probably don‟t consider ours as being the “Envied Generation.” My son recently introduced me to a friend of his, who was intrigued by the fact that I was a Baby Boomer. He asked, “So, you did a lot of living back in the day?” I guess that‟s one way to put it. I always thought it was interesting how many young people have said to me, “I wish I grew up when you did.” Come to think of it, we were pretty fortunate to have grown up when we did. Most of us had a pretty typical “Leave It to Beaver” or “My Three Sons” household. We had the luxury of living with two nurturing parents, and having close extended families, and a real solid sense of right and wrong. That is just not the case today, with so many of the younger generation. As a teacher, I had a firsthand perspective in watching the American family, as an institution, weaken. From when I began teaching in 1971, to the present, the change in students‟ home lives has been drastic. These days, very few students live with both biological parents, and many don‟t live with either one. Numerous students are living with Baby Boomer grandparents, older siblings, and many live with their boyfriends or girlfriends. One of the saddest situations, as a teacher, I encountered was at an inner city school.

Sometimes, there was no family member to contact about discipline problems, because there wasn‟t a single person in a student‟s life, who cared about him or her. There were so many needy students at that school, starving for love and attention. I have had a number of students whose parents were in prison, on drugs, running meth labs, and were so messed up with substance abuse. They were incapable of taking care of themselves, much less their children. Often the kids who were the biggest problems in class, had been tossed back and forth, like a hot potato, from one parent or relative to another. I‟m not suggesting that our society has gone to hell in a hand basket. But, I certainly do understand where these young people are coming from, when they say they wish they had grown up when we did. Somewhere along the way, it seems as though we have lost any sense of decency, or right and wrong. Perhaps misplaced priorities is the biggest problem. Several years ago, when I taught at a middle school, I was leaving the building at the end of the day. Right in the middle of the flow of student traffic, exiting towards the buses, I wasn‟t very noticeable. To my shock and astonishment, as loudly and clearly as he could, a student behind me said, “Bitch, I‟m gonna kill you. You‟re gonna fuck around and get killed [sic].” I immediately turned around to confront him, and of course, he was

shocked that a teacher was in front of him. “Ms. Williams, that‟s just a song,” was his defense, as if that made it alright. Sadly enough, those probably are the lyrics to a song…a song that he and millions of young people listen to and model themselves after. So many of my students over the years have begged me to play Motown or any kind of Oldies music. Maybe that was their way of going back to a happier, more innocent time, that they could only experience through music. When I did play Oldies music, practically everyone knew the words to every song. How did we make such a 180° change in direction, with regards to respect? When we were in school, very few discipline problems existed. We respected our teachers, and knew that if we did get into trouble at school, we would get into even more trouble at home. Teachers were free to teach. In today„s classrooms, unfortunately, much of their time is spent on disciplining students who only want to misbehave. Now, more often than not, teachers are blamed for students‟ misbehaviors and poor grades. Parents seem eager to defend their little darlings, and often come to school to confront the culprits, their teachers. One year, a student who had just transferred to our school, told a teacher, in front of the entire class, “If being a bitch is part of your job description, you‟re doing a

hell of a good job.” Can you imagine saying that to your teacher back in the sixties? Unfathomable. Another area where we went from one extreme to another, is student attire. One of the biggest problems teachers have in dealing with students today is inappropriate clothing. When we were in high school, if girls stood on their knees, and their skirts didn‟t touch the floor, they were sent home. Wearing shorts or slacks was prohibited. No one even considered wearing anything that showed any cleavage. What a contrast today, as boys walk around with their boxer shorts showing, and girls have on tops which reveal much of their breasts. I became so tired of telling students to pull up their pants, so their buttocks weren‟t showing, for all to see. Today, so many students are getting pregnant, even middle school students. Literally, there are children having children. When we were in high school, that was the rare exception, certainly not the norm. It appears that no one is practicing abstinence these days. We were content with simple pleasures. Five-hundred dollar cell phones weren‟t necessities. The communication skills we used were one-on-one conversations, not texting with our thumbs. I believe the art of conversing is truly a dying art. In recent years, the number of students who were completely incapable of carrying on a conversation even with their

peers, grew dramatically. Three hundred dollar games to simulate going bowling weren‟t needed. We went bowling. Our generation didn‟t live sedentary lifestyles, but were active practically all of the time. Whatever we did and wherever we went, we acted like we knew how to behave. One of the saddest signs of the times is a development I have watched unfold over recent years. Some inner-city public swimming pools are being forced to close their doors, because children and teens are behaving so badly. They refuse to obey any authority figures, treating the lifeguards and pool managers with disrespect. They often using horrible profanity, and ignore the rules of the pool. Sometimes they use threatening language and actions towards those who approach them. As a public school teacher, this phenomenon didn‟t surprise me one bit, although it saddened me greatly. Like many Boomers are having to watch, I am seeing my old neighborhood, where my mother still resides, go downhill. The deterioration has been visible for some years now. For the most part, the immediate area near my mom, still seems to be relatively safe. There are many neighbors who help watch out for her. Not long ago, though, one neighbor ended up with bullet holes shot through her refrigerator door. After that, my mom got bullet-proof glass

installed in her front windows. Many friends have told me that their parents are stuck living in an unsafe neighborhood. They simply can‟t sell their homes and leave, without having the wherewithal to move to a safer place. Last year, a block from Mom‟s house, I witnessed a gang of grade school boys surrounding an elderly man‟s car, as he drove down the street. They were refusing to let him pass, until he gave them money. Once I realized what they were doing, I got out of my car and started yelling at them, as they scattered and ran. This type of disrespect and misbehavior were simply nonexistent when were growing up. Nothing like that ever happened in our neighborhood. I have a hard time watching the local news these days. Neighborhoods that we frequently visited and played in, are now plagued with shootings practically every day. The violence seems to keep escalating at a bothersome pace. Shooting often happen in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight. It seems like there is an increasing number of young men who have no hope for the future, so they don‟t really care if they go to prison. We had an occasional act of violence reported on the news, but nothing like this disturbing phenomenon. I was disturbed to see the bevy of products that were adorned with peace signs last fall. It was as if something that was dear to us was being

exploited. We wore that symbol proudly, and it had a deeper meaning, than that of a decorative motif on a binder or blouse. Peace, love, and happiness were what many of us sought. That‟s a far cry from the more violent world that face young people today. Overall, we were fortunate to have grown up in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Those were pretty remarkable times. No wonder many young people envy us.

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