by Brian Thornton
So, about my day gig.
I teach ancient history to eighth graders.
And like I tell them all the time, when I say, "Ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s.
For thirteen/fourteen year-olds, mired hopelessly in the present by a
relentless combination of societal trends and biochemistry, there's not
much discernible difference between the two eras.
It's a great job. But even great jobs have their stressors.
Like being assigned chaperone duty during the end-of-the-year dance.
Maybe you're familiar with what currently passes for "popular music"
among fourteen year-olds these days. I gotta say, I don't much care for
it. Then again, I'm fifty-one. And I can't imagine that most fifty-one
year-olds in 1979 much cared for the stuff that I was listening to then.
And it's not as if I'm saying *I* had great taste in music as a
fourteen year-old. If I were trying to make myself look good I'd try to
sell you some line about how I only listened to jazz if it was Billie
Holiday or Miles Davis, and thought the Police were smokin' and of
course I bought Dire Straits' immortal "Makin' Movies" album, as well
Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" when they both came out that year.
In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album ("Go West," with "YMCA" on
it), and a number of Elvis presley albums and 8 track tapes. I also
listened to my dad's Eagles albums quite a bit. An uncle bought
Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" for me, and I was hooked on a
neighbor's copy of "Freedom at Point Zero" by Jefferson Starship, but
really only because of the slammin' guitar solo Craig Chaquico played on
its only hit single: "Jane." And I listened to a lot of yacht rock on
the radio. I didn't know it was "yacht rock" back then. Would it have
But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.
Anyway, my point is that someone my age back then may very well have
cringed hard and long and as deeply if forced to listen to what *I* was
listening to at eardrum-bursting decibels, and for the better part of
That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.
Two hours of rapper after rapper (if it's not Eminem, Tupac,
or the Beastie Boys, I must confess it all sounds the same to me)
alternating with "singing" by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.
Thank God we got some relief in the form of the occasional Bruno Mars song. Bruno, he brings it.
And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.
One group of these kids in particular caught my attention. Three
girls, all fourteen, all of whom I knew. All wearing what '80s pop-rock
band Mr. Mister once referred to as the "Uniform of Youth."
the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.
in embracing that change, does youth itself actually change? Bear with
me while I quote someone a whole lot smarter than I on the matter:
"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of
getting off their butts and moving around."
The guy quoted (in translation) was Socrates, quoted by his pupil Plato, 2,400 years ago.
And some things never change.
Getting back to the three girls mentioned above, their "uniform of
youth" was the one au courant in malls and school courtyards across the
length and breadth of this country: too-tight jeans, short-sleeved or
sleeveless t-shirts, tennis-shoes. They looked a whole lot like so many
other girls their age, out there shaking it in ways that mothers the
world over would not approve of.
In other words, they looked like
thousands, hell, millions of American girls out there running around
today, listening to watered down pablum foisted on them by a rapacious,
corporate-bottom-line-dominated music industry as "good music", for
which they pay entirely too much of their loving parents' money, and to
which they will constantly shake way too much of what Nature gave
them–even under the vigilant eyes of long-suffering school staff
Yep, American girls. From the soles of their sneakers to the hijabs covering their hair.
Oh, right. Did I mention that these girls were Muslims? Well, they are.
One from Afghanistan. One from Turkmenistan, and one from Sudan. At
least two of them are political refugees.
You see, I teach in one
of the most diverse school districts in the nation. One of the main
reasons for this ethnic diversity is that there is a refugee center in
my district. The center helps acclimate newcomers to the United States
and then assists in resettling them; some in my district, some across
So in this campaign season, when I hear some
orange-skinned buffoon talking trash about Muslims, stirring up some of
my fellow Americans with talk of the dangerous "foreign" *other*, it
rarely squares with the reality I've witnessed first-hand getting to
know Muslim families and the children they have sent to my school to get
an education: something the kids tend to take for granted (because, you
know, they're kids, and hey, kids don't change). Something for which
their parents have sacrificed in ways that I, a native-born American
descendant of a myriad of immigrant families, can scarcely imagine.
(And it ought to go without saying that this truth holds for the
countless *Latino* families I've known over the years as well.)
I'm not saying they're saints. I'm saying they're people. And they're
here out of choice. Whether we like that or whether we don't, they're
raising their kids *here*. And guess what? These kids get more American
every day. Regardless of where their birth certificate says they're
Just something to think about, as we kick into the final leg of this excruciating election season.
Oh, come on. You didn't think this piece was gonna be just me grousing about kids having lousy taste in music, did ya?
(And they do, but that's really beside the point.)