30 June 2016

Kids These Days....


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.

Well. No.

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 mattered?

But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.

Ah, youth.

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 two hours.

That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.

Two hours.

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."

Of course, the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.

But 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 members.

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 the country.

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 from.

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.)

Blessed Eid.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are indeed blessed, Ed, and a blessing to your students, and a blessing to anyone reading your post today. Thank you for your words. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for your simple and increasingly-rare, simple but very noble, humanity.

Robert Lopresti said...

Well done, Brian. And thanks for teaching middle school. I don't know how anyone copes with that; even middle schoolers don't like middle schoolers.

Melodie Campbell said...

Brian, I am Canadian, and in a part of Canada (Toronto) that is probably the most diverse in the world. Over 50% of people in Toronto are visible minorities. The thing I noted as a college teacher: it took three months. By the end of three months, our new-Canadian teens were comfortable and fitting in with their peers in a way that I marveled. It gave me incredible hope, and still does. Our future belongs to these people, and you know, I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Eve Fisher said...

God bless you Brian, for teaching middle school - I'm with Rob. How we all survived the junior high/middle school years is still a mystery to me.

And spread the good word about the real facts of immigration: kids are kids, throughout time and place, and the first thing they do is join the club. Like the gyrating tight-jeaned girls on the dance floor.

Leigh Lundin said...

Brian, it took me hours to read your article, partly due to interruptions and partly to research what the hell yacht rock is. (I knew the music but not the name… and why did someone pick a name I consistently spell wrong?) Good articles and series I gather. I knew the name Bruno Mars, but I could pick him out of a line-up, so had to look up his music too.

So I slowly make my way through the article, kind of 80% agreeing, enjoying the historical references, and then I hit the key line. Wow. It blew me away. How wonderful! And you warned us, you really did, but I didn’t see it coming. Great column, Brian, one of the best.

Jan Grape said...

Great article. I could just picture the kids dancing. Especially the girls dancing with each other. Because that's exactly what 8th graders do. Then you came up with the great point you wanted to make. And a good point made...no preaching. Just a simple we are all the same under the skin...HUMAN.

Jan Grape said...

Great article. I could just picture the kids dancing. Especially the girls dancing with each other. Because that's exactly what 8th graders do. Then you came up with the great point you wanted to make. And a good point made...no preaching. Just a simple we are all the same under the skin...HUMAN.

Art Taylor said...

Great piece, Brian! I teach at George Mason, one of the most diverse colleges, and I hear you for sure. Thanks for the fine and thoughtful column!

DoolinDalton said...

Thanks, Anonymous, Rob, Melodie, Eve,Leigh, Jan and Art, for the kind words. I'm gratified to see my post has been taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

Brian