24 June 2021

Kids These Days, Revisited....

I'm up against a couple of deadlines, and it's also the end of the school year this week. Yes, that's right: this infernal three-year-long School-Year of COVID is finally drawing to a close. I had intended to wrap up the thread I began with my post about the death of American diplomat and scheming gadfly Silas Deane and the man who may have killed him, British man of letters and spy Edward Bancroft, by talking about the man Deane hired to create mayhem in Britain and who also nearly got Bancroft hanged: revolutionary arsonist-for-hire, John the Painter. 

That will have to wait until next time.

Instead, I'm doing a call-back to a post I did five years ago, in the midst of a divisive presidential election-also an end of the school year post, one that reflected my unshakeable faith in this country. And here we are, half-a-decade later, having come through on the other side of any number of traumatic experiences, and that faith remains strong.

Which is why I'm reposting this below.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

I wish!
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 Making Movies album, as well Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door when they both came out that year.

Well. No.

The sad reality.
In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album (Cruisin', with "YMCA" on it), and a number of ElvisPresley 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 heavily autotuned "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.

All Hail Bruno Mars - Savior of My Sanity

And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.

Great album, great cover, great band.
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.)

Seems an appropriate way to tie it all together.

See you in two weeks, with the sordid tale of John the Painter!


  1. Golden oldie, Brian! I grew up in Southern California, and whenever you-know-whos tell me about how California is a failed state, I tell them they know not whereof they speak. The country's best economy, and a diversity to die for. I went to school in the 60s with Hispanics, Muslims, gays, whites, rich, poor, middle-class, all jumbled up together in a great mass of rebellious youth who had no idea how unique we were, because we weren't having gang fights in the hallways. (We were smoking dope in the bathrooms, but that's another story.) And yes, we had bad taste in music, too. For every Santana album there was an Archies... Sigh...

  2. I trashed Duran Duran online once.

    My brother gleefully pointed out that I owned two of their albums.

    He also thought I hated Guns 'N Roses. I said, "No, you just played Appetite over and over again."

    "Like you played The Wall and Deep Purple's Machine Head 24/7?"

    I said that wasn't fair. Sometimes I listened to Whitesnake's Slide It In for variety.

  3. I love it, Brian. Well done.

  4. The chaperone's revenge comes at the 10th or 20th class reunion when those former students dance to the romantic stains of– Back Yo Ass Up!


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