It made me think that we sure judge kids by a harsher standard today than when I was a carefree young terrorist.
Times sure have changed, by cracky. Back when teenagers ruled the world in the late 60s, the administrators at my high school were busy creating an experimental smoking lounge for students so we wouldnt have to go outside to smoke. The experiment lasted less than a year, but still, in that social climate I cant imagine any of our principals would have expelled a student for getting caught with a beer.
Looking in the rearview mirror from the age of Klebold and Harris, I shiver to think of how we parents would have been judged if todays standards of zero tolerance were shipped to the days of our youth in the Wayback Machine.
In the 6th grade, for instance, no one thought it was odd to bring a jack knife to my elementary school in rural Grand Rapids. How else would you play mumbly-peg at recess?
A shotgun and bow and arrows were part of my arsenal as a 12-year-old, with most of my pals owning some sort of rifle or .20 gauge. Mad magazine was considered far more dangerous by my teachers, and sure bait for confiscation.
On the other hand, it never crossed anyones mind to bring their .22 to school and blow away their classmates. Problems with bullies were solved by shoving matches or avoidance.
As 15-year-olds, my friends and I enjoyed making homemade gunpowder by the pound and blowing up cans of the stuff out in the driveway in suburban Royal Oak. Our stuff was too primitive to get to the level of any IED-style explosions, but we got some spectacular flares and lift-offs. No one saw fit to call the cops it was just another group of kids blowing stuff up.
Today, we‘d be doing hard time in prison, with the news in all the papers.
And back then, the corner store was happy to sell us bottles of Boones Farm apple wine at the age of 16, no questions asked.
Was it too much apple wine in our teen years that prompted my befuddled generation to elect the likes of George W. Bush? Interesting theory...
Today, when kids are expelled from school for packing nail files, its because we live in the shadow of Cho Seung-Hui, much the same way the hippies got dipped in blood by Charles Manson.
But it does seem strange.
What caused the shift from a freer society to one where zero tolerance has become a necessity?
You can truck out the usual suspects: Today, one half of all first weddings end in divorce, often with children in tow (thats up from about 29% of marriages in 1970). And one million children are born out-of-wedlock into fatherless families each year. Violent video games and films desensitize kids while encouraging distant responses, such as shootings. And, according to the Christian Science Monitor, nearly one-third of American high school students drop out, with that level rising to almost half of all minority students. Also, perhaps kids are crazed on junk food, preservatives, sugar and the sedentary lifestyle.
Check all of the above for why kids are kept on a short leash these days.
Add to that my own humble theory. Over the past 100 years, the status of children has diminished in America from useful members of the family to little more than pets. Who wouldnt feel a sense of uselessness, despair and alienation?
My father and mother were required to work as farm hands in their youth, supporting their families as had been the case for hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. They were vital contributors to the familys survival, and there was a sense of self-esteem in that knowledge, which is missing today.
Today, contributing to a familys success is rarely the case for children, who are parked in front of the TV set and left to their imaginations.
Sigmund Freud said that work and love are the prerequisites for sanity. Work & Love... thats what you need to keep from going insane. Yet our affluent society has drifted far from the need for children to work for their familys success.
A teacher recently wrote that many students in her class have feelings of depression and despair, and some have even attempted suicide. Isnt that a logical consequence of feeling useless and unneeded, with no responsibilities to be proud of?
If you dont keep a pet well-exercised, it can over-eat, get spoiled, demand attention, act up and make a mess. Is tightening the leash the best alternative?
Obviously, we cant go back to kids doing farm chores or collecting firewood and berries to support the tribe. The work we set for children is doing well in school. The trick for parents is to convince their kids that their success in school isnt just for their own good its vital for the whole familys success.