I found little coincidence in the fact that yesterday's New York Times Learning Network word of the day was "belie". Especially considering that this weeks lesson plan for teachers (grades 3-12) is a romantic walk down the path of the "pre-Reagan (and pre-Giuliani)" days of drugs, sex and parental permissiveness.
The lesson plan is a discussion of author Chris Sorrentino's yearning for the return to parenting as it was when he was 17. An era where the rules were different but lamentably better in his eyes. The message however is not being sent to parents, it is being peddled like a drug to kids in high schools across the nation.
Sorrentino describes the difference between then and now by characterizing his responsibility as a youth, or lack thereof, as being "big". Thus when being big resulted in crossing over from teen to adulthood through the experiences of drugs, sex and alcohol he is describing a necessary rite of passage that is now criminalized. The lesson being that the criminalization of these old time rites is somehow bad.
No one worried about H.I.V. (granted, that was a fool's paradise). There was no such thing as crack cocaine, and pot didn't provide the elephant-gun dose of THC that today's hydroponic stuff does. The country's divorce rate peaked around 1980 (I was one of three kids I knew whose parents stayed together), which put something of a crimp in the ideal of parental oversight à la "Father Knows Best" — it wasn't unusual to run into a friend's father or mother dancing the night away at the same club you'd gone to.
Maybe most important, I'm one of thousands of aging New Yorkers who took their first legal drink while still in high school. The banishment of the 18-year-old drinking age — and the relegation of American adults of that age to Junior Grown-Up status — meant that certain behaviors were abruptly criminalized. Close readers of this article may have gathered that some of the pertinent laws were mostly honored in the breach to begin with, and that is indeed the case (I had no trouble obtaining alcohol at 14), but when the drinking age rose to 21 in the mid-'80s, with concomitantly tougher enforcement, the handwriting was on the wall.
Above all, I lament the loss of this majority, this legitimacy of behavior, this legal bestowal of the idea of "big." But the point is that many of the places we gathered, and many of the activities we took part in, abruptly became verboten.
At 17 my friends and I didn't partake of sanctioned, homogenized "teen culture." We participated in culture, period, meaning that often we made it ourselves. We were perfectly aware that certain aspects of Western civilization, whether or not they would appear on network television or play on Top 40 radio, had their point of origin in the fertile brains of teenagers.
I'm happy to provide an unscientific postmortem on the casualty rate sustained by those of us raised according to those bygone mores, in those pre-AIDS, pre-crack, pre-Reagan (and pre-Giuliani) times. Most of us survived, and prospered. Many of us are raising our own children.
I wish I could report that this was as mind numbingly stupid as the lesson plan gets. Consider that Sorrentino, a modern day parent who yearns for the hip permissiveness of his own parents who had similar drug experiences with heroin, is using a common liberal tactic to convince the young mind that something was better about the 80's style parent and that children should seek this out.
The tactic at play here is exclusion. By glorifying his experience of survival despite these dangerous activities he seeks to teach by example. But examples of this sort are purposely limited in scope.
Granted, "HIV was a fools paradise". You think? What is the implication on the other side of granted? "OK, that's one bad thing, but...."
You bet there was no such thing as widespread use of crack cocaine. But that's because there was widespread use of other drugs, heroin, acid and plain old cocaine. Sure pot didn't provide the elephant-gun dose that it does today, so the 80's kids just spent all day smoking it instead of the quick one and out. Neither should be desired.
For me growing up in the 80's was a struggle. A rite of passage that almost killed me. When the drinking age changed in Illinois we took the 16 year old rite of passage road trip to Wisconsin so we could pretend to be 18; not that they carded anyway. Many others took that same trip and died on "blood alley", the back roads to the Brat Stop and other border bars. This wasn't lamentable, it was stupid, dangerous and not in the least educational. Thank God that times have changed!
Unfortunately some things haven't changed. Things such as aging hipsters yearning for the good ol' days of their youth. Having grown up they now find themselves immersed in a world of responsibility. But all is not lost, they can relive that bygone era by instructing our children to take up where they left off as if today's kids are missing out on some spectacularly grand experience. This is a lie told by losers. They are in your schools teaching your kids.
The third, fourth and fifth paragraphs of Sorrentino's tale should stick in every parents mind. For this play of words belies the facts of parenthood by characterizing parents as wholly unqualified to understand let alone guide their children into adulthood. It also instructs children that they will have to do it alone. A liberal truism perhaps but no less rooted in fact because they say so.
For maybe a dozen of us, the house became home base. We assembled there, ate there, slept there. We kibitzed and played cards and listened to records and watched TV (regular broadcast TV, I should add). We drank beer and smoked cigarettes, lots of both. People lost their virginity, fell in love. Hearts were broken. Friendships and animosities were formed. More important, none of us ever went home, or if we went home it was just to change clothes.
For me, the 11-day transit strike marks the true beginning of a critical shift: from the existence I had until then, one shared mostly with my parents (nurturing, comfortable, semi-claustrophobic), to one that I would fill with friends, girlfriends and my own interests, a life full of exhilarating, scary and sometimes awesomely boneheaded decisions.
I know that for some, adolescence is a process of breaking up with one's parents. The guiding equation of childhood is need, and whether your needs have been met or gone wanting, upon adolescence they're replaced wholesale by the entirely different condition of desire, of the kind that parents, qua parents, are inherently unequipped to address.
Sure, children have to experience life on their own. But nothing in life says it has to be done through the eyes of the New York Times liberal. The fact that the New York Times is peddling this message to your children in such an underhanded manner through teachers should be call to arms enough. Know your teachers, research their sources and challenge their lesson plans.
A permissive parent is nothing to be desired when it comes to allowing hippy grown ups to infect their children's minds with backward ass walks down memory lane.
Terry Trippany is the editor at Webloggin.