Securing the Legacy of the Greatest Generation – Part Three
Going Out With a Boom
Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. That’s the approach I’m taking in tackling the question I raised at the end of Part Two in this series – i.e. How do we go about meeting present-day challenges through reacquiring Greatest Generation values that, for the most part, are missing today?
A BETTER WAY
The “bite” I want to chew on with this article contains the values associated with how we raise our children. In Part Two of this series, I exemplified the different values that made up that part of our social fabric in the heyday of the Greatest Generation with the following overview:
“Children were raised by their families. When they got up in the morning, both Mom and Dad were there to parent them and care for them. When they went off to school, they went with kids from families in the neighborhood who knew each other. Their transportation to and from school was on foot through neighborhoods where a caring adult was present in most homes. Their teachers and other school staff knew the kids and their families. The same was true with extracurricular activities. At the end of the day, there was no warehousing of kids at a “daycare”. Babysitting was an exceptional activity, typically to afford parents a couple of hours to go out to dinner, etc. and even then, the babysitting was usually done by a relative or neighbor who knew the kids well.”
A BETTER ATTITUDE
Wow! How can we possibly reacquire a set of values like that, values that have become so very different today?! I suggest that, to find the answers related to this, we need to begin by adopting the attitude the Greatest Generation took in facing the overwhelming challenges brought on by WWII. In Part One of this series, I described this as a mindset that, unlike today, meant the average Joe or Jane lived their lives with a true other-oriented sense of community, rather than just being focused on “What’s in it for me? When our nation was threatened by the Axis nations of WWII, that mentality was evidenced through everyone putting their personal aspirations on hold for as long as was necessary to meet the crisis at hand.
That, obviously, was a winning mentality. But, perhaps, you’re thinking, “Of course, subordinating one’s own dreams was necessary to deal with the plight represented by WWII but we’re not coping with anything on a par with that today.” To that, I would say, “Really?!” Just think of the many ways, since the Greatest Generation were in their prime, in which our social fabric has unraveled, bearing tragic results on the level of the topic I focused on in Part Two of this series … School Shootings. Just looking at three of the five areas I outlined in that article, to exemplify what communities were like prior to the unraveling I mention, consider the ongoing deterioration of these things:
• The decline of the nuclear family. In an article entitled Land Where The Fathers Hide, I addressed just one aspect of this … Fatherlessness. In that article, I noted the differences between now and “back in the day”, along with the consequences of those changes:
– “Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically altered the family life of American children. Whereas in the early 1960s, nearly 90 percent of all children lived with both of their biological parents until they reached adulthood, today less than half of children grow up with both natural parents. Nearly a third are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom never live together, and another third are born to married parents who divorce before their child reaches adulthood. To further complicate matters, a substantial number of children are exposed to multiple marital disruptions and multiple father figures”
– “Some fathering advocates would say that almost every social ill faced by America’s children is related to fatherlessness. Six are noted (in the article). As supported by the (footnoted) data, children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.”
• The devolution of formal education in America. In another article I wrote, entitled It Takes A Well Educated Village, I note the following indicators of this:
– Of all the Fourth Graders in the U.S.; only 1/3 of them are able to read proficiently at grade-level.
– In an assessment of 15-year-olds, the U.S. placed 25th out of 30 countries in math performance and 21st in science performance.
– Average math and reading scores for 17-year-olds in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests have remained stagnant since the 1970s.
• The unfathomable rift that Americans have allowed to develop between themselves and fellow-Americans, due to differences in political views, etc. Again, I refer you to another of my previous articles. It’s called We The Purple. In it, to characterize this self-made abyss, I use a quote from a book authored by political polar-opposites, Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas. They describe this condition as “an insidious culture of polarization”. As a result of this, just in the past 13 years, I’ve seen our nation move from being fully unified by the events of 9/11/2001 to a country where, most astonishingly, serious comments are being made of an impending civil war.
To me, these things make it clear that we are facing conditions that are on a par with what the Greatest Generation was confronted with in WWII – The complete elimination of the United States of America. Maybe you don’t see it that way and you’re willing, in my view to proceed; fat, dumb and happy; towards our nation’s inevitable end. I see it as our forerunners did, a “call to arms”, requiring us to put our personal aspirations on hold for as long as is necessary to meet the crisis at hand.
BETTER WAYS TODAY
With that said, if you agree with me, that gets us back to the topic I raised earlier, as one starting point in tackling this overwhelming challenge – i.e. How we raise out children. Since developing a plan for reacquiring the related set of values I described earlier is, by itself, elephant-sized, I’m going to take my “one bite at a time” approach here too. No doubt, you will have many good ideas on this topic that are different from and as good as (if not better than) the idea I’m going to present. My hope is that you will add to this discussion by submitting your ideas as comments here. For now, though, I’ll proceed with my “one bite”. It has to do with how the generation that followed the Greatest Generation – i.e. my generation, the Baby Boomer Generation – can fill the gaps in how America raises its children today.
OUT WITH A BOOM
I know I’ve really been on a roll in this article with shameless self-promotion, referencing several of my previous articles. So, I’ll ask, “Why stop now?” In an article entitled Rebuilding Lake Wobegon, I pointed out the most significant contribution I see that my generation can make to fill the voids in today’s child raising process. It’s by applying our rich resource, that I refer to as “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” My generation was lavished, more than any other, with education. Moreover, we were raised by the GI Generation, who instilled us with a great work ethic. That meant, not only did we get a great education, we actually went out and tried to accomplish everything we could with that resource and in the process, grew the resource by honing it with experience to create … “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” Sadly, though, if we don’t find a way to invest this “Great Wealth” in today’s youth , IT WILL DIE WITH US!
I’m confident that many, if not most, of my contemporaries recognize the truth of what I’ve just said above. Before going on to address ways in which this rich resource can be applied to fill the gaps in today’s child raising process, I’m going to suggest another attitude adjustment to go along with these. It seems that it’s not uncommon for me to hear my fellow-Boomers commenting on one or more of today’s most thorny social matters, while they shake their heads and say something like, “Someone needs to do something about that!” Usually, I agree with them and with this article, I want to point them to that “someone”. Recently, I heard a Christian song that provided the identity of that “someone”. It’s the one heard in the YouTube video at the beginning of this article. The song is called Do Something and the lyrics that contain that “someone’s” identity say:
“So I shook my fist at Heaven,
said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, ‘I did, I created you.'”
GET OUT OF THE VILLAGES!
OK, with that attitude adjustment made, the question remains, “What are the ways in which we, of my generation, can use our “Great Wealth of Wisdom” to positively impact how we raise our children today?” My answer is, “There are many ways for us to do that but, first, we have to be willing to get off our butts.”
Of course, many of my generation have reached “retirement age” or they are approaching it. I think one of the best depictions of what a lot of Baby Boomers have had in mind for retirement can be found in those prolific TV ads for The Villages. It’s promoted as “Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown”. It appears to be a place where you can make your home in a community of your contemporaries and spend your days shopping, dining out, enjoying entertainment, working on arts & crafts, dancing, swimming, playing sports, etc. Please don’t think that I’m going to disparage this. Whether or not life in The Villages is what they’ve had in mind for retirement, those of my generation who have managed to be able to retire have worked long and hard to achieve that goal and they deserve to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. However, I do pray that won’t be all they do in retirement – i.e. Just disappear into The Villages.
Finally, with all this said, I want to offer some suggestions for ways those in my generation can make a positive difference in how we raise children in America today. If you know a family where kids aren’t getting up to both Mom and Dad being in their home, see if you can spend the time needed to provide those kids the role model they’re missing. If you haven’t already disappeared into The Villages, get acquainted with the young families in your neighborhood and let the parents know when you’ll be at home, keeping an eye on the neighborhood kids while the parents are needed elsewhere. Find a way you can contribute to one of your community’s schools. The primary reason I’m preparing to start my fifth year as a para-educator in a Special Ed classroom for elementary-school-aged kids with Autism is because I wanted to try to serve as a male role model for kids (mostly boys) whose Dad’s are mostly missing. That’s just one of many opportunities available in our schools, though and whether it’s a paid position or a volunteer role, in addition to the contribution you make, you help free up other school staff to be more involved with kids and their families. And, for extra-curricular activities, consider if you can serve as the walk-on coach for a school sports team or be a leader in a Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts troop or help out at the Boys & Girls Club or volunteer at a church’s kids’ program or … The ways to make this positive difference aren’t just many, they are practically countless. With that understood, my overall recommendation is, consider what your most significant talents are and go find a way to share them with today’s kids.
I know I’ve covered a lot of ground here. It’s an extremely broad and deep subject, though, so I’ve really only scratched the surface. Hopefully, what I’ve presented here is sufficient for clearly recognizing the crisis our nation is facing, along with motivation and methods for successfully addressing it. As always, I welcome your comments on my views and for you to share your differing or added views. It would be an especially good addition to the conversation, if you would submit examples you’re aware of where Baby Boomers and others are already succeeding at making a positive difference with America’s kids today.