Annapolis Institute Overview


Permissiveness starts at the top

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, October 3, 1996

“The children of today are out of control. They talk back to their parents, slobber their food, and annoy their teachers.” Does this sound familiar, like your local school principal or a disgruntled grandmother? Actually, it is a quote from Socrates, the Greek philosopher, uttered sometime around 425 B.C.

In fact, each generation of kids is viewed as a problem. They’re always seen as rebelling. So the real question is whether today’s youth is different in kind from earlier generations. The conventional wisdom is “yes,” and data seem to support the allegation.

Example: More than 50 years ago, in 1940, school teachers said their “top problems” in teaching school were chewing gum, making noise, talking out of turn, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress code infractions, and littering. The top problems of this decade are drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault. Many other indicators also show that today’s problems are more serious — from juvenile crime to school drop-out rates and the epidemic of teen pregnancy.

This is not just an indictment of our kids. It is also an indictment of our culture and especially the behavior of adults. Permissiveness and widespread disregard for standards of morality and right conduct don’t just happen. Permission has to be granted by adults and by the leaders of adult institutions.

Adults spread the cult of permissiveness in all kinds of ways. We do it retail, for example, when we violate marriage vows with divorce or when we say, “Don’t be judgmental.” We do it retail when we blame the cop or the teacher or the principal for reprimanding our child.

But most disturbingly, we do it wholesale in all kinds of ways: when we use public schools to teach teenagers how to use condoms rather than how to say “no” to premarital sex; when we elect leaders who say there’s a wall between private and public morality — even though promiscuous adultery requires the practitioner to tell lies, habitually, not only to his wife and children but to his closest friends and confidants as he carries on his illicit relationships; and when the publisher of the prestigious Random House gives presidential advisor Dick Morris a $2.5 million contract to tell his story of personal sleaze and political cross-dressing that comes out of fabricating a fraudulent re-election campaign for a White House incumbent.

And we do it big time when the president of the American League defers the suspension of Roberto Alomar until the 1997 season. Alomar is the Baltimore Orioles second baseman who spit in the face of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck last week. When his five-day suspension for this despicable act of incivility was deferred, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association threatened a walkout, which, incidentally, violates their own no-strike promise.

So adults should not wonder why kids have an “anything goes” attitude. Too many adults who raised them have the same view. Just look at the double digit lead of the incumbent, “anything-that-works-is-OK” president, or the revenue streams from mass markets that line the pockets of so many of America’s sleazeballs and felons from Dick Morris to Jimmy Swaggert, or the baseball playoff crowd in Baltimore that cheered Alomar and booed the umpires when they came out Tuesday for the Baltimore-Cleveland face-off.

When our political, media and cultural leaders habitually turn their backs on society’s fundamental rules, the kids can’t be far behind.

Get the Bonus Years column right to your inbox

We take your inbox seriously. No ads. No appeals. No spam. We provide — and seek from you — original and curated items that make life in the Bonus Years easier to understand and easier to navigate.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Other posts from the Annapolis Institute:

More from Phil: