Times changes — must values, too?
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, February 1, 1994
Remember when a “joint” was a beer hall, “hash” was the dinner just before payday, “switch hitter” was a guy who could bat left or right-handed, and “crack” was the space between two sidewalk slabs — as in “step on the crack and break your gramma’s back”? Times change.
Remember the survey released a few months ago on school discipline problems? In the 1950s, the major problems were cigarette smoking, skipping school, running in the halls, spit balls, chewing gum and whispering in class.
In 1993, the major problem was deadly weapons — kids carrying guns, knives and even assault weapons. This was followed by arson, drugs, vandalism, and drunkeness.
I remember when my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Shonk, paddled me in front of the class for repeatedly passing notes to Barbara Snyder. She was my girlfriend. Two months ago I was in a school where the teacher wore a whistle which he blew from time to time — to call the class to order. He wouldn’t think of spanking a student. Reason: He would risk getting assaulted by the student, sued by the parents and fired by the principal.
I remember going to the “intermediate school” for the seventh grade. It was a new school, and it had an intercom system. That was high technology in the 1950s. Every morning for the first 15 minutes they used the intercom to play Horatio Alger stories — stories of ordinary men and women who took advantage of American freedom to achieve extraordinary results. Those stories of “triumphant individuals” made a big impression. Today, many of our schools have replaced the intercom with cable TV and Horatio Alger with Channel One, a proprietary channel complete with commercials and CNN-type news broadcasts. So much for inspiration.
Just before Christmas our oven broke down. We called the authorized dealer, who sent out a repairman. I was talking with him — a very interesting guy — about how he keeps up with all the new gadgets and gizmos. He told me it’s getting tougher each year. For many years, he said, the company sent him to school for several days each year to learn the latest technology and how to fix it.
This past year, he said, he had been to school for only one day — and the entire class was devoted to avoiding sexual harassment. There was nothing on new technology and how to fix it.
Last week the Financial Times of London carried an editorial about a recent event at Kingsmead School in Hackney, East London. The story, according to the editorial, goes something like this: Jane Brown, the school’s head teacher, created a furor by refusing to accept free tickets for her students to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Reason: She described Shakespeare’s plot as “blatantly heterosexual.”
Those calling for change have certainly got it. But change is not the same as progress. We need to focus less on change, and more on what it it we are changing from, and what it is we are changing to. Somewhere along the way, there has to be a discussion of values.