This I Believe

Clark - Soldotna, Alaska
Entered on April 6, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: children, hope

After nearly 20 years of teaching language arts to high school students, I believe that most people who begin a sentence with the phrase, “Kids these days,” are usually wrong.

In my experience, those who begin this way are usually preparing to complain. They want me to know that “kids these days” (a) don’t have any respect, (b) can’t problem-solve, (c) don’t know the meaning of the word “work,” (d) don’t pay attention, (e) lack self-control, or (f) just don’t care. Frankly, if I believed this nonsense, I would quit teaching tomorrow. The teachers who believe this should never have started teaching. Parents believe this must either not like children or must be very afraid. Anyone else who believes it is underestimating the custodians of a future that we, as adults, have helped set into motion.

To me, “kids today” are the same as “kids yesterday,” or kids at any point in human history. They have the same physiological needs: sleep, food, water, shelter. They have the same need for safety: to be healthy, and to be secure within their families and their circles of friends. They want to love and be loved. They seek self-esteem. They want to achieve. They desire the respect of others. And they need a belief system that buoys them in good times and in bad.

These are the same things everyone else needs. Kids are no different. They haven’t changed.

It’s the world that has changed. Technology sizzles all around us. Instant communication makes distance obsolete. The human population crowds the globe, filling the land, the sea and the sky with the byproducts of our activities. Wars rage. Public officials sometimes lie. Economic fortunes skyrocket and crash-land. The pace of life continues to accelerate … and we have the audacity to blame “kids today” for the misfortunes of the world.

The world was handed to us by a generation concerned about our ability to take care of it. The world was handed to that generation by the previous one, also dubious about the outcome. And so on.

Perhaps it is only natural to fear the worst. But for me, each day as I face my students, I refuse to be afraid. As I look out at another sea of faces—including the ones slumping forward from fatigue, the ones who tell me that “school sucks,” and the ones trying to use cell phones to send messages to friends in other classrooms—I remind myself of this: Each generation may make its share of mistakes, but each generation also produces stories of success.

I believe that the last success story has yet to be written. And I hope it never will be.