President’s Corner

Bringing a Focus to the Next Generation

by BILL HILL

I recently read The Greatest Generation by NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. The book shares stories of gallant men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II and who then went on to build the America that you and I enjoy today. This generation became united not only by a common purpos, but also by common values such as duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of country, love of family and, above all, responsibility for oneself. You may be like me, wondering about the state of our American society as it compares to that of years gone by. We have somehow lost the “Greatest Generation’s” focus of bringing our society out of crisis and are instead becoming a generation of crisis management experts.

Let me identify what I consider to be just a few of the critical issues damaging our cultural cohesiveness and affecting our civility while at the same time shifting responsibility from home to other institutions, particularly public schools.

Youngsters today are offered a Pandora’s box of choices to fill their time, spare or otherwise. With the advent of television, computer games, cell phones and more, the average child usually watches up to 27 hours of television per week. Before the end of the 1st grade, a child can witness as many as 100,000 acts of violence through various forms of media. By age 18, a typical youngster may have viewed as many as 16,000 murders, depicted or real, by watching movies, videos and TV and playing on the Internet.

Music, magazines, product merchandising and fashion geared to appeal to children and young adults readily reinforce negative messages perpetuating disrespect, vulgarity and the decay of moral values—those same values that were so dear to the Greatest Generation and a legacy that is being lost as the years go by. A University of Michigan study of students over a 20-year period concluded that a significant relationship exists between the violence these kids watched and aggressive behavior in society.

Many parents have shifted child-rearing responsibilities to other institutions such as public schools. As leaders in an age of increasing expectations and accountability for students and school systems, we need help with home outreach and intervention programs for our children. We need support for more school police resource personnel on school campuses and for student conduct programs. We need additional funding.

However, we cannot live or think in the past because our world has changed significantly from that of the Greatest Generation, and it’s not going back to the way it was. Children are being brought up in uncertain, chaotic, often confusing and frightening times. The future will bring new ways of working, parenting and educating.

Part of our job as school system leaders is to provide as much stability for these kids as we can. I recently read Beyond Generation X. In it, former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt states that he believes “few Xers …have a particularly compelling picture of even the path they want to be on, let alone the goal at the end of it. I see today’s young people struggling to find ways to feel even slightly secure, to find ways to even want to continue the journey, when many of the destinations they grew up thinking they might travel to have been deleted from the screen.”

Every generation struggles with change and challenges. But the common thread connecting every generation is the desire to survive and flourish.

To provide our children with what they need to become the “Next Greatest Generation,” we must work together—parents, schools, churches and synagogues, communities and the nation—to assure the return of respect, tolerance and understanding of self and others, and to once again have faith in the future of humanity.

Bill Hill is president of AASA.