Each week, I have to reflect on what topic should be used for this column. Before the events in Littleton, CO, I decided, with encouragement from my wife, to write about the fast pace of growing up today in our affluent suburbs. And then, my brother died of a heart attack on April 19 -- the day before the shootings in Columbine High School. His death caused me to focus on comments he made to me in February of 1997 and a resultant column on teachers not being the blame for all the ills of today's schools.
Gordon McMillan, my brother, was a teacher and school administrator for most of his career. He was a leading force in encouraging schools to use computers to help classroom teaching at the elementary level. After retiring, he was frequently called back to serve as an interim principal while a school district recruited a permanent one. Out of such an experience, one that was too often repeated in his interim assignments, comes the lead-in to the underlying concern of this piece.
My brother was deeply disturbed about the lack of manners displayed by some school children. With a total lack of self-control on the part of some students, teachers have had to take on additional burdens in the classroom. My brother was also troubled about the lack of character development in many homes and the translation of those failures to the school room setting. When values and responsibility are not taught at home, there is no way for fully caring teachers to make up the gap.
Taking a close look at the children of today, we see, in my opinion, young people who receive too much too soon. Do sweet sixteen parties really have to be events that would challenge a wedding reception -- complete with band and disk jockey? High school proms have also taken on an unreal dimension. Are limousines really necessary? Or are they used as a way out by parents who have instilled no sense of responsibility for the use of alcohol by teenagers? Even birthday parties for subteenagers have become a contest for a better event by parents. Whatever happened to pin-the-tail on the donkey?
Sports have not been excluded from the rush to adulthood. Children barely able to swing a bat, are put into organized teams with yelling coaches and parents on the sidelines -- never having had the chance to organize, on their own, a pick-up baseball game in the corner lot.
For some reading this column, I am sure my ideas will seem to be old-fashioned. But, I am of the strongest opinion that we fail our children for the future when we are too indulgent with parties, movies, music, television and video games -- all adding to the development of a false set of values. Priorities for many of our children are out of balance. Discipline, responsibility, knowledge of right and wrong, and the development of a strong work ethic will go much further than indulgences in a race to outdo neighbors and gratify ourselves through our children.