“What’s the matter with kids today?” If you recall the 1963 musical “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Paul Lynde asked this question in song. It seemed that the kids of that generation (my generation, actually, and maybe yours) were good-for-nothings. “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way,” he opined?
It has been reported earlier this year that 47% of Springfield students do not graduate from high school; and that 47% of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate. It is yet another example of wasted youth leading to a life of underachievement. One is tempted to ask that question with emphasis: “What IS the matter with kids today?”
Fortunately, I was not disheartened by all of this news. I think our future is going to be placed into the hands of some very competent people; people of honor. I know this because I have had some wonderful experiences with youth over the years, some as recently as this past week.
For the last 25 years I have been a volunteer recruiter for my alma mater, the United States Merchant Marine Academy. During that time, I have witnessed the caliber of candidates applying for all of the academies increase in competence. They are academically, athletically, emotionally and socially better: more involved in meaningful extracurricular activities in school and community and church; curious; aware; focused. They came to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee last Sunday to acknowledge this year’s crop of Academy appointees from Congressman Neal’s office and to explore their own options at Academy Day.
Then there was that story of the Boy Scout Troop from Louisiana who went backpacking in Arkansas when flash floods cut them off. They were overdue and the National Guard was dispatched to search for them. Not to worry: the Scouts were, as their motto says, prepared. They read the clues, sought higher ground, set up camp and waited for relief. They had plenty of food and water and had left a detailed itinerary behind. They stayed put, secure in the knowledge that either the waters would recede and they would get on their way or that they would be extracted. And extracted they were! The boys enjoyed their first helicopter ride on Tuesday morning last. Ten fingers and ten toes intact, everyone got home safe and sound. Teenagers, mostly, they stayed cool. They followed the procedures and displayed discipline enviable of a military unit. I’ve been a Boy Scout leader for many years now and it has been my distinct honor to have mentored more than a few boys in the ways of the Scout Oath and Law.
“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country.”
What else can we ask of a child?
Then came Wednesday night when I addressed the Worcester Flight Academy. The audience included a Civil Air Patrol squadron with a large contingent of adolescent youth. They were impeccably dressed, well manner, attentive and eager. They were pursuing their dream of flight and had come to hear some aviation sea stories from someone almost four times their age.
If you advance the clock on this age group by no more than 10 years, there was another group of youth who made a difference in Pakistan just a week ago when a Special Forces unit brought justice to the world’s most wanted fugitive. Yet another group of young Americans who could.
This week, I read something from Aristotle. He lived some four centuries before Christ and had this observation:
“The Young People have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning — all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything — they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.”
What a week it has been. Curious high school students, accomplished Boy Scouts, proficient young aviators and brave sailors who traded their youth to honor their country, all crowded my consciousness. The conclusion is inescapable: we ARE in good hands. Let us make certain that these children succeed. Without them, our future would be very uncertain indeed.
For as the prophet Isaiah reminds us,
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.