Teacher’s Lament: Where are the Well-Behaved Woodstock Kids Now That We Need Them?

I just talked to an old teacher and longtime friend who said this country needs a “million-teacher march on Washington.” We’d been idly chatting about my post here last Monday on what Woodstock meant when he launched into a rant. He agreed with my idea that half a million people surviving three days together without police or authority, with no riots, was an important social milestone. And then he added:

“Woodstock could never happen today because back then this country cared about raising children, and education. That whole generation of Hippies grew up in a society that respected education and order.”

What? Hippies, respect, education order? My teacher friend is about five years younger than me, so he’s in his middle fifties. Was this some kind of baby-boomer post-LSD flashback or something?

“No.” he went on, “The same thing couldn’t happen today because those kids from 1969 grew up in orderly homes with orderly parents, so that even as they rejected authority, they still understood how to tell right from wrong, and respect others. Sure, they rejected organized religion, but they grew up with it first, before they rejected it, so they still understood how to tell right from wrong.”

I don’t like generalizations about kids these days, that sentiment is too trite. Old people like me always gripe about younger generations. In fact I posted my support for Generation Y here a couple of weeks ago. Still, the anger and frustration of a long-time teacher is scary.

And it gets worse.

His reference to a million-teacher march was about frustration with teachers quietly accepting an astonishing decline in the quality of education in this country. He said that teachers have been relegated to apparatchik status; that they should be ashamed of their failure to cry out against the decline of teaching in classrooms. He said:

“I still like the teaching. I like the subject matter and the kids. It’s the crushing disinterest of parents and bureaucrats that kills me. We’re just babysitting (he teaches high-school English). It’s not exactly that we don’t have order, or materials, or respect, or support from parents. It’s not exactly that we’ve made mindless uncritical and superficial self esteem more important than learning anything. It’s that nobody really gives a damn whether we’re actually teaching or the kids are actually learning anything, as long as nobody makes waves.”

He hasn’t scheduled the march yet. He promised to let me know if he does. And I’ll pass that on.

(Image by secorlew via Flickr)


  • Conrad Walton says:

    I’m an old guy with long hair and I agree with your friend. I think it’s important to know the rules so that you can break them wisely. We did know order back then. It seems to me that the disinterest today is from those younger than me. I’m freaked out by it all and I’m waiting for the pendulum to swing back.

    But then every generation is one of paradox. As much as I dismiss today’s 20 somethings, I’m encouraged and excited about the wonderful creative things that they are doing. I’d rather be alive today than any time in the past.

    Now if they’d just stay off my lawn.

  • Tim Berry says:

    Elia I think you have a good point with that. My friend teaches high school kids, which means the parents he’s talking about are somewhere between your Gen X age and my baby boomer age, and there is definitely something counter-stereotypical about a baby boomer complaining about decline in discipline. So your “generation of paradox” conclusion applies very well.

    I like these discussions because they open us up a bit, generate some thinking, but the generation generalizations don’t really work if you take them very far.

  • Elia Freedman says:

    I find it ironic that he’s still talking about his own generation. He may complain about Gen X (me) and Gen Y, but it’s baby boomers — the Woodstock crowd — that oversaw all this, including our educational decline.

    Frankly, I see it as a generation of paradox. So much good and so much bad, all at the same time.

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