THE GENERATION GAP
Bridged in hope, if not for long
If of a modest sort
In the second, at the right, I go into those events in some detail -- perhaps relevant in retrospect only for how modest our "student radical" demands were then: space in the parking lot for the few kids with cars; more open exchange; better management, really. We didn't even take on the dress code.
At Ayer High anyway. Already we'd seen big sit-ins, even massive occupations, on college campuses. Hence, our little story becoming a big one. We were big: 1,200 kids packed together in a town of just 4,000 civilians. No doubt scary: not just a Generation Gap; maybe a potential Generation Liberation Army. At least in the local media. It was The Pulic Spirit itself, I think, that broke the Big Story; it might have got as far as the Lowell Sun.
I'm amused here at my belief, then, that "people should be allowed to believe what they read in a newspaper" -- even as I evinced a budding critique of media, as I say in Citizen Kingwell, "seeking new lines for old manifestations," creating their own (and our) "reality."
"Significant and growing numbers of our contemporaries are deeply troubled about the posture of their government in Viet Nam ... Many of our contemporaries, raised in the democratic tradition of thinking for themselves, are finding a growing conflict between their own observations and the statements by administration leaders. ... The rising confusion about national purpose can undermine mutual trust and respect among our people. This seems to us as urgent a problem as any that confronts the nation today."
What is printed above is an outstanding testament to the ever widening credibility gap. The question [sic in print; quotation] contains excerpts from a letter sent to President Johnson late last year by student leaders from colleges across the nation. It also represents the skepticism of many young people toward our government, and perhaps toward the adults who run it; in effect its stands for another gap, the generation gap.
Americans have become very fond lately of coining catchy new terms to describe a present day problem or condition. Generation gap is one of the newest of these terms; it is a blanket phrase which covers all the problems that parents have with their children, and vice versa. The expression is new, but the problems have been around in one form or another for centuries.
Alexander the Great went somewhat against the established order [well, beyond Macedonia] when he conquered most of the known world before his 30th birthday. Joan of Arc defied both family and church to don the armor of a man and fight for her country, and she was executed for it (witchcraft being the official excuse), and then declared a Saint after her death. Alexander Hamilton and his classmates at King's College were so violently anti British that the president of the school developed an urge to sail back to England, which, in the interest of his own safety, he did.
However, the generation gap appears to be wider today than ever before. Today's youth are perhaps the most publicized, most criticized, most analyzed, most vocal, and most visible generation in history. Television, newspaper and magazine coverage of them has been so extensive that many young people have become infatuated with their own fame, at least to the extent that they are very proud to be young.
The criticism has ranged from the blindly statistical logic of J. Edgar Hoover to the gripes of many an overtired and irate parent. Most of the analysts (especially the "How to cope with your teenager" type) fall flat on their prying little noses when they try to explain the actions of young people. (Maybe the kid didn't have a guilty conscience over a love for his home room teacher. Maybe he just felt like burning down the school. Simple as that.)
LOOK magazine, however, in their February 21 issue, presented a very decent picture. John Poppy's article, "The Generation Gap," was so good that I wish I could print the whole thing right here, but space, and probably the copyright laws, won't let me. Nevertheless, I would like to mention some of it.
In the article, Mr. Poppy listed a number of things which have helped to make this generation what it is today. Here are a few:
Unprecedented Prosperity. This generation, which has never known a depression, can not help being at odds with their parents, who were raised in the middle of one, where finances are concerned.
The Automobile. Many kids have their own. Rare was the youth in the thirties that did.
The Bomb. To quote Mr. Poppy, "...this is the generation that never knew the days when only God could end the world." Sanity or Morality lessons, anyone?
Computers. Like children, they do exactly what they are taught to do, often to the point of embarrassing their teachers.
Paperback books. All the world's most unforgettable philosophies, and many very forgettable novels, can be had for only pennies.
Non-violent power. Disciples of Ghandi and King have found that the best way to do battle is to refuse to.
Television. Good or bad, this generation has grown up with it.
All this, and much more, has created a generation that has a lot to say, and it has a fair sized sample of activities [activists], talkers, and downright loud mouths to say it. These types are often dismissed by the adult world as kooks (many undoubtedly are) and parents often reassure themselves that their high schooler isn't that way at all. They shouldn't kid themselves quite that much. Every teenager has something to say, even if it doesn't concern the war in Viet Nam.
Local parents have seen this recently, or rather heard of it, if their little 17 years olds have been bringing home the choicest gossip from school. (Ah! I can hear everyone sigh with relief. What has all this stuff had to do with Ayer High School? Keep reading please.)
Many people in this town probably know that there was an assembly at the school some three or four weeks ago at which the student body voiced its disapproval of many of the administration's policies. It was loud but no worse than that. Left alone, the Student Council and the administration could have worked together to iron out the problems that did exist, and indeed, now that things are settling down, they are doing just that. At the time, however, the unforeseen reaction of the public caused the situation to be viewed as a bigger problem than it actually was.
This public reaction grew because the people of Ayer received only second hand information on the subject. Recently a number of acquaintances expressed their belief that the people should have some better way of finding out about Ayer High School, its events, its students, and their ideas.
One of the best ways to inform the populace is through the press. This column aims to do just that; to inform the people about Ayer High School. I, the writer, am a student and a member of the Student Council and, by necessity, that will be my point of view. I hope to present you with news from A.H.S., both of current events and things to come. I hope to keep you informed on what the Student Council and the various clubs and classes are doing.
Most of all, I hope to let the readers of this column know about the students and their ideas, by opening this column as a forum for the expression of valid opinions where both adults and students may see them. Will it close the generation gap? I doubt it. At any rate, it will provide interesting reading, I'll promise that much.
They realized the importance of the right of the people to state their opinions without fear, and to be well informed by their newspapers. They saw that a well informed populace was essential to a healthy democracy.
There are many more newspapers today that there were in 1781 when the constitution was drawn up, and most of them do an exceptionally good job of keeping the public well informed. However, now as in the past, a few publishers find it more important to add to their own political, social and economic influence than to present the news as it really is. They sometimes twist the facts, and over emphasize and emotionalize certain events and issues to gain the desired public reaction.
The method is often effective: most historians agree that the New York Journal, not the battleship "Maine," caused the Spanish American War in 1898. Sensational news sells better than objective reporting, and many a sensitive in the pocketbook publisher has capitalized on the fact. The truth is quite often dull, so some papers don't bother to get the story straight before they print it. Even locally we have seen this.
Some weeks ago, an area newspaper printed on its front page an article which discussed student activities at Ayer High School. We at the school found it to be full of inaccuracies, to say the least. Since an accurate picture has still not been presented, I would like to clear up a few things right here.
At an assembly on January 20, the student council went before the student body with a series of proposals in an effort to promote better school communications among the student body, the faculty, the administration and the student council. The proposals were:
1. It is proposed that one member of the administration and three members of the faculty as chosen by the principal attend one student council meeting each month.
2. It is proposed that four members of the student council, one from each class, attend each monthly faculty meeting.
3. It is proposed that two members of the student council attend the monthly educational meeting of the school committee.
4. It is proposed that the student council meet once every two months with the student body.
5. It is proposed that the student council meet with the principal to draw up a new working philosophy for the functioning of the student council.
6. It is proposed that a decision be reached as to which body will do all scheduling of school events -- the student council, the administration, or a representative body from each.
7. It is proposed that the student council set up two suggestion boxes, one if the cafeteria and one outside the student council office.
8. It is proposed that all clubs and classes submit a written report of any activity which it holds, to be filed for future reference in the student council office.
As each proposal was put forth, the students were given an opportunity to voice their reaction to it. Unfortunately, many students, instead of expressing their opinions on the stated proposals, took this chance to voice their dissatisfaction with the student council for their inactivity, and with the administration for their seeming lack of concern with student social affairs. It must be made public that when some of these students complained about the refusal of certain social events they did not know the reason for the refusal -- an example of the lack of communication which the student council was trying to remedy.
In the time following the assembly, the student council feels that some progress took place in the area of inter [sic; intra] school communication and that a number of the apparent convictions of the student body toward the administration had been appeased. An open student council meeting, attended by nearly 100 students and a dozen teachers, answered many of the questions which many people in the school had. The student council met with the principal, and will again, to work on a usable student council philosophy. A number of student council members also attended a faculty meeting, upon the invitation of the principal, which was held to discuss a new philosophy for the school. Progress is evident.
The student council felt that the article in the local paper was an injustice to our school and its personnel. The story as it appeared was unfounded and was told in blown up proportions, to say nothing of the front page treatment which it received. A number of mistakes were evident. The article mentioned that 150 seniors staged a "sit-in" at the end of the assembly. In actuality, fewer than 20 students were involved. It was mentioned that the senior class was denied representation before the administration concerning the privilege of bringing their cars to school. No such denial has ever taken place. In fact, though the senior class is working on such a proposal, it has never even approached the administration with it.
The article stated that assemblies were cancelled two weeks in a row following the incident. This is also untrue. There was no assembly on the first Friday following the incident, but only because the student council did not plan one, feeling that there was not enough new material at the time to warrant another. This situation was explained at the open student council meeting on the day before. On the following Friday, individual class meetings were held during the activity period. The principal made it clear that he would be available at any of these meetings if there were any questions.
The article seemed quite unfounded in fact, and I imagine it gave many people a false impression of what happened. I hope that what I have just written has answered any questions which remained. I also hope that no such misrepresentation of facts about Ayer High School is ever printed again. The people should be allowed to believe what they read in a newspaper.
This loudmouth may not have been dismissed as a kook -- if maybe a loose cannon who shouldn't be allowed to pop off as press agent for Ayer High. I was told my columns would have to be vetted in advance by the principal. I didn't fight it. This was the last "A.H.S. Viewpoint."
But the column didn't die. Spared the reportoial tedium of "news from A.H.S., both of current events and things to come," I went on for a while with local press punditry. I just changed the name: "Student Viewpoint."
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February 2001 / Last revised: October 5, 2001
Rick Bébout © 2001 / firstname.lastname@example.org