When I stepped out of high school for the last time as a student, I had a chip on my shoulder fueled by idealism and optimism. Despite sour feelings directed at my schooling, I was passionate about education; I felt that part of the mission in my life was to be part of educational reform.
Years have passed and I am not yet part of any formal educational movement. Instead, I practice my educational pursuits at home with my kids and, to a lesser extent, with the kids in our neighborhood. Parenthood and years of adult life have eroded much of my idealism; my observation of the neighborhood where I grew up, in which I have lived for twenty-five years, challenges many of the core beliefs I’ve held most of my life.
Too many things are changing for the worse. (Just saying that makes me shake my head—since I know how that always comes across as preachy nostalgia.) No, my neighborhood was never perfect. No, not everything was better when I was younger. But yes, there are some major cultural changes that are snowballing in the wrong direction.
For years I have ranted and raved about the managers of apartment communities that completely miss the opportunity to help raise the quality of life for their neighborhoods. Where I live, the managers have only taken away niceties and put up fences. This morning I video taped construction workers tearing down the swing set I played on as a kid with countless others; I watched with a sinking heart as men prepared to tear out the basketball court that hosted so many glorious challenges for so many young men over the last few decades. In its place they are building parking lots (though there are no more housing units than there were over the last three decades…)
Why not keep the basketball court and playground? Why do we need more parking spots?
There is an influx of immigrants to our area. That is the root of this specific change. Many of the immigrants (South American and Somalian) are moving large or extended families into homes that were meant for single families.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with immigrants. But their growing presence creates situations that exacerbate problems that were already brewing in areas like mine. Perhaps the greatest problem is caused by their good intentions—the parents seem to be so busy working all the time that their children go unsupervised. The density of youngsters and teenagers grows but there isn’t the adequate supervision to direct, guide and discipline them.
Allow large crowds of kids to grow and simultaneously take away their outlets like basketball courts and playgrounds… you would think that even greed could not hide the obvious outcome to this scenario—but you would think wrong, since the people collecting rent simply don’t care and probably never will. If you don’t like it, move out… Which, of course, is what people like me are preparing to do.
Yesterday I spent a few minutes talking to an old friend who played a large role in my education. He’s a teacher. He lamented that teachers do their best, but apologized for the "cop out” that teachers can’t do much in light of parents. I disagree—it is no cop out. Ignorant parents play the largest role in the failure of schools and neighborhoods. The general habit of parenting is degrading over time. Parents simply do not get involved with directing their kids. Parents raise their kids absent-mindedly. Of course schools won’t get better in neighborhoods where parents refuse to raise the bar on their kids and themselves.
One of my boys has a hard time keeping his mouth shut in the face of adversaries (other young men who don’t like him). Whenever he comes home with a fat lip because he called someone’s mom fat, I shake my head and lecture him—of course you are going to get a fat lip if you do that! You deserve that fat lip! It’s up to him to learn from his mistakes and for me to punish him for those mistakes so that he learns to change his habits; unfortunately, the other parents in the neighborhood often don’t even know their kids are involved on these struggles; worse, some parents advocate violence and defend their children no matter what their children do.
One night, a mother and father came to my home and threatened Jenny while she was holding our small baby. The mother was hysterical with angst because I had earlier berated her son in front of other kids—I had told my sons to avoid any kids who are "punks”.
"Who called my son a punk,” demanded the woman. Sorry lady… but your kid is a punk—and I can tell you exactly why: You. You said that it’s our problem that your son was beating our son; you gave your son the green light to crack our adult skulls if we call him a punk again. Lady, you are raising him to be a punk.
I’m a parent. My kids are awesome and beautiful in my eyes just like in the eyes of the angry mother above. But kids are human. Sometimes they are punks. Sometimes they are stingy. Sometimes they are stupid. Sometimes they make mistakes. When they do these things, it’s up to us, the parents, to step in and draw the line—not to defend and coddle them when they are in the wrong. Unfortunately, the majority of the parents I see do not agree; they prefer to raise their kids instinctively and without thought about education and character. Because parents fail to teach their kids how to be respectful, they make it impossible for their kids to find good role models; instead of looking up to authority figures, these kids will cuss out anyone and push around anyone that gets in their way.
Parents are passively abandoning their kids; neighborhoods are getting more crowded but not expanding creative outlets for the growing numbers of kids; schools are getting more crowded with kids who have dysfunctional and ignorant parents.
Right out of high school, I would have rolled up my sleeves and put my mind to thinking of solutions. Now I have a family. I think it’s time to roll up the blankets and move along. I’m not going to make a change in this neighborhood except to leave behind the walls that I’ve called home for a long time. To think that I could do anything else is like thinking that I can stop a tsunami with a spoon.
- It Takes A Village
Essays on community life, parenting and modern society.