Opinion

Young achievers fill me with hope | OPINION

Reports telling of young achievers who used their school years well give me a lift. I’m talking about valedictorians, scholarship winners, honors for excellence — stars, all of them.

I savor every word about promising young people who are our best hope for the future. In turn, the young winners are grateful for parents, grandmas, grandpas, teachers, mentors, pastors and friends who helped them along the way. And we are all thankful for how they manage to shine against a societal background of violence and prejudice. In standing above rampant wrong-doing and laziness, this year’s crop of stars is the nation’s most precious resource.

Today’s youngsters are faced with surviving the same mine-fields of distraction that too often ruin adults’ lives and end marriages. Or worse. It takes an active sense of right and wrong to keep from being pulled into enticing misadventures promising a kind of “fun” that textbooks and schools can’t offer. Yet this year’s crop of Bright Stars persevered to qualify them for helping to make the world a better place.

Skin-tones and foreign-sounding names of this year’s award winners should serve as a wake-up call to native-born American students. These kids spring from such various histories that many can’t help but be aggressively grateful for the opportunity of public schooling. And male students should take note that more females than males are taking top honors nowadays. One Herald photo of Rotary award recipients showed thirteen girls and four boys.

What’s more, these award-winning students are on a road that will set them up as role-models for the next generation. Call it passing the flame. Let’s hope that beyond making good lives for themselves and their families, the winners’ efforts will cover the drain drop-outs impose on society’s resources

It makes a profound difference when youngsters and nurturing adults share a sense of purpose while walking through life together, At the other end of the scale, we now and then see distance between kids and parents widen to where they relate only by reacting to one another. Such dysfunction dims carries into classrooms, leaving kids less apt to accept that education is necessary and that learning is a privilege and obligation.

Across human history, youth has been programmed to learn by copying adult behavior. I tend to think that thousands of years of playing at spear-making, setting traps and nurturing straw-dolls set children’s brains up for how learning should be done. If so, children come to us hard-wired to learn as their ancestors did, all the way back into the dim beginnings of pre-history. What happens then if good role models for that kind of learning are absent?

It happens. With parents off to work each day, kids are still wired to learn according to the tribal way. As Hillary said, it takes as village to raise as child. But if all significant role models disappear into work or play, kids select from whatever is at hand; peer groups, school leaders, images cast by entertainment or the streets. A harsh reality, but reality nevertheless.

During most of the 20th Century and before, neighborhoods were populated by well-meaning decent people who pioneered a gentler form of child-abandonment. Because parents were of sober and industrious European stock, children were expected to be sober and industrious. No instruction needed. Parental guidance was typified by, “You play with that BB gun and you’re going to put someone’s eye out.” Or “No swimming until two hours after lunch or you’ll get a cramp and drown.” They meant well.

As with every generation, yesterday’s parents glowed over children’s accomplishments and suffered from their mistakes. And from seeing parents bask in the former and wince from the latter, kids absorbed a sort of direction. They still do, but not as effectively as in days of yore.

For lots of them, today’s big-deal experiences lie in video games, kinky sex, flaming explosions and assaults for insignificant reasons. That’s action!  Everything else pales in comparison, including school lessons, good advice, moral instruction and loving support. To paraphrase a World War I song, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen TV.” School lessons have trouble competing with gut-wrenching mayhem or hormonal urgings.

Thank God for the many young people who don’t fall victim.  This year’s crop of scholarship winners had enough inner discipline to stay focused on things of real importance. They managed,  with parental guidance, to channel precious time and energy for arming themselves to cope with an uncertain future. It takes especially Good People to stand against attractive pitfalls that ensnare others while holding a focus on goals that lie off in the future.

Thanks to you graduates for giving it your best. The obstacles were many and great but you overcame them. More thanks to parents and grandparents and others who helped to point the way.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.

 

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