Sunday, March 13, 2005

A padded childhood

What to make of David Brooks op-ed piece in the NY Times over the weekend? Americans, according to Brooks, seem to be concerned about all the wrong things. We blindly give in to excess as long as we hold strong in some small symbolic way, like decaf. But not only do we hold firm, we make a moral virtue out of it and occasionally propose it as law. (oh alright! I'm actually enjoying the smoking ban in Boston) While I agree that this lack of moderation is one of the defining characteristics of my compatriots, I must take issue with the "raising of our children" paragraph.

I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They're drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.

For a columnist who is occasionally praised for his deep understanding of "red America," he sure doesn't appreciate what we had to go through growing up. We are not all coming out of a drug-induced childhood stupor. Some of us (stupidly) played war with bb guns and bottle rockets. (ok, that's not great evidence against drugs) We drove the farm truck when we were 10, the tractor by 8. My cousin mowed off half his finger because he tried to clean out the lawn tractor deck while the blades were still engaged. My brother rode his motorcyle in the ditch to and from town. We learned to ride bike on gravel and knew about thistles from playing in them (only once!). I know from friends that stickball is as common in urban areas as frisbee is in the country. We haven't all come through a padded childhood. Some of us actually have the scars to prove it.

So while someone like David Brooks can write about the "pansy nation," he's doing so from Bethesda, Maryland - suburb of Washington DC. A ha! maybe it's the suburban parents.

Come on, Brooks, you suburbanite - live a little. Take the caffeine!

UPDATE: seems the children in San Francisco are doing alright as well.

There on the street was a five-year-old puttering around on a bicycle (with no training wheels! Impressive; I didn't learn to do that until I was around 11 or so…) somewhat unsupervised and lo, without a helmet. I also spotted one of those miniature cardboard "Slow Children At Play" signs in the driveway, which might support Brooks' thesis, except that it was pretty firmly crushed under the wheel of a parked car. So, you know, even here in San Francisco, where we practically invented lily-livered decadence, the kids are alright.


At 21:55, Blogger wordbomb said...

Give thanks you weren't raised by pansies, but don't shunt Brooks off as chumpundit on this one.

I'm commenting from your childhood backyard, Joker (Thief? Which one are you, D?), where a student of mine skipped class a few days ago to challenge her 7-year-old son's teachers for prescribing Ritalin for him. It wasn't a presription Sterling Drug would fill,of course, but it was a written refusal to take responsibility for a kid who would thrive in the atmosphere you remember rosily.

Is this mom exceptional? If she is, it's because she was actually made furious by this and maintained that she knows her son better than school staff does. A trustworthy friend --and paraprofessional at the same school--reports teachers' lounge conversations identifying the kids who they want to see drugged.

OK, my evidence is anecdotal hearsay, but I see all over the refusal of teachers and parents to do anything for their kids that is risky or inconvenient for the adults.


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