Of the literally hundreds and hundreds of bar and bat mitzvah students I have had the honor of teaching and mentoring over the past 30-plus years, few have ever meant more to me than the young man I nicknamed "Coach." Although Coach has definitely had far fewer material and medical advantages than the vast majority of my other students, he has always been possessed of far more grit, moxie, maturity and character than the rest. And although they can all easily outrun him on a track, none can keep up with him in that great race called life. There's just something ineffably special about Coach.
Coach is currently a high school student here in Coral Springs. Without question, his favorite (and best) subject is broadcast journalism. I have a feeling that one day he will become either a first-rate sportswriter or sportscaster. In the meantime, he is learning the art of interviewing, working in front of a camera, editing, etc. Whenever he posts one of his newsy videos on the Internet, he sends me an email so that I can take a gander and give him some feedback. His stories have run the gamut from a preview of the new National Hockey League season and "Hanukkah Harry vs. Santa Claus," to a piece on the cars his fellow students drive and just yesterday, an eye-opener he titled "Markwalking." What used to be called back in the day a "man in the street" essay, "Markwalking" has Coach asking a variety of on-camera questions to various students at his school.
In his video, Coach asked his schoolmates a series of questions that most of us would consider utterly basic . . . like:
- "Who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?"
- "Who is the Vice President of the United States?"
- "The upcoming Super Bowl is XLIV; what does XLIV stand for?" and
- "Complete the following sentence: America is in an economic . . ."
Horrifyingly, none -- virtually none -- of those Coach interviewed had the slightest idea of what the answers to these or a bunch of other relatively benign questions were. However, when Coach asked questions like:
- "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?"
- "Can you name the Jonas Brothers?" and
- "What famous pop star was Chris Brown recently arrested for assaulting?"
Their answers were immediate, precise and right on the money. If these were the sorts of questions asked in Final Jeopardy, they would all have walked away as winners.
Now, if you have three minutes, 15 seconds of free time, I urge you to watch Coach's latest video, "Markwalking." OK, it's not going to win an Emmy or an Oscar. Nonetheless, it is a real revelation into the world of today's teens; of how little they know and . . . of how seemingly unembarrassed they are to admit it. For far too many of Coach's generational peers, "dumb" is in. This is not to say that these kids are necessarily dumb, unintelligent or developmentally challenged in the Stanford-Binet or Bender-Gestalt sense of the terms. Rather, it is to flatly state how frightening it is to discover that in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and knowledge-driven world; at a time where increasingly, there is more and more to know; that there is an increasing number of young folks who have proudly chosen to enshroud themselves in a cloak of obliviousness. And you can't even call it escapism, because from what I can tell, most of them don't even know from what they are escaping.
This is by no way means meant to imply that all of Coach's peers suffer from informational bulimia; for they certainly do not. I know plenty of young folks -- beginning with Coach -- who are vitally concerned and knowledgeable about what is going on in the world; who are interested in -- and knowledgeable about -- issues like healthcare, global warming, the war in Afghanistan and America's current economic crisis; who can just as easily identify Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as they can Shakira, Lady Gaga or "Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat?" In short, Coach's generation is a lot like the rest of America: a place with an ever-widening gap between knowledge and fear, fact and fable, activism and disengagement.
There is perhaps no greater indicator of this growing bifurcation than the results of a new poll released just this week. In this poll, which was conducted by "Research 2000," 2000 self-identified Republican voters were asked a host of questions about America in the year 2010. Among the poll's results, we find that:
- 63% of those polled think the president is a Socialist.
- 53% believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Barack Obama.
- 39% believe that President Obama should be impeached.
- 36% believe that the president was not born in the United States.
- 31% believe the president is a "Racist who hates White people."
- 25% believe the president "wants the terrorists to win."
- 23% believe their state should secede from the Union.
Let me ask you: how many people do you know holding any of these beliefs? I don't know about you, but I find it incredibly unnerving.
This country has come too far and done far too much good to crumble under the weight of those who neither know nor care. Those of us who do pay attention and want to make a positive difference; who neither see evil conspirators lurking behind every corner nor get our news from The National Enquire; we owe it to ourselves, our world, our nation -- indeed, to young folks like Coach -- to spread the word and set an example. For unless we can help assure that the coming generations are both engaged and knowledgeable; unless we can somehow show them that enjoyment and responsibility are not mutually exclusive; unless they can discover that "dumb" is bad, and that "bad" does not mean "good" -- then we're going to fade into oblivion.
Thomas Jefferson -- a man who most of Coach's peers likely could not identify -- put it succinctly when he wrote:
An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.
Anyone for joining me in Coach's corner?
©2010 Kurt F. Stone