Perhaps it is me. Perhaps it is human nature. Perhaps it is an inevitability of life. Perhaps I over react, but whatever the reason, childhood seems to be taking a long walk off a short pier. What am I getting at? Youth today seems to be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to being children. What happened to innocence?
Children in this day in age seem to be, and I steer away from the word "corrupt", though I find it the only thing fitting. I remember being young, which was definitely not so long ago. I still held the world with a certain wonder. Santa and the Tooth Fairy still visited and I believed in them unconditionally. I watched Disney movies and knew that I could grow up to be a princess. I just could. Now, however, children seem to discover the truth behind myths of a jolly elf-man years earlier than I did. And classic animation takes a different shape.
"Did you like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?"
"Eh," the 8 and a half-year-old boy shrugs. "Shrek was funnier."
"But Snow White is a classic."
"It didn�t look as cool as Shrek."
"Shrek was made with computers, you know."
"Well duh. And so was Toy Story and A Bug�s Life." The child rolls his eyes and I become impatient.
"Snow White was made by hand. Back before you were born. Before mommy was born. Even before Grandpa and Grandma were born."
"Nuh-uh, they didn�t have DVD back then."
"It was in movie theatres back then." I reply with the same attitude he gives me, but alas nothing works.
I get no where with the child. I love my nephew to death, but he is as stubborn as the rest of us and can�t accept being wrong. He is also stuck in his ways and takes the animation of classic films, movies and videos I have watched hundreds of times, down to the mere classification of "lame" and the observation that they would have been better if made with computers and if they had a singing donkey. At age 8, I could barely tell you what a computer was, though I'm sure the charming child that I am some how related to knows more about working it than my mother�which perhaps isn�t saying much.
Tony Kushner in his essay "American Things" develops...not quite similar, but related ideas. He states: "Mothers and fathers should do that for their kids: give them fire, and link them proudly and durably to the world in which they live." He later talks about liberalism and freedoms. Democracy and religion. Sexual orientation and civil rights. He was shaped into the person he is by his parents; accepting and open people who not only provided him the room to grow, but gave him the materials and support he needed as well. He credits his mother, who put sparklers on his 7th birthday cake, with allowing him to become the man he is. However, Kushner didn�t have Shrek when he was growing up.
Though I find Kushner to be an engaging writer, and fully appreciated his arguments and points, and I find them valid and interesting, he didn�t set out to apply them to youth of today. Kids do not generally benefit from an essay which sets focus on social evils, justice, and politics. Ask them about censorship, oppression, and liberty, then see how many blank stares you receive. I suppose that's not quite the point, however. I thought his essay worked extremely well for the audience it was written to, and even some of the outer layers that can still appreciate the ideas within. Several of his statements resonated with me and I had to pause while reading to dig out a pen and make a note of it. "There was identity, and then there was illness." Powerful words that can spark emotions and ideas on the part of the reader. "American history is the source for some people of a belief in the inevitable triumph of justice; for others it is the source of a sense of absolute power and ownership which obviates the need to be concerned about justice; while for still others American history is a source of despair that anything like justice will ever come again." Just try to deny that it doesn�t make you stop and think. Sure, Schoolhouse Rock told us that America was the Great Melting Pot, but does that mention the injustices and prejudices against immigrants during the Industrial Revolution and New Wave Immigration?
And we come full circle to a discussion of childhood. Between the 25-minute Saturday morning cartoons in 30-minute time slots (including commercials �- something I think I will never understand), Schoolhouse Rocky taught us everything from math, to English, to history, to politics. Little songs that would get stuck in your head, and proved useful when trying to figure out what a conjunction was (And, But and Or, they�ll get you pretty far...) He also showed us how a bill became a law. But only in the "slightly altered" Saturday Night Live version, did we hear of dirty politicians, soft money and other corrupt activities.
I am reminded of the onion article about the Virtual Forest Preserve. Present the idea to kids and I bet they would be all for the chopping down of thousands of acres of trees. Who needs bugs and boring nature walks when you can point and click, and once you are bored, surf to a different and more interesting website? With information at our fingertips, perhaps we forget that children are just as exposed to the expanse of knowledge. Which begs to ask the question: "Who is teaching the children?" Schools? Parents? Or the media.
Kushner had his mother as an influence for his life, but there were plenty of things that he could not learn from her. He attended school, as every American child does, to become empowered with the tools needed to live his life. Learning about plants and the solar system in science. Adding and subtracting in math. In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and so on and so forth. And each lesson broken up by recess or lunch or art class. Who can forget walking single file, line leader in front, with head held high, and you marched quietly through the halls to the doors of freedom. Recess is a lost art. I believe that everyone could benefit from a (on occasion, forced) break to the great outdoors. Recess was not only the place to work off excess energy, but also to gossip. Who could forget the "weddings" that would happen when two kids would be "going out"? Unfortunately the exact conversations seem to be fading quickly from memory, as I was young, and it was over seven years ago. But I am kept in the loop when my niece (age 6, Kindergarten) tells me how she and two of her friends were chasing after a certain child named Zach during recess. She has also admitted to writing love letters to him.
Adorable and carefree, you can�t help but smile. And yet, in the back of your mind, you know that all too soon, she will be growing up. It's hard enough to imagine that she�s six already (her birthday being just last Friday). Before too long, those two girls she was chasing the boy with will become closer to her than perhaps her mother. They will learn off of each other and be given a certain freedom that parents are restricted from. There are just some things that you cannot tell your parents.
Perhaps nothing has changed at all. Children always grow up the same. Some quicker than others, but overall, nothing too different. Times change, yes. And they always have. And always will. Parents will always be a first influence. Friends will always be there. School will always be an adventure, though as one gets older, it may digress to more of a chore than a choice. Nevertheless, it is up to the influences in a child's life to ensure that they are given their fire, and can live their lives. They must be taught, despite rejection. Someday, he will care that Snow White was made before Shrek, and in fact, paved the way for films like Shrek to be created. Someday, he will appreciate that I sat down and talked with him. Someday he will be there for another generation, and I will smile, knowing that I helped to teach him and guide him.