The Decline of the Age of Innocence.

I feel like I should add a disclaimer here at the top: despite what I say in this blog entry, I still love children more than almost anything. I merely think that our society is going to encounter more and more of a problem when it comes to the behavior of younger generations.

Sometimes I’m afraid of our future.

I have been a volunteer at a local after-school program for the past four years. I work with students in third, fourth, and fifth grade on an almost-daily basis, and throughout my time with the program, things have been changing.

During my first and the better part of my second year, things were exactly how you’d expect them to be; behavior was more or less age-appropriate, although we were not without out issues here and there. Toward the end of my second year with the program (my senior year of high school), we started to see a shift.

Kids at this age no longer have even the most basic respect. (And for the few who do, I apologize.) They don’t respect the adults in the program, and they certainly don’t respect each other. The director struggles to even read announcements; the various conversations amongst the children continue, they call out things to try to be funny, and they continue to play on their electronic devices. Something that should take five minutes turns into a twenty-minute struggle, complete with outbursts straight out of Family Guy.

Oh, yeah. They watch Family Guy. I also know for a fact that one of my third graders watches SNL on a weekly basis. Half of them have Facebooks, and I have finally stopped feeling guilty for denying the half dozen friend requests I get per week from the kids.

And let’s talk about electronic devices for a moment. I had one of my eight-year-old girls tell me today that she got an iPhone for Christmas when she already had an iPod touch. The iPhone itself would have been ridiculous, but when she already had pretty much the same device? This is ridiculous. I work with a lot of low-income families who can barely afford to clothe their kids, yet I can guarantee that each and every one of these children has either a Nintendo DS, a PSP, or a cell phone. In the case of one child, the principal of the school bought him a pair of shoes because he was without, yet I had to speak to him twice today about having a cell phone out in school.

I understand that every parent wants to give his or her child everything, but there have to be priorities. I’m thinking that you should probably buy your child shoes before you decide to buy him a new Playstation 3. These parents collect welfare from the tax payers, but instead of using it wisely, they milk the hell out of the system and buy luxury items that half of the taxpayers can’t even afford. It turns my stomach.

Instead of the children being grateful, they lament that they got the wrong cell phone or the wrong color DS. I remember a month or two ago when we brought in apple cider as a special treat for the kids. Rather than thank us, they stood and complained that we weren’t pouring the cider quickly enough. It doesn’t matter if you remind them about manners; they sigh, roll their eyes, and change for perhaps an hour before reverting back to thinking that they are entitled to everything the world has to offer.

What’s almost as bad, or possibly worse, is that they know entirely too much about sex, and because they see it and hear about it on TV, they think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I overheard a conversation about Megan Fox’s anus (those were the exact words) and had to walk over to the boys and tell them that it wasn’t a suitable topic for school. When the boys dance, they either pelvic thrust or grab their crotches a la Michael Jackson. (Actually, sometimes they aren’t even dancing then this happens.) Third graders are dating, and sometimes we even have to keep an eye on some pairs of kids who mysteriously disappear around the Big Toy. At times it feels like all we hear is sex and cursing… in an elementary school.

Innocence really is becoming a thing of the past, and that truly scares me. What’s so beautiful about children is the fact that they are innocent, in most senses of the word. I know plenty of wonderful, beautiful kids who are in primary school, and I’m almost afraid for them to enter the elementary school system because the students there have gotten so out of hand. Some don’t care about any consequence. They waltz out of detention declaring, “That was so freakin’ dumb. That kid I hit deserved it.”

My hope is that they manage to gain maturity as quickly as they have gained a vast vocabulary of sexual terms and an arsenal of video games. Otherwise? We’re screwed.

The Fuzzy Future.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.  The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.  The most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

–Mary Schmich

From the time I was in seventh grade up until a year or so ago, my career aspirations were quite simple: become a writer.  I had some wonderful fantasy in my head that I could go to college for Creative Writing, and the post-graduation plan was either a big, black abyss or a whirlwind of being published and signing copies of my debut novel.  It wasn’t until I actually got to college that I realized I wanted a backup plan.  It didn’t take me very long to understand that I’ve always had some connection with the idea of being a teacher, so I transferred schools and took on an education major.

Even before I started at Marywood, I had way too many possible career ideas in my head.  In high school I never questioned my major, per se, but I was constantly trying to figure out what my minor would be.  In my sophomore year, it was Spanish.  My Spanish teacher at the time was a brilliant educator, and he made me fall in love with the language.  When he left to be an administrator my junior year, I still held on to at least some of the passion I had for the language, but I was drifting into other subject areas.  In my senior year, I had a truly awful Spanish teacher, and I promised myself that I would never, ever do anything else with the language.  I was determined to place out of my language requirements at Susquehanna so I wouldn’t have to take even another semester of language.  Instead, I started contemplating doing something with Chemistry.  Science was (and always will be) a love of mine, so I thought about having a job in the field of science.  Creative Writing and Chemistry double major!  Sure, it was unorthodox, but I was never normal with anything I did.

The idea of Chemistry slowly faded into the background.  When I was taking classes at Lackawanna, I toyed with the idea of a Philosophy minor, or maybe even a minor in Psychology, both of which had the potential to enhance my writing.  Photography, yet another passion of mine, bobbed around in the background as another choice, along with music and theatre.  I had five possible choices for a minor when I entered Marywood as an English and Secondary Education major.

I did, at one point, inquire about a minor in music, but that fell to the wayside when I decided to pursue a dual major.  I’ve explained once before my rekindled love for Spanish, so I won’t bore you in a rehashing.

And so I decided to major in both English and Spanish, and the thought until now has been that I will go to graduate school to get my certification and MAT in secondary education.  Right now, I’m hitting a brick wall.  I know that I shouldn’t be worrying about this so early in the game, since it’s likely that I’ll be at Marywood for three more years as an undergraduate, but my future is something that plagues me daily.

What is it that I want to do with my life?  I can see myself doing so many different things, and I can’t choose just one.  That would be fine, you know, to have multiple careers over my life, but the bills.  The cost of educating myself for so many different professions would be astronomical after a while, so I feel the pressure now in having to choose one.  Right now, the decision is between teaching secondary ed. and going the higher-education route and trying for professorship.

I’ve been looking at secondary education for a few years now, and its allure comes mostly from my hopefully “making a difference.”  I had so many influential teachers in high school, and they were influential because they were willing to listen.  It’s a yearning to give back, in part, that drives me to become an English/Spanish secondary ed. teacher, but now I’ve seen the other side.  While I enjoy immensely observing at Western Wayne and being in a classroom in that capacity, I also get to see the bureaucratic bullshit that public education teachers deal with on a daily basis.  I understand the need for IEPs, the meetings, the high standards, the accountability, etc.  There are so many regulations, though, that I’d feel close to losing my job at any moment.  (I have to seriously inquire about those regulations, especially the ones regarding conduct with students, because some of them are ridiculous.)  There will always be the problem of behavior control, or the problem of those students who just want to sit in the back and fail.  There are ways to battle all of this, sure, but I don’t know if I would be able to endure those struggles every day for twenty to thirty years.

On the other hand, there is teaching at the college level.  Sure, you really need to know your shit, but your benefits are even greater.  The hours are even MORE flexible than public school.  The students are there, for the most part, because they want to be.  The publishing connections are incredible, and maybe it would be the closest I could ever get to publishing the novel of which I have always dreamed.  The student interaction is of a different caliber, but there is where I have my biggest struggle.  I want to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, and I want to be the kind of confidant that I found in my teachers in high school.  I suppose that could happen at both levels, but it likely means more in a high school setting.  Trust me, it sounds really awesome to have a more mature bond with my students, but would it really help them?

I’m going to agonize over this for ages, and my first step to figuring it out is to see a professor at my school.  She teaches in the English department, and prior to her professorship she was a high school English teacher for 30  years.  If anyone can give me the solid pros and cons of each field, it is certainly her.  Who knows?  I might even bring this entry in so she can fully understand the many thoughts whizzing about my head.  If she can make sense of it and give me some direction, God bless her soul.

Why can’t I ever make things easy for myself?