Does Anyone Care About the Collateral Damage?

I tell colleagues and family members that I often feel like a first-class hypocrite in my classroom for trying to instill character and the Golden Rule in my students while believing these efforts will do little or no good.

   We live in a selfish world, one that tells us to get what we can at any cost. It is okay to be crass, foul-mouthed, obnoxious, sneaky, disrespectful, unkind, perverted, disloyal, unfaithful and sometimes even criminal if it makes you happy or successful. Success gained through hard work, sweat and sacrifice? Are you kidding?

   I live with a sibling who hasn’t worked a part-time or fulltime job in half-a-decade. He contributes nothing to a household that includes him, myself and our 69-year-old mother. He does as little as he can around the house, yet gets food, a roof over his head and lots more sleep than my mom and I get for getting up at 4:30 a.m. and going to work.  Of the three of us, he is the only one not burdened by painful arthritis or a disability. I don’t see how he looks at himself in the mirror each morning, but he does with gusto, a full belly and plenty of time to play on the computer. I feel guilt every time my mom goes to work

   Meanwhile, I preach to my students the importance of family members pulling together. I try to sell them the importance of revering our senior family members. “Carry your weight” and “honor your mothers,” I tell them, knowing that the model many are following models that teach selfishness, disrespect and greed. They see grandmothers sacrificing their retirement years to bail out spoiled rotten progeny who play video games or watch Judge Judy all day.

   On the stoops of the urban district where I teach I see grown men sipping 40’s, smoking marijuana and playing cards as students stroll to and from school. In many cases, these jolly fellows refuse to acknowledge the children they helped produce during a night of unsafe sex. So I wind up with at least a half-dozen kids asking, “why Daddy doesn’t love me?” or “why Daddy won’t come to see me?”.

   So I seek refuge in our ideals, the ones that value compassion, respect, hard work and education.  Otherwise, why go to school? “Study hard!” “Work Hard!” “Strive to Succeed!” “Honesty is the best policy!” Yes, I push these beliefs even though people are losing their jobs and homes, while those who created our country’s economic mess are receiving million dollar bonuses. My kids tell me about their cable service being turned off, or mommy being threatened with eviction because money is tight. Yet, Donald Trump files for yet another multi-million dollar bankruptcy for another failed casino while being hailed as a financial genius.  

    My citizenry lessons lose their punch when a wealthy executive receives less than six months in jail for killing a woman while driving drunk. Meanwhile, some stupid teen gets a year—and rightly so—for marijuana possession. My kids don’t blink when another baseball player is exposed as a steroids cheat. And they’re not surprised when Britney, Lindsey or some other spoiled brat celebrity drives drunk or posts sex tapes on You Tube. Of course the fame attached to these bad behaviors makes my substance abuse and social responsibility lessons lose some zing.

   I sometimes give my charges homework that requires them to watch PBS, Discovery, National Geographic, Animal Planet or The Learning Channel. They must choose between my assignment on animals and habitats, and the entertainment provided by the stars of  “Bridezillas,” “Bad Girls Club, and “My Super Sweet 16,” which reward females for displaying filthy language, lewd behavior, narcissism and reckless sexual behavior.

   Popular shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” are fueled by the credo that no acts are too low if they reap success. “College Hill” and “The Real World” do little to make one feel good about our college kids, “Trading Spouses” and “Supernanny” reminds us that many families don’t know how to raise children. Even “nice” shows like “The Amazing Race” makes light of rude and offensive behavior, and there’s a show (“Locked Up Abroad”) that make celebrities of Americans who escaped imprisonment in foreign countries. Hey, most of these folks had committed crimes and deserved to be locked up and subjected to the harsh treatment they received.

   So-called “reality” television has reset the parameters of courtship, family life, acceptable public behavior and child discipline (or lack thereof), Sitting in their classrooms, the victims of collateral damage, are teachers and their students. The former entrusted to instill values and education into children; the latter who becomes more confused each day as to what is right and what is wrong. 

   Yep, it is harder to believe in what I preach, but I will continue to crawl up the pulpit, because somewhere, perhaps in my classroom, there are future adults who will put a stop to this nonsense. There has to be.

   I just wish the playing field was more even.