January 27, 2013

5 Aspects of K-12 Life That Have Changed Since the 1990s

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1. LGBT Tolerance

In the 4th grade a girl named Melissa invited me to her birthday party. I was the only male in the class who she invited. My friend Carlo told me that it was “gay” to go to a girl’s party, so I declined her invitation. Of course, years later, I found out that accepting a girl’s invitation to a party wasn’t gay.

Such is life…or such was life back then.

The terms “gay” and “fag” were commonly used verbal ammunition in schools across America in the 1990s and early 2000s, even for things that had nothing to do with the literal meanings of the terms. “Mr. Vitale, this quiz is so GAY,” yelled one girl in my 7th grade math class when the teacher surprised us with a pop quiz. There were far worse uses of both words, though. That is, the words, while often used flippantly, were still frequently used to degrade kids/people who the school thought might be “gay”.

While there is still intolerance today, the world is far more accepting of the LGBT community. You want proof? A kid can come out to his entire high school and receive cheers. The president of the United States can promote gay marriage and be acclaimed. And an 11-year-old transgendered girl can write a letter to that President about the woes of her people and the world agrees. 20 years ago these things wouldn’t have been fathomable.

LGBT equality/tolerance/whatever word you choose to use is one of the few areas where the K-12 world has made positive strides.

2. The Perception of Higher Education

“Go to college or be a bum,” we were told.

We went to college, and now we’re bums — bums and entitled, spoiled, bratty “kids” who don’t want to work menial jobs because we’re educated, and we thought that education was supposed to help us avoid this mess.

The ironing is delicious, as Bart Simpson would say.

The kids in this current generation of K-12’ers will benefit from our ignominious financial failures.

They’ll know that all degrees — at least all degrees that aren’t math, engineering, etc. — are worth less than toilet paper. They’ll know that deans and college administrators are the world’s greatest conmen, convincing millions to sacrifice $30,000+ and enter indentured servitude for a tacky-looking piece of paper. They’ll be able to go through K-12 knowing that going to a trade school and learning an actual money-making skill like plumbing or electronics isn’t a shameful thing to do with their lives.

Most importantly, they’ll know not to blindly listen to the “wisdom” of older generations.

3. ADHD/Overmedication

There was once a time where kids being antsy and misbehaved was just a given; almost all kids were like that, so why make anything of it? This simpler outlook has been replaced with the disgusting overmedication of children suffering from “ADHD” — a disease whose symptoms remarkably mirror the behavior of most active children.

Years ago, when a kid was misbehaved or didn’t pay attention, they were punished in some way (scolded, spanked, whatever). In today’s world, this behavior isn’t the kid’s fault. Being insubordinate is somehow blamed on faulty neural wiring. Conveniently for drug companies, this means parents across the country have to keep shelling out money so little Eric can sit in his chair, silent and deadened — medicated to complacency.

Put the blame on whoever you’d like (the parents, “big pharma”), it’s still something that’s radically different (and radically worse) about K-12 today compared to years ago.

4. Role Models

Role models are an integral part of K-12 life. When kids are playing with their friends at recess, running around doing god knows what, they often proclaim “I’m [insert culturally relevant athlete/celebrity/fictional character]!”

However, since the 1990s, the concept of a role model has changed significantly.

In the early 90s, “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan was society’s premier role model (or at least one of them). His “demandments” of prayers, training, vitamins, and believing in oneself promised to set youngsters on the right path. Michael Jordan, too, served as a role model to kids of the 90’s. Failed to make the basketball team? So did Michael Jordan, so try again!

Jordan wasn’t the only athlete to be a role model to kids. I remember in fourth grade the teacher assigned us busy work in the form of an essay about our role models. This was shortly after Mark McGuire broke the home run record. Every boy in the class chose him as their role model. If they worked hard, they too could excel at their chosen craft.

Then things changed.

Hulk Hogan became a bad guy (in the wrestling storylines and in real life). Figures like Jordan retired and sordid characters like Dennis Rodman took over the spotlight. Mark McGuire was busted for steroids.
Role models managed to survive this shift, they were just different. Mainstream culture became crasser, and its role models reflected that change. Children were exposed to Austin 3:16, Marilyn Manson and Slim Shady rather than Hulk Hogan’s tenets of vitamins and prayers. Athletes were still deities worthy of worship, not necessarily because of their steroid-fueled dominance, but because of their fame and wealth.

It was cool for kids to be bad, or at least cool to not be “good.”

But, like before, things changed.

An inbred hick launched a costly war, corporations exploited human “capital”, the machinations of greedy men triggered a fiscal apocalypse, college degrees became worth less than toilet paper (at least you can wipe your ass more than once with a roll of toilet paper), and hope was severed from a generation of young men and women.

Now, it’s hard to even pinpoint who or what is a role model?

Can Aaron Rodgers be a true role model when he shills for Pizza Hut? Can Usain Bolt be admired when he insists that he ate McDonald’s before his race? Is it really right for children to love and look up to the likes of Kim Kardashian?

And what of the TV shows? Sure, there are heroic characters out there for current youth like Finn from Adventure Time but then there are shows that overload young kids with teenage-level (and up) drama that they don’t need at that age (Victorious, bits of iCarly, etc.)

What constitutes a role model is murky now. The “right” way to behave is murky now.

5. Toy Guns/Threats of Violence in the Classroom

The use of toy guns in the classroom as well as taking all threats of violence in the classroom seriously is, understandably, a massive difference between 1990’s K-12 life and current K-12 life.

In 2nd grade we were allowed to bring in toy guns, make toy guns out of Legos (or Mega Bloks if you were one of the unlucky kids), and nobody thought anything of it. Kids played with guns, and they occasionally said some violent things, but they were just kids messing around.

Then Columbine happened. Then countless other school shootings happened. Most recently, Sandy Hook happened.

Even before Sandy Hook, my nephew wasn’t allowed to bring toy guns to school. Last year for Halloween, children weren’t allowed to wear their costumes to school if the costume had a violent connotation to it (no soldiers, pirates, warriors, etc.)

In 3rd grade I came in on Halloween as a “Serial Killer” (my words). I wore a chrome-colored Jason mask, a “bloody” t-shirt, and was wearing one of those things that made it look like you were carrying a severed arm. If a kid walked into school on Halloween with that gimmick today, he’d be expelled and sent to a school shrink. Inflammatory news websites would report on it.

But when I did it in 1997, nobody batted an eyelash.

Life has changed a lot since then. TC mark

Matt Saccaro

Matt Saccaro has reached millions of readers with his work on Salon, The Week, The Daily Dot, Thought Catalog, …

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