Was there ever a time when the world wasn’t coming to an end?
When I was an undergraduate at Denison University, one of my senior study classes focused on the year 1939. Why we were studying that specific year is not pertinent other than to point out that, in pop culture, the year began with the release of the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and ended with “Gone With the Wind,” which my professor considered an apt metaphor for our country’s history as we emerged from The Great Depression and entered World War II.
As part of my research, I was rummaging through the periodicals reading articles from a popular music magazine of the late 1930s. In the letters section of one issue, a reader asked if it would harm a serious musician’s development if they dabbled in the playing of swing music or jazz. You know, just for kicks.
The editor’s response was stern.
Not only would playing jazz erode the student’s natural musical ability, it would lead the student along a steady downward path to moral degradation and sin. Jazz, the editor wrote, was the gateway to alcoholism, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and every other societal ill that beset the age.
You may think that the editor was making a joke, but the letter’s tone was dead serious. The world was going to hell led by a morally debased youth culture that embraced the evils of swing and dance music. The youth had turned their backs on the purity of classical music and, by extension, on the traditional values upon which our country was based.
Fifty years later, we would find a new label for the youth of this time period. We would call them The Greatest Generation.
When I was a young boy growing up in Carrollton, Kentucky in the late 1970s and early 80s, the technology was different, pop culture was different, but the young people were still in trouble and heading down a path of moral and personal self-destruction because of drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin – and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide.
And for me and my classmates, I guess one could argue that it was true to an extent. Carrollton was a great town to grow up in and there were far more good people in it than bad.
But it was also a place to do some fast living if you sought it out. Being the only wet county west of Cincinnati and east of Louisville, there was a point when our community failed to respond to some warning signs.
Dive bars proliferated in our town square and Saturday night was a busy night for the police dealing with the kind of people that that kind of environment attracts.
I suppose things came to a head when three well publicized incidents occurred. Some middle and high school students were arrested for selling tranquilizers they had stolen from their parents’ medicine cabinet.
The school administration called a public forum. Unfortunately, I recall vividly how that forum wound up a disaster.
Two mistakes were made. The first was that the school administration was more concerned with trying to absolve itself of blame and never thought about what this community forum could accomplish. The second was that the public was given no clear direction in which to channel their concerns and questions. Lacking that guidance, the discussion dissolved into a “blame game” where the more incendiary the comment from whomever held the microphone, the louder the applause.
It wasn’t quite The Jerry Springer Show, but honestly, it wasn’t that far off.
The sad result was that nothing positive came out of the forum. At least nothing that I can recall.
Twice recently I have composed articles for the Cynthiana Democrat in which I have used the word “epidemic” to describe a rise in suicide, especially among teens, and drug abuse. After having written those articles, one might be tempted to believe that, once again, the youth of our community are being led down an ever spiraling path, the sky is falling and oh, how awful the future looks.
But read further and you will also see other articles about teenagers and adults in the Harrison County community that are accomplishing some pretty amazing things.
In the next two weeks, two forums have been scheduled to address situations that have occurred in Harrison County.
The Harrison County School forum on “Understanding Teenagers” happens on Monday, Nov. 18, at 6 p.m. at the high school that specifically addresses teen suicide. Champions for a Drug-Free Harrison County will host a meeting on drugs the following Monday, Nov. 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the Cynthiana Christian Church.
Honestly, I think that Harrison County Schools and the Champions for a Drug-Free Harrison County are approaching these issues in the right way.
They are looking to an outside source to inspire people to devise ideas that will move us forward. But the responsibility for moving this community forward falls upon our shoulders – parents, educators, spiritual leaders, business owners, medical providers, elected officials, police officers and deputies, senior citizens and neighbors.
It takes groups large and small committed to following through on these ideas that will turn the tide on those forces that have always striven to drag a community down.
But I think its also important to know that our kids are all right. Their situation is no more precarious than it was for us at that age.
For five straight years, I have welcomed into my home teenagers from different corners of the globe – enough so that I can state this as confidently as Dr. Hatim Omar did at our meeting concerning the upcoming forum at the high school.
Teenagers are the same the world over.
Though they may never admit it outwardly, they want direction from adults that they trust and we have an obligation make time for them. Furthermore, we should maintain high expectations about their behavior, especially in the way they treat other people.
The most important lesson we as a community can teach our kids is that the sky is not falling.
In fact, the world is a wonderful place best experienced with senses sharp and alive rather than dulled. And one of the reasons the world is wonderful is because of the teenagers that are in it, with all their weird music and questionable tastes.