I taught an American government class this past week at the high school. Well, taught might be a little misleading. It was Constitution Week and Mrs. Beard was kind enough to ask me to come out and regale the students with all I know about that famed document. It didn’t take long.
It was a class of seniors. They impressed me with their attentiveness, their youthful energy and their politeness. Of course, it was a required class. Maybe they were just trying to get through the moment!
And, oh my gosh, how young they looked! I was talking about Thomas Jefferson, King George III and the Boston Tea Party…..but I was thinking “Was I ever this bright and alert? Did I ever move with this ease and bounce? Was I ever wrinkle free?” I had running shoes older than some of these students!
They seemed so self-assured. Comfortable. At ease. Innocent. As I pointed out the short comings of the Articles of Confederation and headed into the Preamble, my mind catapulted back to my last year in high school. I was trying as hard as the dickens to put up the “Hey man, I’m cool attitude”. But, the truth was, I wasn’t so cool. The thought of graduation was both exhilarating and intimidating. It was a big world. And, I was just smart enough to know it was about to change for me. My doubts and fears had doubts and fears!
They were drafting 18 years olds for Vietnam in 1965. College cost more money than I had. The home that I’d been bragging about “growing up and leaving”, all of a sudden, didn’t really look that bad. The little town that I’d been telling folks for years that I couldn’t wait to get shed of, was after all, really pretty nice……and friendly……and safe.
As I was explaining how Georgia and some of the other less populated colonies weren’t about to accept the “Virginia Plan”, I wondered what was really going on in the minds of these wonderful young people. Have they even thought of the future? Do they realize the cauldron they are headed for? They seemed pretty hip…….but life has some dips and curves not evident in an American Democracy class. Maybe they were putting up that same front I displayed.
Down amongst the freedom of speech, press and religion discussion, it crossed my mind that I might be giving this talk in the wrong direction. I was shelling down the corn on what used to be and how it all came about……but I might should have been aiming toward their future.
These young people need to comprehend what awaits them. The bounty is plentiful for those who earnestly seek it. But the pitfalls, potholes and potential catastrophes of life also loom on the horizon. How do you cling to the good and avoid the bad? How do teenagers sort out the wheat from the chaff? It can be a razor thin line for some between success and failure.
I should have been less inclined to extol the history and virtues of the United States Constitution and spent the time explaining how this revered document has been tweaked, interpreted, misinterpreted and even stretched on occasion—to meet the special needs of a specific group, situation or crisis. Flexibility is certainly not a bad thing. Our forefathers clearly understood and allowed for that. But, so often the “flex” is in the eye of the beholder.
Teenagers today need to be wise beyond their years to figure out and function appropriately in this tilt-a-whirl universe they are diving head first into.
It’s not like all the good guys wear white hats and you simply avoid the rest. I hear conflicting arguments in political debates and think “they are both right”….. ’Course, I also hear lots of political vexing, and I’m pretty sure “they are both wrong”. Some days, I can’t tell the Republicans from the Democrats or the sincere, earnest friends from the diabolical shysters. And we’re asking high school seniors to graduate with a smile and a handshake and step into this arena! I wonder if it is too late to start a class right now for them on how to fix the mess the last generation left behind.
We are still the greatest nation on earth, and I will fight any man that says different. We are still the land of opportunity…..if you don’t believe that, check the immigration flow. Rags to riches story still abound in this country. There is not a state in the union that doesn’t have something special to offer. I want the youth of our nation to exploit every opportunity to the fullest.
But, at the same time, I have some serious doubts about our direction. Listen, we’ve got more of everything that you can name on the face of the earth between “the redwood forest” and “the Gulf Stream waters”. We ought to be living large and enjoying life! But we seem, as a nation, to keep getting in our own way. Do you reckon we’ve over stretched the freedoms we’ve been given? Our elected folks often haggle more than they lead……and there is so much anger. Has the tail begun to wag the dog? Are we still being governed by the consent of the people?
I wonder if Jefferson, Washington, Madison and the boys would recognize the government they founded. Surely, we are not measuring our current society by how many days out of the year our flags fly at half-mast.
Those fresh, eager young faces have got to figure it out, and soon! They thanked me profusely as the closing bell rang. Many stopped for a chat. Everyone left me with a smile and a nod. And, their laughter and joy lingered as they exited into the hall.
I hope and pray it will always be thus.