25 years of change: U.S. values shrinking

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:31 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Rose M. Nolen

As I celebrate my 25th year as a columnist I look back over my shoulder and think of the way my world has changed over the years and how my attitude toward life has changed because of it.

When I wrote my first column, education was still a big ticket item for Americans. Now the reports on the number of students who fail to graduate are dismal. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t seem to bother many people. For a long time, I blamed educators for the dumbing down of the student population in Missouri schools. And maybe, in some ways, this was true. Once a few people got convinced that making children happy should be the entire society’s goal, a lot of people bought into that proposition. But as time moved on I began to understand that education was no longer a priority among Americans as a whole. Many parents seem indifferent as to whether their children finish school or not.

Nowadays it’s all about seeking celebrity by all and any means possible. Some parents, along with their children, are looking for their 15 minutes of fame. An opportunity for a 10-second appearance on television is as much sought after today as was once a college scholarship. I can’t believe how delighted people are to appear on talk shows to discuss their personal problems and how pleased they are to have millions of people tuned in to watch them make fools of themselves. It’s hard even to discuss the importance of reading, writing and arithmetic with people whose main topic of conversation is what is showing on television.

I suppose that once a few overnight millionaires began to become the subject of news programs, education lost a lot of its importance. Only those who see education as a means of broadening life’s horizons or have professional goals, seem to have maintained an interest in it.

I think the hardest thing for me to believe is how the corporate culture has changed in the past few decades. Now, I was never the type of person who believed that Americans were different from any other people in the world, but I did believe that loyalty to country was built solidly into the corporate culture. I really did not believe that they would sell out American workers and outsource jobs overseas to the extent that they have. I thought they were too smart to do that. I didn’t think their intelligence would be overpowered by their greed. The fact that they would risk turning their own country into an impoverished nation surprised me.

I would never have predicted that the “greatest generation” would have become so tolerant of the youth culture. Things that many of them would never have sat still for in the behavior of their children they are so blithely willing to overlook in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual misbehavior, lack of a work ethic or a sense of responsibility seems perfectly acceptable to them.

Watching the deterioration of our political process has been painful. What was once a government of the people has clearly now become a government of the lobbyists and, under the circumstances, it is doubtful that we will ever be able to change it. We have allowed some of the corporations to become as powerful as small countries and they no longer have any fear that they will be regulated. They know the politicians are like putty in their hands, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about that either. We waited too long and let things go too far.

We have stood by and let the capitalists pollute our air and water and turn our land into toxic waste dumps. We have let members of the two-party system play fast and loose with the democracy to the point where the republic is no longer respected as a place where justice, equality and the rule of law reign supreme.

Are we better off today than we were 25 years ago? Well, our medical and scientific progress has made it possible for us to stay healthier and live longer. Our technological progress has made our work easier and provided us with greater luxuries. But for many, the social excesses enjoyed by the masses have made their lives less fulfilling and more stressful. We eat too much and we don’t treat each other as politely as we once did.

Where do we go from here? Gee, I wish I knew. Don’t you?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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