Youths need more structure

Monday, August 20, 2007 | 10:55 a.m. CDT; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Rose M. Nolen

As a child growing up, no one ever tailored anything to suit my needs. I had to live in a home, go to a school and a church where the rules and regulations were already in existence and I had to fashion myself in a way that was compatible to existing conditions. And, boy, am I glad. Because frankly, I can’t think of anything worse than trying to make it to adulthood with the false belief that the world was going to cater to my whims and fancies.

I once tried to discourage parents, teachers, pastors and others from changing systems that have survived for years to try to make things easier for young people. These systems have more likely than not been instituted for a sound reason. I gave up trying when I saw case after case of failure where people did not profit from experience. Take memorization, for example. I’ve heard people say for years that memorizing dates and facts is so boring, especially since you never have to use them in real life. How old do you have to be before you understand that the purpose of learning all that boring stuff helps to discipline the mind? As a person who loves the language, I learned most of Longfellow’s poems, which I can still recite, in school, but the practice also enabled me to recall important information in detail when I need it, without consulting printed material. My favorite story on this subject is about a woman I knew who was in the upholstery business and figured her costs in her head — using algebra. She had an excellent high school education and said she never really liked algebra, but it stuck in her mind.

In any case, a friend was telling me her school district was considering adding some new classes to the curriculum this fall to make the classroom more inviting to students. Pessimist that I am, I chose not to pursue the matter because I couldn’t bear the thought of her school eliminating civics or geography for a class in something like “understanding relationships.”

I have difficulty understanding adults who cannot remember their childhood. When I hear people talk about creating programs where young people can get together and have fun, I can’t help but groan. Having been a young person once, I can assure them that this is a task any young person I know is capable of performing on his or her own. Young people have a way of finding each other and doing all sorts of things together. If you don’t believe that, , you can read about them in the newspaper or listen to their parents’ conversations.

Churches are often as guilty as schools of trying to provide young people with entertainment. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who doesn’t find the Christian gospel dynamic and exciting enough, is probably looking in the wrong place. If you need guitars and basketball hoops to get people inside the door, then there’s a larger problem. Perhaps the folks in the pulpit and in the pews need to practice a little more of what they preach. If you’re doing the right stuff on the outside, even total strangers may follow you through the door.

I know it’s popular to believe that people don’t need standards of behavior. Some people truly believe that people come into the world knowing appropriate behavior from inappropriate behavior. Parents sitting idly by listening to their children scream as loudly as they can in public places undoubtedly believe the children will stop doing that when they get older . When they are still doing it at 5 years old, apparently parents still do not see the necessity to correct their behavior. When they misbehave in school, then the parents are likely to say it’s the teacher’s fault. When they become teenagers and run afoul of the law, it’s society’s fault for having all these stupid rules.

It must be terrible to be young today and have so many options. Having to choose whether you want to go to school, whether you want to use drugs or alcohol, whether you want to go to church seems to me to be a lot of responsibility for an individual who may only be 14 years old. So I guess you could say growing up with standards in place saved me a lot of trouble.

Those standards also made me feel loved and secure; I always knew that what I did mattered to my family. When I was 11 years old I was separated from my mother for a brief time. I lived with an older sister, and she kept a written list of do’s and don’ts to which I was expected to comply. I was told that if I violated any rules, my mother would be disappointed in me. That possibility alone was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Everybody seems to have an answer to the problems plaguing the educational system, but I don’t hold out much hope for improvement. Until administrators face the fact that the schools should operate in the best interests of the communities they serve, nothing will change.

In the meantime, our literacy rate will continue to decline. Shame on us.

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

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