Has Our Society Lost Something Essential in the Rearing of Its Youth?
Editor’s Note: I was getting ready to publish this, when it struck me: I do not want to imply things were perfect “back then”; even as they linger today, racial prejudice, gender inequality, and homophobia were the norm. I am talking about the underpinnings I had in growing into a whole human being. Just one person’s view. jhb
The fellow who caused all the hubbub out west, refusing to pay his cattle grazing fees for mooching on public lands (even to the point where Glen Beck pointed out he was part of our “entitlement society”), made one point this week that got me thinking.
He commented on certain groups who had lost their independence by depending on government benefits. Even Glen could not miss the irony of a fellow stealing the use of land from his fellow Americans, and then criticizing fellow Americans who had qualified for benefits for accepting them.
His reference to how much better they might be in returning to slavery raised a ruckus and masked a bigger problem.
Regardless of race or gender, there do appear to be large segments of our youth who are growing up without essential building blocks, which started my thinking on where I got my building blocks. It’s pretty simple:
1. Family. My family was far from perfect, but we learn right from wrong, to follow the rules, and to treat others with respect. (Not that we always did that with each other.) My parents managed to stay together until I was 47, and even to get back together at the end so to speak.
2. Church. I have a 65 year old photo of myself (now broken into many pieces) in a group shot of the Edgewood Methodist (no United back then) Church membership in Wheeling, WV. My Grandmother Hazel (Kidd) O’Grady was the “cleaning lady” there, and I do not think she was paid anything. I remember the bucket with the foot pedal and the mop.
3. I don’t remember such a focus on Jesus as a cult figure. We always prayed to God, “in Jesus name”. I asked my Mom why God couldn’t hear me directly. I think she said “Because.” I had too many questions for her to ponder over every one. She is also the one who told me if I had three glazed donuts from the sale in the Church basement, my stomach would explode.
4. But, we had Sunday School, and later Methodist Youth Fellowship, and Choir, and a prayer group before school once a week (in h.s.). I had dedicated Sunday School Teachers like Bill Dean and John Kepner, and choir director Jack Randolph.
5. Youth groups such as the Cub Scouts and 4-H. We moved back to the country by the time I was 10, so by far, for me it was 4-H, a rural organization supported by the WV Extension service, our County Agent, and all the rest. Our foundation was Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.
6. The 4-H Pledge:
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service, and
my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country and my world.
7. I am almost certain “and my world” was added later.
8. Here was what I learned:
a. To come to a meeting each month, with an agenda and responsibilities.
b. To be on a committee.
c. To have to dial a phone, and even talk with adults. I found this excruciating and sometimes took an hour to get up the nerve, and even wrote out what I needed to say.
d. To do something called “demonstrations” at the meetings, and county, and regional gatherings.
e. This required public speaking, visuals, and practice.
f. Projects: mine included such things as planting 500 pine trees. They are still there behind the Beneke house in Oglebay View Acres. Photography: this became a lifetime love, and there have been thousands and thousands of photos since those early polaroids; Woodworking: Gardening: and the rest.
g. We were graded, with colored ribbons for all to see. If you finished, you got a ribbon, even the time my Dad’s friend, Ed McCallister, who built our house in partnership with my Dad, misread the plans and got me a white ribbon for my wall shelf. Oh…….the humiliation.
h. We had 4-H camps. How shocking that we were divided, literally, into “tribes”. The Cherokee, Seneca (should have been Shawnee), Mingo, and Delaware. Orange, Green, Red, and Black. It was rather tribal. We competed in most everything. We didn’t learn much about our American Indian predecessors, but some, and I never felt we were demeaning or disparaging. I was proud to be a Delaware, and proud to be there chief, after Dick Billick, and Wayne Armstrong, and right before David Reuther, I think.
i. I made a birdhouse, learn to shoot bow and arrow, played sports, and participate in group and individual performances. We even did something amazing, Charting. Gnothe Seaton (know thyself in Greek). We evaluated our personality and talents, and put together a plan for life. I kidded myself in some things, but it made me think about my life.
j. We got to go to camp with girls, the prettiest girls God every made, and to walk them to their cabins, and once in a great while, to get a kiss good night.
k. Once I was selected, with two girls who did much better than I, to do an interview on the local radio station about our activities at camp. I survived, barely.
l. We swam each day, no matter how rainy, or cold, and it could be cold.
m. Later, we went to Older Youth (not Boys’ State for me; no girls!) Camp at Jackson’s Mill in Jane Lew (later contributing to my decision to attend WV Wesleyan College in Buckhannon) and the 4-H State Dairy Show. Believe it or not, we met the State Dairy Princess, and her younger sister, Connie and Candy Love…sigh. And Sheila, and Retta Rose, and Adreana, and Judy, and Lee Ann, and Ruthie, and…….
n. So, of course, our summer work was a farm, THE Harlan Carter Farm, Everbreeze, across from our house. We did real work, operated real machinery, and took very real risks. I guess we could have fallen from the silo (we were 40′ feet up), got tangled in the silage chopper, or run over by truck or tractor. We didn’t, but we did gain a lot of confidence. Jeanie Carter, Ted’s wife, was the recent Mrs. WV, and their farm is still in the family, since the original land patent from Governor Patrick Henry.
9. School, Public and Private (Linsly Military Institute):
Ohio County, perhaps partially because it competed with Linsly, had terrific public schools.
Linsly, where I attended since 8th grade, at considerable sacrifice by my parents and 3 sisters, always dominated in state aptitude tests. My senior year, six out of 43 of us were National Merit Scholars. We had nine out of ten of the top math scores in the state. All other WV High Schools share one. We had 3 of five top spots in the greater Pittsburgh Latin Contest.
We had the Linsly Minstral, later changed to Extravaganza, after a well-deserved visit from the NAACP. “How Dare They” we thought at the time. We had the Glee Club, the school newspaper The Cadet, sports, and clubs. We got military points and we each knew our place, down to the last point.
When we failed, we were miserable. I showed up 1/2 late to dress rehearsal for the Minstral and could not face Col. Haigwood. My Mother called his wife and begged for my life. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that he started my solo 30 seconds before I complete my costume change so I walked out in front of hundreds of people to learn my intro was over? I still turn red thinking of it.
10. By college, I was ruined. Carefully disciplined, governed, watched, and taught, I went somewhat wild, and did not do justice to myself, or my parents’ investment. It was a series of adventures and close calls that got me through law school. By that third year, I managed top grade in just one course, Jurisprudence (philosophy of the law). I detested law school, and the dry atmosphere, and the facts that most students were from WVU and knew each other “before” (lots of old tests and help for the WVU Frat boys) but I graduated, settled down, learned to work, and grew.
11. I learned to care for other people, to know when I screwed up, to learn the English Language, and to say sorry, a lot.
12. Along the way, I also got to go to Pa.’s State 4-H Camp, N.Y.C. and the United Nations, and 30 days by Greyhound bus, with the YMCA, around the United States.
I can’t believe my good fortune at getting to do these things. Had I fallen in with the wrong crowd, been a member of a gang, begun drinking or using drugs early, had my family break up when I was young, or any of many other setbacks, I am not sure I would have made it. Being a risk taker, and an immature one at that, means a period of molding and discipline is pretty important. The prayer is the boy returns to the values he was taught. I am sure the Mormon elders who established the mission obligations of young Mormons had this in mind.
All I can do is pray that our society has not stopped providing such things for our children, that our culture has not become so shallow that it trumps everything the family tries to do, that families can evolve and still provide structure for the children, that parents don’t forget how to parent, and that the marvels of technology can provide more good than bad.
Nancy says it has stopped raining, and Duffy says it’s time for our walk.
This post was written by Burton Hunter