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Damon argues that as a culture we have come to accept some very dangerous beliefs about child development--beliefs that have given us a generation of poorly educated, apathetic, and amoral children. He urges the reintroduction of intellectual rigor into education and the capitalization of children's native moral virtues to eliminate the shoddy practices that now dominate our schools.
Arla Lindgren Library Journal In this exceedingly readable study, Damon challenges prevailing views on education and parenting...[He] sustains his passionate eloquence even when dealing with the most unpopular and potentially volatile subjects. Highly recommended.
Janice Harayda Cleveland Plain Dealer Greater Expectations is thoughtful and well-reasoned....That it has come from an Eastern intellectual who blows the whistle on many of his peers makes it seem all the more remarkable.
|2||Growing Up the Easy Way||27|
|3||Growing Up the Hard Way||47|
|4||Misconceptions of Modern Times, I: The Elevation of Self and Derogation of the Spirit||65|
|5||Misconceptions of Modern Times, II: The False Oppositions||95|
|6||The Natural Virtues||125|
|7||A Framework of Guidance for Children's Intellectual and Moral Growth||143|
|10||Community and the Spirit of Youth||223|
Imagine an account of human life in the twenty-first century. The genre is science fiction, perhaps delivered in a futuristic novel or movie. The account is set in any city or town of the populated world. The main characters are all younger than twenty. They are the children and adolescents who inhabit the streets, the homes, and the schools of this typical community of tomorrow.
A Fable of Our Near Future
The scene opens on a bleak deserted neighborhood in the heart of town. It is daytime, just after working hours, and the place has emptied out. The sense of emptiness is not a great change from earlier in the day. From nine to five, some government offices and a few small shops provide a bit of life to the area, but it is a muted, confined life that mostly takes place off the street. Most of the area's stores and the oldtime movie theaters have been boarded up for decades. The remaining businesses, there only to serve the government workers, are barricaded behind steel grates that have been adorned with rolls of barbed wire. After the working day is done, nowhere is there an open eatery, a pharmacy, or newsstand.
Soon it is clear why. Roving bands of youth begin bringing a more vivid life to the neighborhood, though it is a macabre and chilling one. Some of the youths are crammed into cars that creep ominously around corners like big cats on the prowl. Others dart through the alleys or leap across the rooftops. The youngsters move in a quick, guarded pantomime, signaling each other by hand or by eye contact. Before long, taunts, gunshots, and screams punctuate the watchful silence. Then flashes of fire, smoke, the screeching ofcar motors and wheels, and the wail of police sirens bring the scene to a climax. Stretchers carry away three young corpses. No photographer comes to chronicle the grisly sight: such events have long since lost their news appeal. Next follows an uneasy calm. Then, before anything approaching a decent interval has passed, similar events unfold with a dreary predictability.
The scene now shifts to the outskirts of town. We are in a leafy residential area. But barricades and angry signs have taken away some of the idyllic suburban charm. The signs warn that only neighborhood residents and their announced guests are allowed access to the streets. Private patrols have established checkpoints to enforce the edict.
In any event, there is very little outdoor traffic among young folks in this part of town. Almost all the action takes place inside -- if one considers TV gazing, snacking, napping, and an occasional stony-eyed pass at homework to be "action." There is a listless, isolated quality to the activity. Even the phone calls that break up the monotonous silence lack the gossipy glee that one used to associate with teenage telephoning. So lethargic are the movements of the young people that we almost wonder if the scene is being shot in slow motion. Many of these youngster have a pale, flaccid, washed-out look.
Despite the overall pall, in one of the homes a genuine drama does take place. A boy of sixteen, three days away from his next birthday, quietly slips into his father's study and turns on the home computer. With a few taps on the keyboard, he opens the data base file where his dad has catalogued the family's collection of guns. The boys studies the size, type, and location of each gun listed. After some thought, and without bothering to turn off the computer, the boy walks to the hallway, opens a cabinet, and removes a thick single-barrel shotgun. He knows that the gun has been kept loaded for the purposes of instant household protection. Leaving the cabinet door open, the boy takes the shotgun down into the basement. After a ten-minute pause in which he neither leaves a note nor makes any other significant gesture, he ends his life with a shot to his head.
At the suburban high school the following day, there is some consternation at the news of the boy's suicide, but the feelings lean more toward sorrow than surprise. Suicides occur periodically, here and in every other suburb around. In the meantime, there are other happenings at school that demand more urgent talk and vigilance. The most pressing is the epidemic of knifings that is placing both students and teachers at daily risk. The sophisticated metal screening devices at the school entrances have done little to deter students from creating knife-like weapons out of sharp objects and using them against each other and the staff. Once a problem thought to be limited to students from the "tougher" parts of town, the knifings by now have no discernible link to students' social status or group identity. The girls are now as likely to do it as the boys.
A panorama of school life reveals an atmosphere that is in all other ways consistent with the sense of dread that emanates from the frequent knifings. Graffiti have been splattered everywhere, inside as well as out, easily defeating the token, halfhearted efforts of school officials to rub them out. Shaved heads, tatoos, and gaudy jewelry ornament most of the young bodies. The students wear a motley assortment of clothes or quasi-uniforms resembling degenerate war gear. The most popular T-shirts of the day bear a pair of boldface insignia, one written on the front and one on the back: "Sick of it all," and "Nothing to lose."
We move down the corridors into the school's central offices. A counselor is calling a student's home about some apparently excused absences, only to find that the parent's letters have been forged. A young boy is in the principal's office for threatening his teacher with a gun. Three students are separated from their class after hurling racial epithets at a fourth. A girl is complaining that her locker has been broken into and all her belongings stolen. A small group of boys are huddling in a corner, shielding an exchange of money for drug packets. In the playground, two girls grab a third and punch her in the stomach for flirting with the wrong boy. Throughout the corridors and classrooms, a palpable spirit of disorderliness and disrespect reigns.
The camera moves away from the suburb, past the old business district shown before, and into a truly devastated part of town where the nonworking poor live. Here many of the children and most of the adolescents no longer may be found within the walls of any school, even at the height of day. Some have formally withdrawn, others have never enrolled, and others simply never show up. Instead, they inhabit a subterranean world of crime, illicit deals, marketing in banned substances and flesh. Some run drugs, some run guns, others traffic in their own bodies. Few have any adults in their lives who are able to function as parents or guardians. For many of these youths, the grown-ups of their world have disappeared through choice or through misfortune, swept away by drugs, by criminals, by cops, or by the health hazards of poverty. Of the grown-ups who remain, few have little use for these neighborhood kids who roam the streets looking for trouble. The exception to the grown-ups who are indifferent are the hardened adults who prey on the youths by enlisting them as foot soldiers in dangerous and exploitative assignments.
The young people in this neighborhood band together in leagues of mutual protection. These are the street gangs that provide the youngsters with a sense of collective security as well as an opportunity for voicing some youthful bravado. The sense of security is as false as the bravado. Many of the children in this neighborhood will not see twenty with life and limb intact. Many of those who do will be hauled away for long stretches in prison, where they will learn even more effective ways of wreaking havoc on society.
Our science-fiction tale could show all this by documenting the tragic loss of child after child in this d