The setting: Mrs. Reverend's Utah executive officer's home, a mile up the Utah foothills.
The occasion: Impromptu invitation for dinner. Yummm....tasty shisk-a-bob, salad...and double yummm, several (who counts?) glasses of smooth, dark Belgium beer. Dessert was planned,....let's just say it went up in smoke.....those responsible will remain anonymous.
In attendance: Mr and Mrs Reverend, Mr and Mrs Executive Officer, Mr and Mrs Executive Officer's three children....and 6 soon-to-be-high-school-sophomores, 4 young men, 2 young women,....all classmates of Mr and Mrs. Executive Officer's oldest daughter.
The mission: Mr Executive Officer asked if I might want to ask the 7 teenagers a few questions while we all sat and ate dinner out on the patio. That was an offer this crusty old Ohio blogger could not refuse.
Having only been introduced some 45 minutes earlier, those seven 15 and 16 year old students enthusiastically answered my questions, for the next TWO HOURS. It was, indeed, something to behold.
Often I hear stereotypical moaning and whining about today's young people. You know, their language, their level of responsibility, their slovenness, their self-absorption, their goddamned tattoos and piercings....and on and on. I suppose every adult generation has talked smack about their youth. Having said that....I'm here to tell ya'....I'd much rather hang out talking to young people, like these seven Utah teens, than most self-satisfied, all-knowing, judgmental adults whom I know. Take THAT, you old bastards out there.
These young adults attend the same Salt Lake City public school, described by them as consisting of approximately 50% white students and 50% minority students. This in a state whose population is 85% white. The minority student half of the school is primarily made up of Polynesians, Hispanics and Blacks. Guess which segment produces the school thugs.......it's the Polynesians because they happen to be larger physically.
The racial makeup of this Salt Lake City public school population reflects our larger American society. A strong suit, I would argue, often found in our public school systems. To become a well-rounded American adult....what better way to prepare than to attend a diverse high school reflecting America's diversity?
I asked questions about sexual orientation within their school, inter-racial dating, sex education, attitudes of teachers towards minority students, and the "mormon kids". The answers given reflected passionately held beliefs in fairness, tolerance and honesty. The very qualities and values that have made our nation great.....liberty, justice....for all...inside the melting pot of America.
As I listened to their answers it struck me that I was actually listening, in a microcosm sort of way, to mainstream America talk. Just as Americans want everyone to be treated justly and tolerantly....just as Americans want their political leaders to be honest and forthright.....so too, do these students want their immediate authority figures to be honest and open and fair, not hiding or shading truth, not refusing to talk about awkward subjects, in their roles as teachers and parents.
Teenagers in general, and these Utah teenagers, specifically, possess keen bullsh*t detection systems (BDS). Pretty much standard equipment these days.....comes with all makes and models. They called bullsh*t on school officials, teachers and adults who don't want to talk about sensitive, yet vitally important social concerns. Several students expressed their dismay over Utah's "abstinence only" public school sex education program. This dismay could be because these young people are 15 and 16 with hyper-drive-hormone-activity (HDHA).....or.....it could be that they can detect "don't ask, don't tell" adult bullsh*t.
The honesty was refreshing. The confidence and independence reassuring.
They answered a question about female students asking male students out on dates and paying the tab. One young man wasn't comfortable with that scenario, unless it happened only on occasion, while a couple of the young women spoke of the "slut" stigma imposed by students and/or teachers who don't think the sexes should be quite THAT equal. The sexist double standard thing still sets off teenage bullsh*t detectors.....and rightfully so.
I asked specific questions about drugs and alcohol. Pot, exxtacy and mushrooms, I was told, are the most commonly used drugs by their peers. Reefer seems to be the most prevalent.....not much has changed in the last 40 years.....they spoke of legalizing marijuana (for it),....they spoke of drug use as a crutch (against it),....they spoke of moderation and students who abuse. A couple of the young males spoke of alcohol use, and abuse, as being more dangerous than marijuana use. I'm sure these teenagers came to their conclusions through observation, rather than participation.....or maybe not.
One young man wants to join the military after high school. To kill Muslims? No, nothing so neo-connish as that.....but instead, to learn to fly helicopters. This same young man was knowledgable about our modern military's hi-tech, "smart" weapons which he claimed were superior because they cut down on civilian casualties. Another young man wondered about the "terrorists". He argued that extremists couldn't be reasoned with.....SOMETHING had to be done to stop the insanity. Iraq was brought up.
All seven would vote for Obama....if they could.....
My summary: Engaging,....actually engaging in meaningful conversation, I think, is challenging, even rare. When it happens, it's like the credit card commercial...."priceless". Typically what happens is that people talk about themselves and avoid the listening part. Focus is not maintained. Naturally, all of us want others to think our opinions and ideas are important and valuable. With teenagers, the challenge can be even more daunting. Not so with these seven Utah teens, at least for those two hours last Thursday night. They were engaged. We were engaged. The Reverend was impressed.....and as regular readers here know.....I'm not easily impressed.
Steve and Liz.....as Roger Daltry used to sing with The Who...."The kids are alright."
P.S. I took a look at this Utah family's recently installed, state of the art, solar roof panel array which produces up to 30 Kw of electric power to a storage battery and circuit panel cabinet located in the basement....alongside of the newest-fangled, 96% efficient, hot water heater which ingeniously recirculates hot exhaust fumes back down through the center of the housing thus squeezing out every last BTU of energy.
Yes we can....and some already are.
P.S.S. Regular mean-spirited, antagonistic political blogging resumes tomorrow.
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