We started reading Catcher in the Rye in one of my classes last week. This week, our focus has been to look at morals and values of the 1950’s (when the book takes place) and morals and values of today’s society. So, of course, we read an article and then I made them watch one of my all-time favorite shows: Leave It to Beaver. This is a very interesting discussion to have, especially with high schoolers, who spend their viewing time watching Real Housewives, Walking Dead, and Teen Wolf, who have never even heard of the show before. In fact, they wanted to watch more.
I was very impressed with my students and their insistence upon how society is ruined. We talked about a wide variety of topics, ranging from how people used to dress up to ride on airplanes and now we think it is appropriate to go to Wal-Mart in our pajamas, to how people used to greet each other while they were on a stroll and nowadays, it is rare to have someone hold a door open for you (I didn’t bring up the fact that we did presentations a couple of weeks ago and not one group offered me a piece of reward candy). We talked about the divorce rate and how people these days are more adept to think of themselves before anyone else, even their children. We talked about how people are ironically physically more closed off but intellectually more connected to the world; my dad tells stories about growing up and his mom would kick him out at 9 AM and wouldn’t let him back in until dinnertime so he would have to ride his bike around and entertain himself. Nowadays, we sit behind our computer screens and game systems, where we can connect to unimaginable parts of the world. We talked about how chivalry is dead; it is now acceptable to text someone to ask them on a date and forget picking them up at their house; you meet at the movie theatre (or bar when you are my age).
We talked about how parents and technology are to blame. Parents, because they raise their children in a white glove society, where every child deserves a blue ribbon, no child can ever do wrong, and each child deserves equal opportunity. Parents, who download aps and Facetime to constantly stay connected to their children. Parents, who forget to teach their child to always say ‘please and thank you’. Parents, who want to protect their children from any and every possible conflict and self-esteem decreaser there possibly is in the world. Parents who don’t censor what their children are watching, parents who let their kids back talk, parents who don’t have any discipline strategies.
By the end of this discussion, my students were legitimately mad that society has downgraded in the way it has. So, I tried to make a couple of points. First of all, I asked them what kind of benefits our ‘new’ and evolved society has. For one, they decided, we are more accepting of other ideas, cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, sexual orientation. I, for one, believe that we are moving towards a society that is not so closed doors, but in fact, values catharsis, taking care of the soul, and being physically and mentally healthy. Second, they decided that this progressive society we live in now has room for better ideas, better inventions, better innovations and terms and values risk taking. We are constantly coming out with new ideas, new ways to do things, more colors and options.
The second point I tried to make to my students is that if they do not agree with the way society is emerging, they certainly have the choice to continue being chivalrous; they can says “Howdy” to their neighbors (unless, of course, their neighbor is a young girl and the person is a creepy looking boy, then that might not be the best idea); they can make it a point to hold the doors open as they walk into school; they can be gentlemanly when they take a girl on a date. Just because society is moving in a different direction does not mean they have to kowtow to it.
Since this discussion, I have been contemplating where I situate myself on this idea (and, of course, I have been watching many episodes of Leave It to Beaver to help draw my conclusion). On one hand, I value chivalry and manners. I am polite and I want a guy to call to ask me on a date, to plan the date himself, to pick me up, and treat me with respect (someone once called this “old fashioned” or “traditional). However, on the other hand, I would consider myself a feminist and appreciate that society does not expect women to be the sole cookers and cleaners anymore; we are independent, can make our own income, and have the ability to live the exact life we want.
It is inevitable that society will change and process; nothing ever stays the same. However, it is our responsibility, as ethical creatures, to make decisions that will adhere to our personal beliefs, because at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself; not society.