During the last century and the early part of this one, millions of immigrants set sail for America. Though these immigrants sought a better life, most didn't rise above what today would be considered extreme poverty. Does this mean that these immigrants lost when they gambled on America? No way! There is no absolute measure of success. Success is measured by comparing accomplishments to the goals sought. These immigrants found the opportunity to earn a living for themselves and their families. They raised and educated their children to be able to rise to a higher level of security than the parents. This was success. Until the most recent decades, few people achieved more than this in life. Few expected more. I still have memories of a now long departed generation that shared these same modest expectations.
People focus their energies on those things they find most important. Those people who saw success in life as raising their children to be productive, secure adults, left no stone unturned to achieve that goal.
The increased productivity of the late twentieth century pushed the concern for survival to a back burner. Unfortunately the concern for the raising of children went along with it. Parents are still concerned about their children. There are many other concerns that compete for the parents' attention. Parents see many other roads to what they call success. Leisure, thrills and pleasure absorb much of the attention once given to children. In our materialistic society, parents are often more concerned about the physical things they can provide for their children, than about the values and habits that prepare the children for life on their own.
Even the more responsible parents commonly turn their children over to juvenile baby sitters and television for extended periods. At the same time they shower the children with the latest and most expensive gadgetry. The parents raise the expectations of the children without teaching patience and productivity. The child that never has to wait for the new bicycle or video game grows to adulthood expecting instant gratification. When the young adult discovers that the world doesn't meet his or her demands as quickly as the parents did, the adult sees the problem as being with the world and demands that government (the new adopted parent for adults) fix it. Children run to mommy or daddy. Adults run to government.
Downgrading the importance of raising children is the greatest evil of our times. For the survival of civilization, training children is the most important job anyone can do. All of the social problems (crime, poverty, poor education, drugs, etc.) are byproducts of the way we raise children. No society has ever done a perfect job raising children. Each generation in doing less of a job than its predecessor. Unless we reverse this trend our civilization is doomed. It isn't a question of "If?," only, "When?"
I am not suggesting that parents must devote all their energies to raising children. Parents must devote more energy to the instruction and training of children. Of course, unless these energies are directed in the right direction, there will be no improvement. There is no substitute for a constant, responsible adult influence in the lives of children. It is beyond the scope of these comments to explore what we can do about parents whose upbringing and education leave them totally incapable of training and instructing children. This is, however, a problem we must solve.
The way we raise children is largely a product of the environment in which we live. That environment changed radically during this century. The nineteenth century parents did a far better job than we are in spite of (or perhaps because of) having far less economic opportunity than we do. Claims of lack of opportunity are copouts. Even those in poverty have far more opportunity than the citizens of the nineteenth century. They just don't know how to recognize and use those opportunities.
Downgrading the importance of raising children is the greatest evil of our times. For the survival of civilization, training children is the most important job anyone can do. The careers we pursue, the wealth we accumulate, the thrills we seek, all will mean nothing 100 years from now. The way we raise our children will determine whether civilization still exists, and what that civilization will be.
Supposedly Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Rome was only a city. We are fiddling while our civilization burns. Will history treat us more kindly than it has Nero? Is there any reason why it should?
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