These crazy over-scheduled kids ? they don't have time to think. They don't have time to breathe. I recently talked with someone about her high school activities: yearbook, choir, student council, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, National Honor Society, Quill and Scroll. Piano lessons scheduled at 6:00 a.m. ? no other time. During the summer months, of course, enriching activities: summer camp and office work.
So when did I interview this frazzled youngster? Waiting for a field hockey tournament? No, I met her at her retirement coummunity; she graduated from high school in 1952.
The notion that teen-age busyness is a modern invention is patently false. What's new is intense parental involvement in a teen-ager's activities, and also the purpose behind them. In the Fifties, field hockey was a good activity for a girl because she got excercise, fresh air, and learned about teammwork. Today ? with enough private coaching, clinics, and if she plays on school and club teams ? she might get a spot in an elite college. Singing in the choir was good because singing was good ? not because Amherst is the singing college. Ultimately, the goal ? besides fun ? wasn't creating elite college freshmen, it was about creating character. The girl who worked on the yearbook in 1952 became the woman who joined the League of Women Voters, started an inner-city nursery school that became a day-care center, taught Sunday School, and served on the boards of several non-profits. Eventually, she became the 70 year-old woman who brings water and food to immigrants dying in the desert.
The Fifties are a maligned decade and, in many respects, rightly so. They were also a time when a lot of Americans put character, conscience, and citizenship at the top of their agenda for their children. We laugh at the conformity that led to the "squareness" of the Fifties, but we often forget to honor that decade's emphasis on character, conscience, and civic responsibility that led to some of the great social achievements that followed, including civil rights and the women's movement.