By Ruth Gadebusch
A recent issue of our ever thinner daily devoted an almost whole opinion page to the conditions of our society as regards the seemingly “never the twain shall meet.” Coming as it did on the heels of a conversation regarding the division within our nation I had just had with two friends it quickly caught my attention.
Nor surprising, one of the opinion pieces was strictly a political shoot-down of the expected candidacy of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. Those are so regular that we have long since lost count of them and find them easy to ignore. The other two focused on the continuing racism and the confused ideas of right or wrong that have developed within the society.
Yes, we have come a long way in our treatment of differing racial groups but we have ever so much further to go. Never does a week go by, and I dare say never a day, without some serious mistreatment of a person of minority status—or a supposed minority status as assumed by physical appearance of body, or dress, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. That is the overt part. More difficult to cope with are the various subtleties such as the house loan not approved or the job not offered. The latter might well include age discrimination too, but that is not the focus at this point.
Disheartening was the recent incident of the fraternity members who thought it humorous to sing a racially charged ditty. The catch is that these are the ones expected to become community leaders. They seem to have no comprehension whatsoever of the long-term implications of this attitude that goes far beyond humor. To the credit of the university and the national body of the fraternity, neither pussyfooted. Both took immediate action.
Even in our unbalanced society, these privileged young men will pay a heavy price, called learning the hard way. The society must shoulder some blame in that they reached this stage of their lives without having any appreciation of the evils of their behavior, their inability to put themselves in the shoes of their victims. Education is supposed to teach, to overcome our limited thinking, to broaden our perspective.
Not exactly encouraging, the other column focused on the chasm between social classes in America: the college educated and the high school educated. Although far from being a pure racial divide, all too often it has racial implications due to economic roots. Columnist David Brooks reviewed Robert Putnam’s data-loaded book regarding life in America. I contend it is the perfect argument for making college education available for the good of the society, as well as a challenge for K-12 to do more for preparing students for day-to-day living, not just “making a living” as in employment.
Among the conditions noted is that similar behavior patterns between college and non-college education in the 1960s and 1970s have sharply diverged. First, and foremost, today 70% of children born to high school grads grow up in single-parent homes while the figure for college grads is 10%. Without doubt, that has its effect on other factors cited. “High-school grad parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activities.”
Few of us would argue that economics played no part in these conditions, but Putnam and Brooks assign responsibility to the failure to have “basic codes and rules woven into daily life.” Their prescription for moving in the right direction is a moral vocabulary replacing the “plague of non-judgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another.”
Could it be that in our quest to recognize individualism to honor other cultures and human talents we have gone too far? I am not talking about hard and fast rules but a basic commonality with a respect for each other. I believe we are sorely in need of such if we are to be the great nation that we like to think we are.
Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.