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American Innocence, Our Children Now and Then

As we know, sometimes we can see the big picture by peeking through a keyhole. And in America today perhaps we can see better the state of innocence among young children by looking at a recent incident in middle America. A retired grammar school teacher, Thomas Thacker, is surprised at how “worldly” children are these days. A couple of weeks ago he was driving behind a school bus full of elementary school students when a little boy, not more than 8, gave Mr. Thacker the middle finger. An exclamation point that has lingered in Mr. Thacker’s mind. Particularly disturbing to Mr. Thacker was that a boy who should be hearing his mother read Dr. Seuss to him was apparently more aligned with Dr. Ruth, the psychologist who once appeared as a guest on television with opinions that contrast with values many Americans have long held important. Mr. Thacker lives in our world but is not always part of it. But he still worries about children and education because both were a large part of his working life. To make his point, he tells me about an incident in 1977 when he had a quiet little girl in class. She rarely spoke and was always polite. In fact he was shocked when her hand shot up in class one day. He called on her for the first time that year. “Can I help you, Barbara?" She responded, "Mr. Thacker, have you ever played pony express?" He had never heard of it and said, "No, Barbara, how do you play pony express." “It's like playing post office but with a lot more horsing around,” little Barbara said. Giggles among her classmates followed. Mr. Thacker can’t recall what he said if anything. He was “gobsmacked,” as he puts it, to hear Barbara’s response. This happened in 1977, of course, and comments like Barbara’s were not common back then among children. He had studied in England for a time and had come home with the word “gobsmacked” forever added to his already prodigious vocabulary. “The word has a nice ring to it," he tells anyone who likes words as much as he does. He hopes to use it playing Scrabble some day. After class that day, he walked across the hall to Mr. Gerald's room and told him what Barbara had said. Mr. Gerald's reaction was quick. “Thacker, sex is very popular in public these days, even at Barbara’s age. It’s a hot commodity on TV. And children watch a lot of TV. "Not likely we’re going back to where America once was with regard to values. “For a smart man, Thacker, you are incredibly naive." Mr. Gerald’s closing remark reminded Mr. Thacker of something he had read on the walls of a restroom at the University of Indiana when he was a student there in the middle Sixties. "God is dead,” the graffiti said, and that statement became popular in much of America, championed by some and denounced by others. Mr. Thacker didn’t believe God was dead back then and doesn’t believe God is dead now. He is not a religious fanatic. He simply believes. But he also believes that today innocence among young children in America is on life support. And like many adults, parents or not, he has no idea what if anything can be done about it. The little boy who gave him the finger from the back of the school bus told him how much America has progressed since little Barbara defined pony express in his class in 1977. He wonders what Mr. Gerald would say today about the gesture by the boy in the back of the school bus. God help us is all Mr. Thacker can say. Donal Mahoney

Copyright © | Year Posted 2017

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Book: Shattered Sighs