Monday, January 21st, 2019

Kelchner: CBS gives bad advice to kids about their future

Posted on November 27, 2011 in Perspectives
By Kit Kelchner

Kit Kelchner
Dalton Kelchner
Kit Kelchner

I didn’t know how bad the advice was until I went to use it. It was late evening, my son’s ninth birthday party had just ended and the house was finally quiet. Normally, bedtime tuck-ins are light-hearted affairs for us with a round of monster hunter to clear out the underside of the bed or a few final giggles to end the day, but that night was different. Looking up at me, he asked, “What should I be when I grow up?”

It’s an important question for anyone. As undergrads, we’re in the process of figuring that out. We’re often asked to give advice to friends on this question, but the weight bore down on me, realizing it was my own child asking it. That evening I had watched a special on CBS that attempted to address the issue, but as I was about to pass on their wisdom, I realized its emptiness.

On Nov. 8, the CBS Evening News aired a special report about the future outlooks for the younger generation. Scott Pelley, the new CBS Evening News anchor, convened a special panel at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to discuss how to get our country back on the right track. The panel consisted of heavyweights from sectors of government, business, education and finance, as well as civil minority representations. Their ultimate conclusion? Kids must learn to work harder.

My head spun for a moment when I tried to make sense of it. Even a brief glance at any USM freshman’s day planner will reveal how much work there is to do — add a work-study or another job or two (some of my friends have three), plus homework, extra reading and research, community action, sports, clubs, hobbies, friends and family, and you begin to wonder where anyone could misconstrue college as easy. As the father of a third-grade student in the Windham Primary School, I assure you the amount of material he brings home is equally mind-boggling.

I wondered how much time does it take to develop the real skill that one panelist, former Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, says kids need today? Researchers say that by age 20, if you are among the best, you will have put over 10,000 hours  into a skill. It makes our original question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, all the more vital. That’s a huge commitment, and only the most talented or interested would stomach such a lengthy persistence. But that answer, as simple and straightforward as it is, obscures a vital point: It presumes each individual who had the desire also had the access and means to fulfill that desire. Many of us at USM, myself included, weren’t able to commence or continue our pursuits when we really wanted to, simply through unfortunate circumstance we couldn’t control.

Considering the difficulties life can throw an undergrad over the course of four or more years, it’s no surprise students and their parents are outraged at the closing of entire humanities programs, like at SUNY Albany. What are the kids supposed to do who are 7,000 hours along in their pursuit? What should that dedicated, proficient and talented anthropology major make of the Governor of Florida’s comments that more anthropologists aren’t needed there? Anthropology professionals are speaking out about the perceived slight and rightfully so.

But the question I was left really wondering was even if all of us were the superstar achievers of Rhee’s dreams, for whom and to what purpose are they suggesting these elite skills be put to use? The answer to that question came in the final moments when John Bogle, founder of the world’s largest mutual fund group Vanguard, had this to say: “One thing that gives me hope is the incredibly wonderful quality of this next generation. They are brilliant. They seem to be willing to put the interest of the community before their personal interest. In my generation, we’ve messed things up. And we have this new generation coming along and I’m absolutely confident that they’re good enough to fix it.”

A cynic might take that statement a bit differently than what John seems to be saying. Yes, the new generation may indeed be “willing” to fix it. When trans-generational economic tyranny forces several generations to engage in wholesale clean-up efforts as if they were “Adopting-A-Highway” while wearing orange jumpsuits, I’d say we are way past volunteerism. Bogle’s lack of faith in the leadership of his own generation speaks volumes. Perhaps, Bogle and friends should take a lesson Windham Primary School taught my son: Clean up your own mess.

I’m highlighting Bogle here, but CBS Evening News is responsible for the piece. Though it is an example of parent/child role-reversal (it opened with kids working harder and closed with kids cleaning up the mess made by adults) that is not the only issue. Crafting a message of servitude within historic Independence Hall presents a situational irony impossible to miss. The real loss is that CBS did not release the full transcript of the panel. The interplay between the panelists, who had significantly different backgrounds and experiences, may have helped bring out important issues or suggestions. Because it was so heavily edited, I found the panel reduced to sound-bites and caricature. The result speaks for itself: cheerleading for the younger generations to sprint on the broken hamster wheel of the status quo.

It was significant to me that this piece aired on Nov. 8, which was my son’s ninth birthday.  As I tucked him in with his stuffed animal Mimo the lamb and his favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, The Ugly Truth, I realized that contrary to the crafted corporate message of CBS, there is only one fitting answer I could give him: “What should you be when you grow up? Anything you want, son, anything you want.” That evening, I had saved the best present for last.

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