I recently debated an individual half my age. Our topic was “American Culture Then and Now—Better or Worse?” I was at a bit of a disadvantage in the debate. If I took a strong stand that American culture has declined over the years—which I believe it has in several important ways—there was the risk of my being viewed as nothing more than a bitter old man longing for the good old days. Consequently, rather than play my rhetorical cards face up I decided to simply paint a picture of how things were in my youth and let the audience draw their own conclusions.
Socio-cultural changes occur so gradually that many fail to realize they are even happening. This is the phenomenon known as boiling-the-frog. It is only by making then-versus-now comparisons that we can come to appreciate just how much American culture has changed over the years. For example, when I was a child divorce was practically unheard of. When my parents divorced in 1959, I became an outcast among my friends whose parents no longer allowed their children play with me. It was as if I had contracted a contagious disease. Today, divorce is so common—as are parents who live together without the benefit of marriage—that it would be hard for kids to find more than a handful of friends whose parents are married.
Public schools used to operate hand-in-hand with parents and families. The values taught at home were reinforced at school. Teachers did not think they had the right to overrule or undermine parents. Students were responsible for their schoolwork and behavior and were held accountable for both. In disagreements between school officials and students, parents invariably sided with the school. My sixth-grade teacher was frail and elderly, but my classmates and I would not have dared defy her authority. She had the backing of the school, our parents, and the community. She knew this, and we did too.
I attended public elementary schools for grades one through six and cannot remember a school day that did not begin with a Bible reading, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Christianity and patriotism were the norm. In high school I played football. Before taking the field, we knelt in the locker room and listened in reverent silence as our coach prayed for us. Then, before the opening kickoff a local minister would pray over the stadium’s public address system. All of the spectators in the stands stood and bowed their heads. Today you would have to look hard to find a public school willing to defy the ACLU and allow, much less require, Bible reading and prayer before class.
Neighborhoods were much different when I was growing up. We did not lock our doors, other parents in the neighborhood felt comfortable correcting our bad behavior, and we could play outside unsupervised all day with no fear of pedophiles, drug pushers, or child abusers. In fact, during the summer months our parents expected us to “go outside and play” after breakfast and not return until lunch. The routine was repeated after lunch. We could range far and wide in our neighborhood with no thought of danger, all the while knowing that if we stepped out of line an adult would be on the telephone to our parents within minutes.
Today adults are actually afraid to confront miscreant youth because if they are not attacked by the youth themselves, they will probably be sued by their helicopter parents. Not only do families lock their doors these days, many have installed expensive security systems, and with good reason. Home intrusions and break-ins have become common crimes in most communities, especially upper-middle class and wealthy neighborhoods where predatory youth use burglary to finance their drug habits. Telling your children to go out and play and be back by supper is unheard of these days.
In his book, Enough is Enough, Rick Scarborough asks a pertinent question about the past versus the current culture in America: “How could we go from a society where divorce was almost nonexistent, the church was the center of the community, the school’s greatest discipline problems were talking and chewing gum…?” The answer to Scarborough’s question is found in the creeping secularization of American society. As a country, we have turned from Christianity to secular humanism and given up Biblical values for moral relativism. By the way, I won the debate.