Nothing New

April 13, 1986

It may surprise Philip Tiso (Attack on Apathy, April 6) and his classmates to learn that 20 years ago the term "apathy" was one of the most frequently used insults at local high schools.

But I don't believe anyone who cared to think about it then believed we had any constitutional rights. We could be denied the right to attend school for any one of a number of petty infractions involving dress code and behavior. We did not have the vote, yet we could be drafted to fight the war in Vietnam.

There was one student, however, who launched his own attack on apathy. He and a co-conspirator exchanged bogus daily news sheets for the originals. The humor was outrageous, parodying the teachers who read them aloud in front of their classes. The authors received good reviews from those they had "pranked."

Then they were suspended for two weeks. The humorless old prunes who ran the school didn't know any other way to respond than with power. That is what I'm afraid Philip and his friends are doing.

They are playing the game, using the Constitution to prove their right to exist. It makes me think of Ken Kesey and his "merry pranksters," non-leaders and Day-Glo crazies, getting "on the bus," going "beyond catastrophe."

America is sadly not any different for all the activists who stormed through the '60s ready to change it all. We are looking at another war in Central America, the arms race spirals and our civil liberties continue to erode. Flexing muscle is always just that.

The system is there for us to use, but clearly it can only prevent injustice when and if injustice is identified. The more trouble we become awash in, the less able the system is to protect us. And while the ACLU may prevent our suffering, it can never ensure our happiness.

For that, Philip and his classmates may have to consider what getting "on the bus" really means. They have to pay attention to the lessons so painfully learned a short 20 years ago. They should not be fooled by the cult of self-indulgent Yuppie consumerism or the charm of hardball politics.

America is only as great as its people. The Constitution reflects this.



Los Angeles Times Articles