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'Good Morning, Teacher' Is Ancient History : Education: A returning teacher finds hard work and taking responsibility things of the past--and not just for kids.

April 18, 1993|CONNIE SHEPARD | Connie Shepard teaches U.S . history and government at a private school in Orange County. and

As I trembled inside, I tried to keep my outward composure, while the faces of the rest of the class were glued on me and my attacker. "Shut the f--- up, you bitch." With my assailant's acute message echoing with roaring clarity in my quite confused ears, it was time for a reality check. This was a school? I was the teacher? This 6-foot, freckled-faced, red-haired, not-quite-old-enough-to-grow-a-beard, 16-year-old boy confronting me--was this my student?

Where was I when the classroom made the giant leap from "Good morning, Miss Landers" to "Don't mess with me, bitch"? I'm sure that had I been teaching for the last 20 years, I'd be used to this sort of verbal attack. It might even sound to me like "Good morning, Miss Landers." I'd also have learned that homework is obsolete, tardiness is the rule, not the exception, and if I have any desire at all of surviving until lunch, discipline is my first priority.

Having been "lost in time" for nearly a school year now, I'm not questioning the students' behavior as much as I am the passive acceptance of it by staff, administration and parents. Each of these groups seems to be pointing fingers at one another with no one accepting even a modicum of responsibility. And of course we don't expect the student to accept any responsibility for his actions, because after all, he's merely the victim of some sort of abuse. (Check the Oprah listing for the abuse of the week.)

If indeed there is no end to the "buck doesn't stop here" continuum, and we are to listen to all those involved cite endless accusations rather than solutions, I may as well stay home Monday and catch up on my yard work. The "hard-work" ethic that founded this country, helped it grow and until recently kept it strong, is all but dead. The idea that "you do the best you can with what you're given" will end up only in history books alongside other ancient American lore such as "anything is possible if you work hard enough." For it now seems that almost everyone has an excuse for why he or she should not be expected to work hard, contribute, take responsibility and follow the rules.

If this country is to survive with any semblance of order, someone needs to blow the whistle on this self-indulgent, whining trend. Because beyond being just plain annoying, the bellyaching of this present-day introspective generation is powerfully destructive to the essence of what is America.

As we calmly sit by "listening" to our children, trying to "relate" to their problems, allowing them "space" to find themselves, attempting to "reason" with their every argument, we are not teaching them that sometimes life is hard, that it's all right and even normal to be depressed from time to time, and that there is something intrinsically rewarding in hard work and sacrifice.

Instead, we scratch our heads in disbelief at a generation given everything, but who understands nothing. A generation that we expect to run the future government but who can't get to class on time. A generation we expect to manage future industry but who can't read, let alone fill out a job application. A generation we expect to carry on our American tradition but who has no idea what that tradition is, and if asked to defend it would find it just too much work.

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