As I was downloading oldies onto my computer the other day, I found a classic hit from the 1950’s: “Yakety-Yak” by the Coasters. Back in the 50’s, every kid in America—white, black, Hispanic, or Asian; native or naturalized—identified with that song.
Several assumptions undergirded the lyrics: Mothers and fathers rear children together; they are on the same page. (“Your father’s hip,” Mother says, “he knows what cooks!”) Father has the last word; he does not suffer noncompliance lightly. (“Don’t talk back.”) Children properly have chores. (“If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor / you ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.”) And disrespect—even under the cover of a “dirty look”—is intolerable. Behavior has consequences. Finally, the peer group is not the boss; adults rule.
In the 1950’s, these principles were at the core of what we understood as “the backbone of society.” Not anymore.
Listening to today’s campaign rhetoric, I am reminded of that ritual of Baby Boomer pseudo-adulthood: student government. My mother, now 84, tells me that student government was not so prevalent in public schools of the pre-war era. Pupils ran for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Homecoming Queen”—all...