When Dorothy was told to “follow the yellow brick road” it was a very intentional set of instructions. Sure it was also a good excuse for another goofy song sung by the munchkins, but it was told to her in order to get her to the wizard. It was also to keep her safe from the dangers of the woods – “lions & tigers & bears - oh my!” That yellow brick road was there to guide her and get her where she needed to be, and to keep her away from the places she shouldn’t be. The yellow brick road that L. Frank Baum prescribed to Dorothy was his metaphor for Dorothy’s instructions for life. It was her second chance, because before she flew over that rainbow she hadn’t done a very good job of staying on the road prescribed by her Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. Remember before the tornado came Dorothy was stealing away with Toto trying to avoid Mrs. Gulch and her vengeful intent on Toto.
What does this have to do with anything? Believe it or not – a lot. That yellow brick road was the path laid out for Dorothy. If she stayed on it and didn’t get distracted by, or veer off into, the woods and the poppy fields then she would make it to the Emerald City. But if she strayed from the path then she would end up in dangerous places where bad things could happen. The road itself was important but even more important was the fact that there was someone there to tell her about the road. In the midst of the singing and the witches and the dancing munchkins was the metaphor of rules and safety and life and, most importantly, a guiding hand. Glenda the Good was the guiding hand who instructed Dorothy about the road and told her what it would bring and even watched over her to make sure she was ok.
The road and Glenda and the munchkins are analogous to parents and school and peers... and life.
The story of Dorothy was that she was lost and someone guided her to safety. She faced dangers and obstacles, but someone was there to make sure she was ok. She found problems and she solved problems because there were people (sort of) helping and guiding her. And at the end of the day, she found out she had it in her all along to be ok but she never would have believed in herself if she hadn’t taken that trip and followed that road. She just needed someone to put her on that road and watch her along the way and let her face the obstacles and overcome them. She needed someone to help her up when she fell and to encourage her when she was lost. She needed the road and she needed the guiding hand.
Kids today also need that road. Making it to adulthood is not a straight path.
There are twists and turns. There are the side roads of distraction and the dark paths of peer pressure. There are the jungles of temptations and the forests of self-doubt. Dorothy was on a yellow brick road because who can lose sight of a “yellow brick road”? It kinda stands out. There is nothing nuanced about a yellow brick road weaving and winding its way through the forest. Just like there should be nothing nuanced about the path a good parent lays out for their children.
“The Wizard of Oz” has stood the test of time, but not because of the great acting or wonderful singing or unique story telling. It has stood the test of time because every kid who watches it has felt themselves on that road. They will never strike up a conversation with a scarecrow but they have been at that fork in the road needing someone to tell them where to go next. They will never face down a lion but they will have a cowardly bully make them feel bad about themselves and question whether or not they can take a stand. And they will never have to grease a talking tin-man but they will have friends who require constant maintenance and maybe even a little too much of their time and attention and maybe even pull them away from what they know is right. Every kid trying to figure out who he or she is and what they are going to become has felt themselves on that road looking for home.
The good news for a lot of kids is that they have a mom and a dad guiding them and lighting that road. It might not be yellow brick but it is there. There are rules and rewards, there is encouragement and discipline. There are goals and opportunities. Most of all, there is a hand that helps them up when they fall while still pushing them to try. Lots of kids grow up with someone looking over their trip to make sure they struggle enough to learn but not so much that they get lost or lose hope.
But there are also those kids that have no one to lay out that road for them.
There are kids who will face the bully alone. They will be told the wrong direction with no one there to correct their path. And they will have others taking advantage of them because their self-worth is not fully validated by a safe and loving home. Lots of kids are desperately trying to find that road, but they don’t have the guides to put them on it nor the guardians to make sure they stay on the right path.
So what happens when a kid doesn’t have a mom and/or a dad to show them the right road? What happens when there isn’t someone there to help them grow and mature and become who they should be? The amazing thing about kids is that they don’t stand still. They aren’t going to stand and wait for someone to show up and lead them. They are going to forge ahead. And kids who don’t have that guiding hand will take whatever hand is sticking out there and follow that hand to its destination.
Have you ever looked closely at today’s youth and thought, “Why in the world are you dressed like that?” For the life of me I cannot understand why any boy would want his britches hanging halfway down his rear. I watch these boys and watch them having to stop every third step and adjust their pants so they don’t fall all the way off. Why in the world would a girl have piercings in her nose and lip? That just looks painful. But these are simple things. These are signs that these kids are following pop-cultural examples and these either fall within the acceptable boundaries within their homes or maybe there just flat out aren’t any boundaries.
But these are simple examples. Gravity defying pants and piercings, while not exactly attractive, aren’t earth shattering. What about kids and drugs? What about kids sniffing glue or huffing paint? What about kids having sex? What about kids bulling someone who is weaker or different? What about boys that have to prove their manhood by physically intimidating smaller boys and even girls? What about girls who feel they need to use their bodies as a means of finding acceptance? What about language that is perverse and profane and bigoted? What about manners? What happened to boys holding the door for girls and saying thank you and yes ma’am and no sir? What happens when there is no one at home putting the kids on the right road and then helping them along the way?
Pop-culture is omnipresent. It is pervasive because it is so accessible.
Phones and tablets, computers, televisions and now even watches bring our pop-culture straight to all of our kids. Continuing with the “Wizard of Oz” analogy, the Biebers and Kardashians and Mileys of the world are the flying monkeys of our kids' lives. They are the ones trying to drag our kids into their worlds because it is profitable for them. Think about it. Justin Bieber is not someone any kid should emulate. Between urinating in the janitor’s mop buck to driving under the influence to petulantly speeding through a family neighborhood and reveling in profanity– he just isn’t someone any kid should aspire to be like. Kim Kardashian became famous because she had sex and video taped it. She has maintained her fame by vapidly creating this shallow image of sexuality and glamour as the purpose of life. Miley Cyrus has gone from the girl next door to the tramp out back. She has decided that the best way to shed her innocent childhood stardom is to repurpose herself as a full blown hussy.
So why are Bieber and Kardashian and Cyrus any more important than the lion and tin-man and scarecrow? To those kids with good homes they aren’t. Remember, the flying monkeys came after Dorothy, but she was protected. But what about those kids who aren’t walking the right road because no one at home has shown it to them? What about those kids who don’t have someone watching over them and letting them stumble but making sure they get back up? What happens when socially acceptable behavior is not defined and practiced at home? Kids don’t stand still; they look for someone to learn from. What happens when the Biebers and Kardashians and Cyrus’s and Rice’s are our kids teachers for acceptable social behavior? Ludicrous you say? Not to a kid who really wants to fit in and wants to be accepted and wants to feel self-worth and security-- and is searching for someone to show him how. To that kid, these pop-culture goofballs are the social gods they aspire to emulate.
Kids learn every day. They take everything in. A little pop-culture influence is inevitable. My son has a mop-top hairdo complete with bangs that do the “flip” when he turns his head just right. For some reason, the girls love it. I don’t understand it, but it has been a long time since I was trying to catch the eye of a 14 year old girl. A little pop-culture is inevitable, and there will always be a give and take with kids and good parents. The music stinks, but as long as it is clean it is okay. The video games are loud and obnoxious but as long as they aren’t profane and gratuitous it is okay. The clothing style looks like they are aiming for a job washing dishes but as long as it is appropriately modest, I will live.
But when someone at home isn’t the push to pop-culture's pull, those extremes of pop-culture, those vapid “look-at-me” celebrities and pseudo-celebrities, are going to wield undue influence on our kids. The danger with that is that these celebrities are playing a role. They are creating fame by playing personas on the fringe. The fringe of acceptability gets noticed and the acts that exceed the boundaries of acceptability really get noticed. But these people are playing those roles. I know that and you know that. We have time and life-experience that has taught us that life really doesn’t exist within a champagne and caviar no consequences world. But our kids don’t know that. They don’t have the life experiences to balance out the fantasy of pop-culture with the reality of life. And the fantasy that sells is the sensationalized behavior that marginalizes decency. “Look-at-me” celebrities are screaming look at me and that is a message a lot of kids relate to. They want to be noticed and wanted as well.
Be aware of what your kids are seeing and hearing and emulating. Be aware of what your kid’s friends are consuming through social and general media. Be aware that there are a lot of people out there that only want to exploit your kids for their personal gain. But also be aware that there are a lot of kids who don’t have you to watch over them.
I had a lady respond to a blog post lately and say that moral stances should happen at home, not in the school. Hallelujah! I agree with the first part that says they should happen at home. I will even agree to the second part that says they shouldn’t happen at school if she or anyone else can guarantee me that all the kids in my kids’ classes and in all the schools across this country are getting these good strong moral virtues at home. No? Can’t make that promise? Then guess what? Teachers, you’re up. You get to be the point of social reference that pushes and pulls against the tide of pop-culture. You get to be the one that enforce a dress code, not because you are a spinster but because there really is real value in modesty and decency. You get to be the one that polices language and manners and accountability. You get to be the social guardian of your classroom because if you don’t, the Biebers & Kardashians & Mileys will take over the way your students are behaving and… oh my!