Joetopia

While adults act crude and immature, kids stand tall

Joe Bokun of Churchville, Pa., left, screams at reporters Friday during remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Newtown, Pa.
Joe Bokun of Churchville, Pa., left, screams at reporters Friday during remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Newtown, Pa. AP

As discouraging as this election has been, I keep seeing reason for hope in an unexpected place, given the particular subject: young people.

At a time when adults are acting in immature, embarrassing ways, many kids are proving that, despite their age and inexperience, they can recognize right and wrong and are willing to take a stand.

It’s easy to think the members of this generation are obsessed with their devices, entranced by the trivial, and uninterested in anything outside a 3-foot personal radius, but that’s just not the case.

Take The New York Times story on Wednesday’s front page, which chronicled the efforts of a Wisconsin middle school teacher who is trying to develop his seventh-grade students into future involved citizens by educating them about democracy amid the din of a campaign whose news flashes, debate topics and T-shirt slogans oftentimes wouldn’t clear the parental filters on your TV.

When you have 12-year-olds who can analyze the campaign behavior they see before them and make connections to pop culture touchstones like “The Hunger Games,” you’re making solid progress in building analytical skills that cross disciplines and ages.

At the same time, you can put an actual face on those damaged by the disparaging rhetoric of Donald Trump and force it to stand on its own away from the hue and cry of his overheated hordes. It may not be so easy for kids to say “build a wall” when they share their classrooms with Mexican-Americans every day.

To be honest, that kind of small, personal community is a far better place to confront these offensive ideas than the echo chamber of a lily-white Trump rally.

And that story isn’t the only place I’m seeing this response.

Mr. Big Eighth-Grader has been updating me for the last 12 months on the evolving opinions of his classmates.

One interesting trend is how open this generation is to issues of equality.

LGBTQ rights are a particularly en-vogue topic at the moment, and more and more kids who previously may have hewed to tradition and parental influences are shifting their opinions as they grow up with friends who are publicly coping with these very personal questions.

As a result, we have pre-teens addressing issues surrounding their sexuality in ways and numbers we haven’t really seen before — unafraid to come out as gay or transgender in perhaps the single-most tumultuous period of their lives.

Would you want to navigate middle school, enter puberty and address your sexual orientation all at once? I applaud their courage and hope they are getting the kind of proper support they deserve.

For his part, the 13-year-old continues to be mature beyond his years.

Just this week, he was evaluating the intentions of a friend who has eyes for one of his own personal longtime crushes.

He wanted to ensure those intentions were honorable and see whether the two might share compatible views.

So, of course, he asked the boy who he was supporting for president.

Trump, came the answer.

Strike one.

Then, the kid asked what he could do to “earn” this girl, to which Mr. Big Eighth-Grader replied: “She is not a prize. She is a person and my friend, so be nice.”

Strike two.

Then he asked the prospective suitor about his opinion on gay marriage.

A pause. He said he had to think about it.

Wrong answer. Strike three. You’re out.

At that point, the 13-year-old said he couldn’t offer any more guidance, as this particular match didn’t feel right.

Good for him.

If you have any fears about our future or the integrity of this next generation, set them aside.

They are hard at work already, out there on the front lines of adolescence, making the world a better place for all of us.

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