THIRTY YEARS ago, although it was already showing its first cracks, one of the dominant social themes of the nation was the stability and growth of the American family. In 1987, not only the status but the role of the family in society has eroded significantly. This has affected today's student.
Loss of family time. Students today miss and would like more time with their families. In a national survey conducted last year, 76 percent said they wanted more time spent in activities with the family. With a weakened familial bond, students are more open and more vulnerable to the formative influences of the other adults -- such as teachers.
Increased stress. Since 1950, the annual suicide rate among Americans between the ages of 15 and 19 has tripled. The New York Times reported last year that "statistics on teenage suicide since World War II, during years of unprecedented prosperity, suggest that adolescents find growing up more trying than ever." The report continued, "The skirmishes of adolescence were once fought within the family. But for many teenagers a traditional family structure no longer exists." So-called "adult" anxieties take hold at an ever-younger age and at a point when teenagers have not had the time and experience to develop adequate coping mechanisms. In this context, the subtle structure and overt discipline offered by a teacher become more attractive and comforting.
Loss of childhood experiences. It takes only a brief review of recent advertisements -- such as those for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren or Guess? -- to see that traditional notions of childhood are under seige. All three campaigns depict children in small versions of adult fashions, usually caught in poses of behavior which mimic adult wants and wishes. Childhood is supplanted by an emphasis on "youth" which merchandizers know can be appropriated equally by children, adolescents and adults. An indicative slogan, seen recently in the window of an expensive clothing store: "The 'bold' look turns men into boys and boys into men."