Generations at the Age of Twelve

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
~ Stand by Me, movie based on Stephen King’s novella The Body

Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.
~ J.M. Barrie, Margaret Ogilvy

Twelve is the magical dividing line, we all know that. I don’t care what grown-ups say, but that’s when your childhood comes to an end.
~ Peter Pohl, Johnny, My Friend

“Well,” you will tell yourself, “it lasted until he was twelve; they grow up and resent our care for them, they form their own ideas, and think ours old-fashioned. It is natural. But oh, to have that little boy again, whom I used to throw up to the sky, his face laughing down into mine.”
~ A.A. Milne, Its Too Late Now

Let me continue with my thoughts about generational change and conflict which was itself a continuation of my thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. This is one of those topics that gets caught in my craw.

I had two basic thoughts in response to what I’ve already written.

First, I was considering what it is that forms a generation’s worldview. It is a confluence of events. There are cycles that seem to endlessly repeat (or, if not precise cycles, history does rhyme to an impressive degree). Still, no generation is ever the same as what came before. There is a unique moment in time, an era of childhood, a beginning point that forever shapes the collective mindset of an entire cohort (at least within a single country and, increasingly so, within the larger world during this new era of globalized mass media).

Second, I was considering the present older generation and why it is so easy to see them as stalling progress. The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between a stalemate and outright dysfunction. As a society, we can’t seem to resolve the simplest of issues, much less move forward in a productive fashion. This becomes increasingly relevant as my generation and the next takes on the reigns of power.

The first thought leads into the second.

So, about the first thought.

As I explained with the KKK post, it isn’t as if the members of the KKK (the ‘Klansmen’) were evil incarnate. Most of them were normal people doing normal things. The Second KKK in the 1920s was mostly a civic organization. Yes, it was a racist civic organization, but so were many others. Back then, especially among older whites, you would have been outside the norm to not have been racist.

Klansmen probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as racists. Most people don’t define themselves in terms of negatives. Racism was just the cultural background they were born into. It was the world of their childhood.

Childhood is that time of key formative experiences. It creates what we consider normal and acceptable. It is what we look back upon often with fondness and sometimes with righteousness. Even if our childhoods were bad, it is easy for people to not understand why younger generations should have easier childhoods that will make them soft and weak. Whatever the case, we don’t tend to be very objective and neutral about our childhoods.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

“a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury’s childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. [ . . . ] The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.”

Bradbury would only have been 8 years old in 1928, but the fictionalized boy was 12. That is a mythical number of a complete cycle such as 12 months (hence, 12 disciples of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas, and such). In the child’s world, life revolves around summer. The end of summer in the novel is symbolic of the end of childhood with the last moment of childhood at age twelve. That last moment of childhood is the end of one period of life and the beginning of another, the ending of elementary school and the halfway point of primary education, an approximate halfway point on the way to full adulthood (the brain stops developing around the mid-to-late twenties).

Many stories focus on this magical time of life, this point of transition. Stand by Me begins with the voiceover, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” In another story by Stephen King, It, the group of kids are all between 11 and 12 years old. Like Dandelion Wine, these are stories about the ending of childhood and the emergence of adult awareness which is most poignantly made known through death. The movie 12 and Holding is yet another story about the dual themes of age 12 and death. Then there are television shows like The Wonder Years that begins with the protagonist at age 12 and follows him over the years.

The examples are near endless.

Maybe one can tell a lot about an individual or a generation in considering what the world was like when they were twelve.

For example, Reagan was twelve in 1923. That is that same quiet period as the setting of Dandelion Wine. It was the early 1920s, a carefree time following the end of WWI and before the beginning of the Great Depression at the end of that decade. I’m sure Bradbury used 1928 as signifying that innocent moment prior to 1929. The whole country was innocent. WWI would have seemed like an anomaly and anyway it was a war far away that never had much directly to do with the United States, especially for a child who would have had no memory of it at all (although there were many traumatized, alcoholic, drug-addicted, and homeless veterans that mainstream society was trying to forget and pretend didn’t exist). WWII and the Cold War were a long way off in the future.

Both Reagan and Bradbury remember childhoods during the 1920s in small towns in Illinois. Reagan considered that to be a formative period of his life. His home at age twelve supposedly is the only house he mentions in any of his books. The 1920s was a time of peace and optimism. Magnified by the memories of a pleasant childhood, Reagan carried that sensibility into his adulthood. And it was that sunny optimism that made him so popular.

Reagan spent his childhood going to school. Many of the Lost Generation, instead of schooling, spent their childhoods working whatever jobs they could find. Unlike Reagan and his cohort, the Lost Generation had less of a childhood to reminisce about. Spending age twelve in a factory or a mine would give you a different worldview for the rest of your life. The Lost Generation was unique in this way. Even the generation before them didn’t have this experience for, in their childhoods, they didn’t know mass urbanization and mass industrialization. So, neither the generation before nor the generation following could understand what the Lost Generation had lived.

Similarly, although to less extremes, Generation X had a relatively difficult childhood and young adulthood.

At age 12, the Cold War was still going on and the oppressive Cold War culture (e.g., comic book codes). As I’ve often pointed out, GenXers childhood was unique in many ways. We were the most aborted generation ever and so a small generation between two large generations. In childhood going on into young adulthood, my generation experienced high rates of poverty, child abuse, homicide, suicide and unemployment (comparable to the Great Depression). When we were young, society stopped being oriented toward and accommodating of children. Restaurants became less welcoming of young families and less tolerant of the antics of children. Very little entertainment was made for kids and plenty of entertainment was made about evil and possessed children, rebellious and violent teens, and nihilistic and self-destructive young adults.

When most Americans were experiencing economic good times, there were two specific demographics that were hit hard in the last decades of the 20th century: GenXers and blacks. Both demographics experienced high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. If you were a GenX black, it would have felt like the whole world was against you for everyone would have seen you as nothing but a gangsta and a drug dealer or else a welfare queen, while your prospects were next to nil. Young blacks were the ultimate scapegoat of our society.

At age 12, GenXers saw a cynical age of greed, oppression and ignorance that followed in the wake of calamatous ’60s and ’70s: Vietnam War, protests, etc; not to mention the ongoing militarized war on drugs, rising mass incarceration, and the new zero-tolerance policies that created the school-to-prison pipeline. That is what many in my generation came to expect as normal, just the way the world is. As a small generation, it didn’t feel like there was much we could do about it. Many of my generation embraced this worldview and so we became the generation with the highest support of Reagan.

Cynical realpolitik and Wall Street greed seemed to be the name of the game and so many of us played it, even if few of us ended up among the winners. We put a very different spin on Reagan’s optimism, though, for we were better able to see through bullshit. Optimism simply meant survival of the fittest and fuck the downtrodden. A not very nice ideal, but nice ideals were for wimpy flower children of the ’60s. That is what we learned from Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

That is the sad result of my generation. We played the game that was presented to us, but not all of us wanted to play that game. The only other choice was to drop out entirely or at least psychologically, the reason why we came to be thought of as a second Lost Generation. The advantage my generation has had is that many of us always knew it was bullshit. We never swallowed the lies to as great an extent as the older generation. Reagan actually believed what he said, an actor who became the role he played: first a cowboy, then a corporate spokesperson, and then a politician. His optimism was self-delusion. My generation at least had the sense to realize that there were alternative viewpoints.

Still, it will require a more demanding vision of the generation following mine to have a chance in hell of challenging the 20th century status quo that now bleeds into this new century.  GenXers are too mired in the Boomer worldview that has dominated our entire lives, especially for older GenXers. We are more a generation of doomsaying prophets than inspiring visionaries. The main thing my generation can do is to starkly portray and grimly explain the reasons we got here. I’m part of a generation of clowns for only clowns can speak the truth, not that speaking the truth is a requirement of being a clown.

In my second to last post (of which this post is a continuation), I somewhat simplistically implied that it was Boomers were mucking up the work. To be fair, as explained above, older GenXers are also to blame. Some would even see older GenXers as part of the older generation now ruling politics, rather than as being of the same generation as younger GenXers:

“If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early 40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.”

That fits some of my experience. All of history is continuous. Disruptions are perceived which depends on the experience of those perceiving. If generations exist, it is because they share a common perception of historical events. Simply sharing the same historical period would not be enough.

However you dice the generations, the older demographic dominating politics has been creating dysfunction. I think we can all agree on that much.

So, why are the older folk mucking up the works?

It’s not just that there was a baby boom. No doubt we are experiencing the slow digestion of the elephant in the python, but there is more to it. An elephant, of course, is a difficult thing for a python to digest. More importantly, why does the elephant keep struggling so much in the process? The elephant in question obviously doesn’t want to be digested and is far from giving up the ghost.

This older generation isn’t simply in the way of progress. More specifically, this older generation is resisting progress and reacting to it, fighting it tooth and nail. They’d rather shut down the government than have an honest discussion about our collective problems. It isn’t even as if they are genuinely against government as government grew bigger under their watch than ever before.

There is a lot going on with that generation. They were a more monocultural and whiter demographic. As I’ve pointed out before, they were born at the lowest point of immigration in the 20th century and I’m not sure when it had last been that low. The conflict they grew up with wasn’t between natives and immigrants but between American whites and American blacks, especially between whites from the Northern states and blacks from the Southern states. Still, even between whites and blacks, there was a sense that the country was progressing to some extent, even though less quickly for blacks.

This generation couldn’t understand what followed nor sympathize with those who were negatively impacted. This is why many older blacks also came to support tough on crime laws and the War on Drugs, despite the fact that blacks were being harmed by it and black communities were being destroyed because of it. These older people remembered a world that no longer was and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t remain that way. They had to blame someone. The young were one useful target, young blacks being one of the best targets of all. This is why someone like Bill Cosby can say idiotic things about poor black people and be taken seriously.

It’s also a class thing. The economic divide didn’t just grow between whites and blacks. It also grew within the races. The middle and upper class blacks found themselves disconnected from the experience of most blacks. You would think not being accepted into mainstream white society would make older and well off blacks sympathetic to the plight of young blacks struggling in poverty, but apparently that often isn’t the case. The power of a generational worldview can be even greater than the solidarity of race, especially for blacks who never were the exemplaries of cultural solidarity as were the Germans, Irish and Italians.

The younger generation in general and minorities in particular, who have been hit hardest by mass incarceration, don’t receive much sympathy. Their lives have been destroyed. In response, their families and communities offer them nothing but shame. The Civil Rights movement was never good about helping the worst off among blacks.

As mass incarceration continues, a new generation is growing up either incarcerated or with the fear of incarceration. Even if not incarceration, society is offering them little to hope for. GenXers were at that magical age of twelve when all this began. Millennials at age twelve saw it continuing. Now a new generation will be coming to that age in a few years and likely it isn’t going to end anytime soon. The event of 9/11 was simply used as justification for more of the same and worse still. We will have several generations who knew nothing but a police state ever increasing in its oppression.

When will a new generation come along who will be able to fondly remember the age of 12 as a time of peace and optimism?

Dandelion Wine
by Ray Bradbury

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At nigh, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . .

“Boy, whispered Douglas.

A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted ice-house door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen. […]

Summer 1928 began.

Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison

Ruth felt a chill. She’d always believed that her father wanted to die. “I wish I could count on your faith as far as my son was concerned. But I think I’d be a really foolish woman if I did that. You saw your own father die, just like I did; you saw him killed. Do you think he wanted to die?”

“I swaw Papa shot. Blown off a fence five feet into the air. I saw him wiggling on the ground, but not only did I not see him die, I seen him since he was shot.”

“Pilate. You all buried him yourselves.” Ruth spoke as if she were talking to a child.

“Macon did.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“Macon seen him too. After he buried him, after he was blown off that fence. We both seen him. I see him still. He’s helpful to me, real helpful. Tells me things I need to know.”

“What things?”

“All kinds of things. It’s a good feelin to know he’s around. I telll you he’s a person I can always rely on. I tell yo somethin else. He’s the only one. I was cut off rom people early. You can’t know what that was like. After my papa was blown off that fence, me and Macon wandered around for a few days until we a fallin out and I went off on my own. I was about twelve, I think. When I cut out by myself, I headed for Virginia. I thought I remembered that was where my papa had people. Or my mother did. Seemed to me like I remembered somebody sayin that. I don’t remember my mother because she died before I was born.”

Before you were born? How could she . . . ?”

“She died and the next minute I was born. But she was dead by the time I drew air. I never saw her face. I don’t even know what her name was. But I do remember thinkin she come from Virginia. Anyways, that’s where I struck out for. I looked around for somebody to take me in, give me a little work for a while so I could earn some money to get on down there. I walked for seven days before I found a place with a preacher’s family. A nice place except they made me wear shoes. They sent me to school, though. A one-room place, where everybody sat. I was twelve, but since this was my first school I had to sit over there with the little bitty children. I didn’t mind it too much; matter of fact, I liked a lot of it. I loved the geography part. Learning about that made me want to read. And the teacher tickled at how much I liked geography. She let me have the book and I took it home with me to look at. But then the preacher started pattin on me. I was so dumb I didn’t know enough to stop him. But his wife caught him at it, thumbin my breasts, and put me out. I took my geography book off with me. I could of stayed in that town cause they was plenty of colored people to take me in. In them days, anybody too old to work kept the children. Grown folks worked and left their kids in other people’s houses. But him being the preacher and all like that, I figured I ought to make tracks. I was broke as a haint cause the place didn’t carry no wages. Just room and board. So I took my geography book and a rock I picked up for a souvenir and lit out. […]”

Pilate sucked a peach stone and her face was dark and still with the memory of how she was “cut off” so early from other people.

Becoming a Free Thinker and a Scientist
by Albert Einstein

When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.

As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came – though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents – to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment-an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.

It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the “merely personal,” from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.

Black Boy
by Richard Wright
(began writing at age 12)

At the age of twelve, before I had had one full year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.

At the age of twelve I had an attitude toward life that was to endure, that was to make me seek those areas of living that would keep it alive, that was to make me skeptical of everything while seeking everything, tolerant of all and yet critical. The spirit I had caught gave me insight into the suffering of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely tender and cruel, violent and peaceful.

It made me want to drive coldly to the heart of every question  and lay it open to the core of suffering I knew I would find there.  It made me love burrowing into psychology, into realistic and  naturalistic fiction and art, into those whirlpools of politics that  had the power to claim the whole of men’s souls. It directed my loyalties to the side of men in rebellion; it made me love talk  that sought answers to questions that could help nobody, that  could only keep alive in me that enthralling sense of wonder and  awe in the face of the drama of human feeling which is hidden by the external drama of life.

Dreams from My Father
by Barack Obama

When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose – the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa, it is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates, so that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge at least that much then the tragic cycle begins to break down…well, I suspect that I sound incurably naive, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns. Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.

The Magical Age of Twelve
by Lynley Stace

Read enough children’s books and you’ll realise something magical happens after age twelve. It’s even embedded in the English language, in which thirteen marks the beginning of the teen years. Twelve is the final age of innocence. In JudeoChristian terms, 12 is the final year in which you can get away with things. Next comes ‘the age of accountability’.

Twelve As The Age Of Initiation

Amazingly many children’s novels portray characters of eleven or twelve. I do not think this is a coincidence. This is the age of initiation in many archaic cultures, and although this connotation has been lost in Western society, some remnants may be left in the authors’ imagination. Children in The Giver are assigned their jobs, and therewith their place in society, at the age of twelve. Here is what another character says about this age: “Twelve is the magical dividing line, we all know that. I don’t care what grown-ups say, but that’s when your childhood comes to an end” (Johnny My Friend, 89). Formally, of course, after twelve you are a “teenager”, not a child.

— from The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva

Tally watched the last few uglies make their way inside, gawky and nervous, unkempt and uncoordinated. Twelve was definitely the turning point, when you changed from a cute littlie into an oversize, under-educated ugly.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (page 77)

Twelve As The Age Of In-between

Sometimes the protagonist starts off eleven then turns twelve. Sometimes the protagonist is twelve and turns thirteen.

Onkeli portrays a child of around 11 to 13 who is confused by many things. Researchers consider this age group to fall into an in-between area: there aren’t enough appealing activities on offer for kids of this age, who are treated as an awkward bunch both at home and at school.

– Kreetta Onkeli: Poika joka menetti muistinsa [The boy who lost his memory]

Twelve As The Age Of Fertility

It seems no accdident that the daughter figures in [feminist] nested narratives are girls who are either twelve years old or close to it. In The Mixed-Up Files, Claudia is one month shy of being twelve; Arilla turns twelve in the beginning of the framing tale of Arilla Sun Down. One of the stories that Georgina [of The Borning Room by Paul Fleischman] tells about herself occurs the summer she is twelve; it is the story of how she has learned form her grandfather’s stories that all living things are spiritual. That these girls learn about the power of narrativity while they are on the brink of physical fertility creates a textrual conjoining of artistry and maternity. As their bodies become capable of housing new life, their narratives become capable of housing new stories.

— Roberta Seelinger Trites, Waking Sleeping Beauty

What Do You Remember Best About Being 12?
by Katherine Schulten

This Is a 12-Year-Old Brain on Peer Pressure
by Corey Turner

If adolescence has a poster child, it’s a teenager. In a car. Smoking, drinking, and driving badly while also, somehow, having sex in the back seat. But changes in the brain that lead to the famously bad choices of adolescence don’t start at 16 or 17 years old. They start around 11 or 12, at the beginning of puberty.

This is the dirty little secret of adolescence: The cloudy judgment and risky behavior may not last a year or two. Try a decade.

Being 12: The Most Awkward, Essential Year of Our Lives
by Arun Venugopal

For a lot of American adults, age 12 is probably just one more moment in the extended blur that is adolescence, located smack dab in the middle of those forgettable middle school years.

We’re here to argue that 12 is in fact pretty special, especially if you’re a New Yorker. This is the moment when many students are commuting to school alone, navigating the city by themselves. At school, they’re juggling assignments and expectations, preparing for high school. Their minds are expanding dramatically, their bodies are beginning to morph. Social life is getting messy.

“It’s difficult because you’re learning all these responsibilities for the first time,” said Noah Shippey, a 12-year-old at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School. “And none of this has really happened before. Adults, they do that all the time and it’s easy because they’ve done it a lot. But we’re just starting.”

Middle School: A ‘Hot Mess’ of Distractions
by Beth Fertig

Seasoned middle school teachers and principals know what they’re up against. Their students are bombarded by physical and psychological changes. The same child can show up dedicated and hard-working one day, silly and difficult the next.

But if you grab their attention, educators told WNYC, there’s a chance to make a difference with long-term benefits.

“In the spectrum of adolescent development, 12 is really when you start to have the changeover,” said Derick Spaulding, the principal of Emolior Academy in the South Bronx. “They come in with a set of ideas, but a set of ideas that are amendable and moldable to a degree.”

Opinion: Seventh Grade Matters. A Lot.
by Carmen Farina

Walk into a middle school and it may feel like you’ve stepped into a foreign land, a world where young people are self-consumed, where a minor situation to an adult feels huge and devastating to a student trying to find her bearings at school and in the larger world.

Remember what it was like? Adapting to new ways of learning in subject-specific classrooms, feeling self-conscious about physical changes. Peers and friendships rose in importance. Parental relationships were tested.

It hasn’t changed much. As an educator and parent, I’ve come to see these years, in particular grade seven, as a watershed moment for youth development well deserving of our attention, best thinking and planning.

According to John Lounsbury, dean emeritus of the John H. Lounsbury School of Education at Georgia College and former editor of the Association for Middle Level Education, these are the most important years for the individual and, as an extension, for society.

“These are the years when youngsters crystallize their beliefs about themselves and firm up their self-concepts, their philosophies of life and their values – the things that are the ultimate determinants of behavior,” he wrote earlier this year.

Time to Ban Middle School?
by Anna north

The sheer unpleasantness of middle school has become something of a cliché; “middle school dance” now stands as a shorthand for any socially awkward experience. And yet, for many of us, middle school is terrible, a time when childhood is sort of over but even the mixed blessings of adolescence have yet to fully present themselves. Now experts are beginning to propose a solution to the problem of middle school: abolish it.

At Pacific Standard, Dana Goldstein argues that middle school students are not, in fact, so consumed with meanness and hormones that it is impossible to teach them anything:

“It isn’t that middle school kids are hopeless, just that middle schools are poorly designed to meet the needs of the students within them, a condition psychologists call a person-environment mismatch. The good news is that researchers already know what might work better.”

The Truth About Age Twelve
from Waldorf Publications

The age of twelve is remarkable. As childhood comes to its end, the twelve-year-old can feel accomplishment and mastery of many skills in jump rope, running, reading, arithmetic, high jumping, memorization, writing, logic, and reasoning. Just as the sense of mastery peaks, the child’s body begins to change. Though the first changes are invisible, the child feels them with a growing sense of alarm at what the changes might be.

For the following three to five years, the developing youth experiences the same rapid growth experienced by infants. Never again will the developing human being have to manage so much growth in a concentrated time. The child begins to experience expansion and hair growth in unusual places, changes in the voice and, most importantly, changes in thinking and reactions.

There is a dawning of the capacity of judgment in the child at age twelve. Suddenly the child can evaluate, contrast ideas and experiences, and think about things in a new and discerning ways. This new capacity needs exercise and children can be brilliant arguers at this age, It is difficult to win an argument with a twelve year old. Relentless energy and indefatigable focus are possible at this age as at no other.

The child has much to manage with all this growth. It is frightening to see the changes and wrangle with them. After experiencing the mastery of a few months before, the growing preteen often feels betrayed by the adults on which he or she has depended. They cannot believe that they are changing and so they think that their grown-ups must have changed and this can make them angry or mistrustful.

After all, a boy’s voice box grows up to seven times its original size and a girl’s three times its original size. This constitutes only one major change in a child’s development at age twelve. With this growth comes the power of procreation, the capacity to create new life. Though emotionally the proper use of this is not possible, the very presence of this ultimate potency to invent life brings to the young human being for the first time, and inevitably, dark thoughts of death.

The Planes of Development – Maria Montessori
from Ratner Montessori School

Dr. Montessori outlines four consecutive planes of development from birth to maturity; each plane spanning approximately six years. At each plane of development children and young people display intellectual powers, social orientations and creative potential unique to that stage. Each plane is characterized by the way children in that plane learn, building on the achievements of the plane before and preparing for the one to follow. The timing and nature of the transition between planes vary from individual to individual.

  • The second plane of development is the period from approximately six to twelve years. The developmental focus of this period is intellectual independence hand in hand with the development of ethics and social responsibility. During this stage, children become conceptual explorers. They use reasoning, abstract thought and imagination to explore and develop their understanding of the world.
  • The third plane of development is from the age of twelve to eighteen and young people become humanistic explorers seeking to understand their place in society and to contribute to society. They have a huge capacity for creative expression and their style of learning becomes more practical and experiential; an approach they use to explore previously introduced concepts in more depth and in real-life context.

Children in the Early 17th century: Child Care
from Plimoth Plantation

Child (6/7 to 12/14)

Age was viewed as multiples of six in the case of girls, and seven for boys. While there was no definitive break in a girl’s life at six, a boy was usually “breeched” about the age of seven. At this time he was no longer dressed in a child’s gown or skirts, but given small versions of adult male clothing. He was also likely to spend much less time at home with his mother, and more out with the men working. If a child did not go to school, s/he usually entered the work force by ten to twelve, although poor children might be placed in service at a younger age.

A girl was legally at the age of discretion at the age of twelve, and a boy at fourteen. They could wed at these ages, although that was very rare. A boy could inherit a copyhold lease at fourteen, as well. Twelve or thirteen had been the common age of confirmation in the Church of England until 1604, when reformers pushed the age to sixteen.

Youth (12/14 to 18/21)

Children in the early 17th century, if they weren’t in school, had commonly joined the work force by now. Some boys and more frequently, girls, would remain at home and work alongside their parents. For a boy who was to learn a craft, this would be the period in which he started his apprenticeship. […] For those not apprenticed, the majority would become servants.

As Jewish boys became men at age 12, Jesus became godman at that same age.

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

Luke 2:40-2:49 (see commentary on Luke 2:42)

Bar and Bat Mitzvah
from Jews For Jesus

The fact that the age of twelve is specifically noted may suggest that it was a transition age even in the first-century, though any evidence comes from the later period of the Talmud. At least, twelve could be considered an age when a young man evidenced wisdom and piety. Josephus (Antiquities X.4.1) says of King Amon:

And when he was twelve years old, he gave demonstrations of his religious and righteous behavior; for he brought the people to a sober way of living, and exhorted them to leave off the opinion they had of their idols, because they were not gods, but to worship their own God. And by repeating on the actions of his progenitors, he prudently corrected what they did wrong, like a very elderly man, and like one abundantly able to understand what was fit to be done …

Josephus likewise speaks of Samuel (Antiquities V.10.4):

Now when Samuel was twelve years old, he began to prophesy: and once when he was asleep, God called to him by his name; …

Luke may then be pointing to Jesus’ wisdom and special relationship to God by mentioning his age. Certainly Luke intends his readers to share the amazement that this twelve-year-old was engaging in a religious discussion beyond his years.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

when twelve years old—At this age every Jewish boy was styled “a son of the law,” being put under a course of instruction and trained to fasting and attendance on public worship, besides being set to learn a trade. At this age accordingly our Lord is taken up for the first time to Jerusalem, at the passover season, the chief of the three annual festivals

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

42. when he was twelve years old] No single word breaks the silence of the Gospels respecting the childhood of Jesus from the return to Nazareth till this time. We infer indeed from scattered hints in Scripture that He “began to do” His work before He “began to teach,” and being “tempted in all points like as we are” won the victory from His earliest years, alike over positive and negative temptations. (Hebrews 5:8. See Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus, E. Tr. p. 140.) Up to this time He had grown as other children grow, only in a childhood of stainless and sinless beauty—“as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, and as lilies by the waters,” Sir 39:13-14. This incident of His ‘confirmation,’ as in modern language we might call it, is “the solitary flowret out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud at a distinctive crisis bursts into flower.” Stier, Words of Jesus, i. 18.

This silence of the Evangelists is a proof of their simple faithfulness, and is in striking contrast with the blaze of foolish and dishonouring miracles with which the Apocryphal Gospels degrade the Divine Boyhood. See my Life of Christ, 1. 58–66. Meanwhile we are permitted to see (i) That our Lord never attended the schools of the Rabbis (Mark 6:2; John 6:42; John 7:15), and therefore that His teaching was absolutely original, and that He would therefore be regarded by the Rabbis as a ‘man of the people,’ or ‘unlearned person.’ (See Acts 4:13; T. B. Berachôth, f. 47. 2; Sir 38:24 fg.) (ii) That He had learnt to write (John 8:6). (iii) That He was acquainted not only with Aramaic, but with Hebrew, Greek, and perhaps Latin (Life of Christ, i. 91); and (iv) That he had been deeply impressed by the lessons of nature (id. i. 93).

twelve years old] Up to this age a Jewish boy was called ‘little,’ afterwards he was called ‘grown up,’ and became a ‘Son of the Law,’ or ‘Son of the Precepts.’ At this age he was presented on the Sabbath called the ‘Sabbath of Phylacteries’ in the Synagogue, and began to wear the phylacteries with which his father presented him. According to the Jews twelve was the age at which Moses left the house of Pharaoh’s daughter, and Samuel was called, and Solomon gave his judgment, and Josiah carried out his reform. (Jos. Antt. ii. 9. 6, v. 10. 4.)

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

And when he was twelve years old,…. Not that he was now, , “a son of the commandment”, (r) to use the Jewish phrase; or now came under the yoke of the law; or was obliged to the duties of adult church membership, as is asserted by some; nor particularly to go to Jerusalem to make his appearance at the feast of the passover, or any other feast: for according to the maxims of the Jews, persons were not obliged to the duties of the law, or subject to the penalties of it in case of non-performance, until they were, a female, at the age of twelve years, and one day, and a male, at the age of thirteen years, and one day; but then they used to train up their children, and inure them to religious exercises before: as for instance, though they were not obliged to fast on the day of atonement, until they were at the age before mentioned; yet, they used them to it two or three year’s before, as they were able to endure it: a son of nine, or ten years old, they train him up by hours; they make him fast so many hours; and one of eleven, or “twelve years old”, they make him fast a whole day: but then this was not law, but custom; and which they observed, that they might be used to the commandments (s), and be expert in them, and ready to perform them when required. It is said, (t) that “there was a good custom in Jerusalem to make their little sons and daughters fast on a fast day; the son of a year, till the very day he is “twelve years old”, when he fasts the whole day; and after that they carry him, and bring him before every ancient man, that he may bless him, and confirm him, and pray over him, that he may be worthy in the law, and in good works; and: every one that is greater than he in the city, he stands up from his place, and goes before him, and bows to him, to pray for him: and this is to learn him, that they are beautiful, and their works beautiful and acceptable to God; and they did not use to leave their little children behind them, but brought them to the synagogues, , “that they might be ready in the commandments”.

That they might be inured to them, and expert in them, when they were under obligation to them; for they were not properly under the law, until they were arrived to the age above mentioned; nor were they reckoned adult church members till then, nor then neither, unless worthy persons: for so it is said (u),

“he that is worthy, at thirteen years of age, is called , “a son of the congregation of Israel”;

that is, a member of the church. When therefore Joseph and Mary took Jesus along with them, at this age,

when they went up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast of the passover, it shows their religious regard to him; and may be an instruction to parents, to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, after their example,

(r) Aben Ezra in Genesis 17.14. (s) Misn. Yoma, c. 8. sect. 4. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 82. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Shebitat Asur, c. 2. sect. 10, 11. (t) Massechet Sopherim, c. 18. sect. 5. (u) Zohar in Exod. fol. 39. 4.

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

I’ve been reading about American society from a few different directions. I have just read some books about political history (such as the writings of Richard Hofstadter), but most recently I’ve focused on the the generational theory of Strauss and Howe (I’ve perused several of their books) and the moral frames model written about by George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics.

Last night at work, I was reading Lakoff’s book and found it quite fascinating. His main premise is that conservatives use the Strict Father family model to frame their political views and liberals use the Nurturant Parent family model to frame their political views. It makes a lot of sense to me, but that isn’t what got me thinking.

Lakoff was using Reagan and Bush sr as an example of how conservative morality plays out in politics. Conservatives use the rhetoric of small government, but obviously there are many exceptions to this rule and many moral principles they hold higher than the ideal of small government. Basically, when a conservative speaks of big government they’re referring to social programs that benefit the people who conservatives don’t believe are deserving. It’s not about saving taxpayers’ money but about doing the right thing. Those who do right should be rewarded and those who do wrong should be punished.

So, in terms of Reagan and Bush sr, who was rewarded and who was punished? By giving tax cuts to the rich and increasing the size of the military, what was the moral purpose that conservatives were trying to achieve? Increasing the military seems more obvious on the surface. The evil, Godless commies needed to be punished and it was the righteous duty of God-fearing Americans to punish them. So, what did the rich do to deserve tax cuts? Well, the basic idea is that we live in a meritocracy and so the rich have earned their wealth through hard work and ingenuity. It’s wrong to take away from the rich what they’ve earned fair and square. The corollary of this is that the poor deserve to be poor and so it’s perfectly fine that the tax cuts don’t benefit the poor (including the working class poor). As the Bible says (Matthew 25:29), “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Still, Lakoff takes this one step further and it’s the best explanation that I’ve ever come across. He argues that Reagan and Bush sr (along with their advisors) weren’t stupid. They fully realized they were increasing the size of government and creating a massive deficit as had never been seen in all of US history. This wasn’t an accident. It was quite intentional. If social programs benefit the undeserving, this becomes a moral problem that must be solved no matter what the cost. If the country becomes immoral at the core, then all is lost and nothing else matters. By creating an enormous deficit, this forced Congress to tighten its belt and cut funding to all social programs. And that is exactly what happened. It’s so clever it’s evil.

This brings me to something else I read in of the books written by Strauss and Howe (I don’t remember which one). They pointed out that the GI generation was the most politically powerful generation in all of US history. The GI generation had more than three decades of GI presidents and two of those were Reagan and Bush sr.

The GI generation came to see itself as the Greatest Generation. They fought hard and worked hard. For most of their life, they saw American wealth and power ever increasing. They believed two things about this situation. First, they took personal credit for all of it and so they thought they were deserving of being rewarded for that they had done. Second, they assumed that this trajectory of increase would continue for a very long time. They were wrong on both accounts. There were complex reasons for America’s rise to wealth and power, but the main reason was that Europe was decimated by WWII. Without much competition, America’s exports dominated the global economy. This situation wouldn’t last for very long since the European countries were able to rebuild.

When Reagan and Bush sr were presidents, the GI generation was at the height of its power. They were golden and they were mostly free to use their power as they so desired. Since they thought they had earned it, they redicrected America’s wealth towards their own generation. The tax cuts to the rich were disproportionately directed to the GI generation since their generation was (and is) the wealthiest generation in US history. They also redirected money to their generation by funding expensive social programs for the elderly. So, where did this money come from? As I pointed out, social programs for the undeserving (i.e., the poor) were cut. A related example was Reagan’s kicking the mentally ill out of the psychiatric hospitals (and created a large population of mentally disturbed homeless people who then needed to be rounded up and put in prison).

Even more interesting is the fact that social programs directed at youth (from welfare to school funding) were all cut. This had two impacts. First, starting with young Boomers and ending with Generation X, the quality of public education decreased and SAT scores decreased. Second, Generation X became the most poverty prone generation in a century. While the GI generation remained wealthy, GenXers grew up to discover that their employment opportunities were as bad as was experienced by the whole country during the Bust Years of the Great Depression.

What must be understood is that GIs such as Reagan and Bush sr did all of this out of their sense of morality. They were simply doing what they thought was right. They were rewarding those who they thought deserved it and they were punishing those they thought deserved it. In doing so, the made America into a deficit-driven militarized empire which they saw as forcing America into its role of being the greatest nation in the world. The heavy costs of this were worth it in their minds.

The problem is that they couldn’t see the long term consequences. I don’t think they realized that creating such a deficit would increase out of control and end up crippling our entire country. They didn’t foresee how deregulation of markets would eventually lessen the power of the American economy. They saw the world through the lense of their own generation and didn’t realize how differently it would look to later generations.

They thought that benefitting the rich was the right thing to do since they believed the rich deserved the wealth they earned. It’s easy to argue against this in pointing out that it takes everyone in a society and not just those at the top to make an economy successful, but there is an even more important factor they didn’t understand. Many GIs became wealthy during a time when there were high taxes on the rich. How is that possible? How did the GIs become so wealthy despite being heavily taxed? This cuts to the heart of the misunderstanding that motivated Reagan and Bush sr.

There are many arguments about who deserves what, but there is a more essential issue about who can use wealth to the greatest benefit of society as a whole. To conservatives, those who become rich deserve their wealth because they theoretically will put their extra wealth towards wise investment in the economy. Sadly, it doesn’t work out this way. Innovation happens from the bottom up. Reagan and Bush sr implemented policies that increased the wealth gap which concentrated the wealth at the top. I forget the source, but I was watching an interview recently where the person was referring to data about wealth. That person pointed out that wealthy people don’t invest their wealth wisely. Beyond a certain level of wealth, extra money loses any practical worth. What the super rich tend to do with their extra money is gamble it in risky investments because it doesn’t really matter to them if they lose it. What they generally don’t do with it is invest it in further innovation. That is what happened recently with our economy. There were too many people making risky gambles and not enough people investing in industries that produce concrete products. Our economy has become dependent on the banking business and America has lost its innovative edge.

The conservative moral vision of Reagan and Bush sr has backfired.

Lakoff puts all of this into a larger context of the metaphorical frames used by conservatives and liberals. Reagan and Bush sr as GIs were seeing the world according to the experience of their generational cohort. And as conservatives they were seeing the world according to the Strict Father moral frame. It was because of their being GI conservatives that they implemented those particular policies. Like most of us, they couldn’t see outside of their reality tunnel. But the consequences of their narrow vision have been immense. Bush jr, although of the Boomer generation, was simply the ultimate endpoint of this particular worldview. Under Bush jr (aka The Decider), the military was strengthened and regulation was paralyzed (with eventual consequences as we now see with the BP oil spill), the deserving were rewarded and the undeserving were punished. Bush jr certainly was trying to return America to the conservative moral vision of a righteous country, but it’s become obvious that this vision has failed. The costs are just too high: undermined Constitutional rights, massive deficit, crippled economy, struggling small businesses, ever increasing wealth gap, shrinking middle class, environmental disasters, etc.

An opening has developed in the status quo of recent decades. People are hungering for a new vision. Many hoped that Obama could bring that new vision, but many have been or become doubtful. Lakoff sees the liberal vision as being in a difficult position. For various reasons, conservatives have been very successful in framing most of the political discourse in recent history. Liberals have an opportunity right now. It’s just not clear if liberals are presently capable of organizing their own moral vision and communicating it well. Even though conservatives have indisputably failed in their attempt, it isn’t yet determined if liberals will likewise fail during this time of change. What is for certain is that many cultural narratives are being formulated right now. The narrative that gains the most traction will most likely be dominant in politics for the next several decades… or so that is the prediction of Strauss and Howe. I guess we’ll find out.