1968 was a tumultuous year in America (as some of us remember). It was a time when the Baby Boomer generation began to question the authority of their parents. It was a time of domestic violence. There were protests against the war in Vietnam; two particularly traumatic assassinations: Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June. Riots were rampant and for the first time in history, tanks rolled the streets of America.
Social chaos was not confined to the United States. In Europe, especially in Germany, protests by young people could be characterized as revolutionary. German youth had begun to ask their parents what they had done in the Nazi era.
A young priest, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, had been appointed a full professor at the prestigious University of Tubingen in 1966. It was an almost unheard of honor for such a relatively young man. But Ratzinger had been a peritus – or expert – at the Second Vatican Council. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the reforms of that Council. But 1968 was also the year the Encyclical Humane Vitae was published to wide-spread criticism in Catholic academia. German bishops and certainly German students were outraged.
It’s important to know that in the German University system (where only 3% of German youth were admitted) there was a huge chasm between professors and students.
Classrooms consisted of a desk on a dais in front for the professor and an aula, like a Greek theatre, for the students. Professors lectured, students took notes. Students were not encouraged to ask questions and professors were addressed as “Your Magnificence.” They still are.
When his students began to question and even revolt against their teachers, Ratzinger was shocked and he never emotionally recovered from the experience. He was no longer an enthusiastic supporter of what he considered insolence.
Fast forward to 2016. We have a new generation in our midst. They certainly are not violent, but they are definitely questioning. To give a benign but ubiquitous example. Tell a student to put away their cell phone and several dramatic responses may occur. First comes the question, “Why?” then the excuse (“My mother is calling me”) and then the defiance – then, either one or two seconds later out comes the device. One can take the phone away, but there’s an emotional price to pay.
“Plus ςa change, plus ćest la meme chose”
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
In the first reading today, the author James repeats the words of Jesus, “Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no.” It would be a good addition to the BK Way.
Teachers in the U.S. are not as respected as they are in other parts of the worlds. Our public education program is the first to experience the effects of a new generation. But we are not immune from our society’s social mores.
We cannot build a wall between ourselves and our culture. But we do have the freedom to teach, preach, and model our Catholic values.
The only reason we have a separate Catholic educational system in this country was – and remains – to protect our faith and to pass on that faith to the next generation.
This is our last Mass of the academic year (except for the Baccalaureate Mass). It is an appropriate time to introduce a season of reflection – often called “summer”.
In the face if a rapidly changing world, we are challenged to reflect on this so-called Generation Z. We have the advantage not only of having once been teenagers, but we also have a memory of those years students don’t have because for them, it is contemporary, not history.
As teachers, administrators, and staff we have done a fantastically good job of stemming the tide of revolt. At the very least, we are one-step ahead of the challenges yet to come.
We have made a major difference in the lives of these kids. We call them kids, not out of disrespect but of endearment. They can challenge us, argue with us, and roll their eyes all they want. They can be irritating. But they are our kids, if only for a little while. They really are an exceptional testimony to our successful efforts to make them happier, healthier, and wiser than they otherwise might have been.
That’s why we do what we do. That, and the money.