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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future


Student, Northern Secondary School

I am 17. I've lived with my parents, my whole life. I've never run away from home. I've never done hard drugs. I've never committed suicide.

One hundred percent of teenagers alive today have never committed suicide.

What I'm trying to say is, get a grip.

Believe it or not, I'm not alone. On panels like this, there are tendencies to say, "Look at last night, the street prostitutes, the Jane-Finch corridor".

We have to realize that is not what the majority of youth are all about. The majority of youth are boring. We live pretty boring lives, we go to pretty boring schools. We don't really enjoy going to school, but we do it.

Like Dr. Rakoff said, 10 percent unemployment means 90% employment. We've got to always keep this in the forefront of our mind.

There are those who don't; particularly the media.

Last August or September there appeared two very disturbing articles. One in Toronto Life, written by Kate Fillon called, "High School Undercover" and one by Janet Hudson in the Toronto Star called "The Blackboard Jungle".

They gave a singularly and simply unbalance view of what youth are all about, providing example after example of youth as degenerate, dregs on society, carrying knives, doing drugs, abusing teachers, sex in the halls.

Who benefits from articles like this?

Does it benefit the few, and I stress few people to whom this actually applies? No. It makes them look bad by addressing the effect of their behaviour, without addressing the cause, the social economic factors which led them to their apparent state.

Does it benefit the vast majority of teens; the ones who work hard and are probably deserving of trust? No.

These articles open the eyes of parents, but they are eyes of suspicion. The genre creates paranoia between parents and teens. It doesn't create a rational discussion, which is probably what most youth are looking for in their relationships with adults.

This is sensationalism. It is the legitimate news media's answer to a headline, their equivalent to a headline: "Satanic, Republican, Amphibian, UFO's Land in Graceland". And it probably has the same legitimacy.

We can talk about news media, but most youth are getting their news through the entertainment media, where youth are the protagonist: books and movies.

For instance, the film, Heathers, which was probably the significant youth movie of the 1980's. If you look at the two main characters, "J.D.", the rebel, and his girl friend, "Veronica," a victim of her place in society and of her boyfriend, who manipulates her into doing all these evil things.

That's what I see as the role of the youth in today's "Baby Boomer" driven media. That is, either victim or rebel outcast. And that is a big concern of mine.

If we look at the Canadian media, "Degrassi" is by far the prevalent. And you look at this group of maybe 15-20 kids, every week one of these kids has, not a life threatening crisis always, but usually a fairly major attack.

And I understand why, you can't just show kids normal everyday lives, no one would watch it, because it's kind of boring. And these are lauded. People say Degrassi is, oh, so realistic". And that concerns me.

Now what else concerns me, as a sort of privileged youth from Toronto and as a Canadian are things like the national debt, the environment and the education system.

I had an article in The Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago about the education system. What it said was that the Canadian university admissions process which looks singularly at numerical marks and grades when awarding admissions and scholarships, ignoring extracurricular activities, writing ability; factors that I feel contribute to how well rounded the student is and which better indicate whether the student will be successful at University.

I looked at the campus environment among the top U.S. universities, having five or six thousand students on a campus living together eating together, doing the same activities, getting involved.

Compare that to University of Toronto, which has a freshman class of 7,000 and classes in which people who can't even be in the same building as the person speaking.

I looked at the perceived difference in quality of academics, I say perceived, because I haven't been to either University yet, so I don't know whether Canadian academics in the top schools are better than those in the top American schools.

The article about education received a lot of attention in the letters to the editor section. And most of it was from Canadian academics all over the country. Most of the letters were vindictive.

For instance, one wrote: "I hope the Canadian Government irrevocably revokes his citizenship while he's away at Yale".

If this is sort of the response to one opinion of where the Canadian education system is heading, responses from Canadian academics, I think they speak for themselves.

You don't go after the person who's writing with personal comments, you go after what he's saying.

I'd like to talk just for a minute about political correctness which is, even though it is not an issue for most youth, it's more of a mentality among them.

And I think its a disturbing trend, because they claim tolerance and equality. But for a lot of my friends, at least at Northern Secondary School, equality was sort of a twisted phrase. It means allowing opinions which are different from you own to be expressed, to be aired and to be listened to and to be discussed. And that includes giving people the right to be what you consider racist or sexist or homophonic.

Now, with the politically correct, the so-called thought police in the media, seem to be doing is not allowing these opinions to be aired through the media. If I hear someone who's racist I'll tell them, 'look I think your being racist'. But, I will not deny them their right to be so. Its when they start acting on it, that is when we should become concerned. The politically correct, however, feel these people don't deserve the same protection under the Charter of Rights under Freedom of Speech and Expression that they themselves want.

They are saying, 'we're right, you're not right; therefore, your opinions don't deserve to be heard'. I think that is so self righteous. Let's be honest, most of my friends don't worry much about drugs, suicide, the cops or even how they are portrayed in the media.

The middle class youth of today is concerned with the same things middle class youth has always been concerned about. Can I still get tickets for the concert, does she want to go out with me, what's on TV tomorrow, and the most important thing that's heard around my school, where is the party tonight.

I'm not chastising today's youth for apathy, for not caring about important issues. I doubt its really any different than its been in any other generation, including the 1960s. There are always those who will be activists, there will always be those who are apathetic.

To those who worry about today's middle and upper class youth being ready to lead us into the next millennium, I say, don't worry. The leaders of tomorrow will just naturally be ready to lead when their time comes.