To a Seventh-Grade Class

YOUR teacher called me the other day. She was down. How could she teach current events when the news was all so negative? The school was abuzz with fear of abductions. A woman athlete beaten. Slaughter by rockets in Europe. Depressing.

Negative news seems to come in waves as if in response to solar flares in the collective human consciousness. Society is described in terms of victims and aggressors.

Well, challenge this.

Don't just sit there; learn something. Young David took his sling and stones, ran to meet the giant Goliath, and slew him; he didn't wait for Goliath to come and stomp him.

Look for stories that show how others succeed in overcoming a challenge. Look for specific concepts that are useful to you. Clip articles and bring them to class and tell what they taught you.

The best story I've read in the past two weeks was a lead Business section article in the New York Times, ``The Designers Who Saved Chrysler,'' Jan. 30. Two ideas I got from the story are 1) that breakthrough ideas are usually simple, and 2) that the ideas need to be sustained through every stage of the development process. In this case, the carmaker Chrysler has been going through some rough financial water. Its designers came up with a simple double ``horseshoe'' concept for its new Stratus and Cirrus models - a vertical one for the sides and top, and a horizontal one for the front end. The horseshoe shape has been around at least as long as the horseshoe crab, or millions of years. But no hinge had been created that would make the design work on a car door: Chrysler's engineers invented one. And they figured out how to arrange parts under a hood that was wider than it was long. As American and Japanese cars get closer in quality of manufacture, the competitive edge is moving to design innovation.

Another ``best'' article I've read in the past few days is ``The Twentysomethings: `Generation Myths' Revisited,'' by Everett Carll Ladd, in the latest Public Perspective magazine. Ladd examines the popular notion that each generation of young people (you would be the ``teensomethings,'' but you're not discussed because you don't vote yet) goes through some unique ``formative experience'' that stays with them as, decade by decade, they age. Today's ``twentysomethings'' are said to be enraged by bleak economic and career prospects.

Bunk, says Ladd: ``On most matters relating to generations, survey data give clear and decisive answers. The twentysomethings are just young men and women, not a generation in any substantial social and political sense. The same is true of the boomers before them, and of boomers now in their middle years.''

Ladd gives us this useful idea: ``For the most part, Americans evince great constancy in underlying national values, which express themselves across all age strata.''

These values of fairness, justice, and independence keep working on the evidence of crime, abuse, and poverty to create a better society. Observed closely, society's progress is visible.

A parting concept: You're as smart as you're ever going to be. Whatever your age, you are fully endowed with intelligence. You can, however, learn more, and become a more effective person. So, whatever the news, get on with it.

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