Save America from the mosh pit

Good manners and decency matter to a nation's future.

I was a flower child. I frequented love-ins, worshiped John Lennon, and helped plan the "Revolution."

I never thought I'd be ranting over the music and youth of today, much less championing the cause of polite society. But I never thought I'd be a parent either.

My daughter recently attended her first high school homecoming dance, an exciting, stressful event for which the entire family (which is to say me) prepared. There were countless trips to dressing rooms with piles of evening-wear, a full hair weave, to say nothing of an astonishing variety of newly required undergarments.

As these purchases added up, along with the $45 ticket, all I could see was a Mastercard ad: "Dress: $150; Hair weave: $200; The look on your daughter's face as she leaves for her first homecoming: Priceless."

And I must say, as she changed from sweats into satin, I indeed saw the woman she was becoming: elegant, beautiful, exuding the exhilaration of youth and possibility.

So imagine this proud young girl coming home early, nearly in tears. The dance was a mockery of everything she and her friends had planned and outfitted themselves for – there were strobe lights, gangsta rap music, a mosh pit, and sweaty, gyrating young bodies freak-dancing, and worse.

Remember all the scenes from movies or from your own teen dances, of unspiked punch, overblown decorations, and slow-dancing with your crush? Ah, but those days are gone.

Am I alone in seeing our youth in a minor bit of trouble? As rife with raping and pillaging as history is, do you remember a time in America when teenage boys got high from beating and killing the homeless? And just where are they learning the basic foundations of virtue or constraint – forgive me if I sound like my grandmother here – of comportment and gentlemanly or ladylike behavior?

I'm reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville's book, "Democracy in America," published circa 1835: As democracies sorely lack an aristocracy to model the art of noble conduct, he observed, they seem to fall into the coarse, unseemly vulgarity of common life.

And he had never even heard of Eminem.

In this current political and cultural climate, in which Americans are pretty self-righteous about sharing the exalted virtues of democratization with the world at all costs, perhaps we should clean up our act a bit. Tocqueville also states that "the heart needs an apprenticeship of custom and education" to even begin to appreciate the pleasure of manners, much less acquire them.

Though the media is one culprit, schools too have a responsibility to at the very least create the occasional environment in which these qualities are valued and expected. If homecoming dances – as much of an American icon as the Dodgers and apple pie – have wandered into MTV-land, what bastions are left to fall?

My daughter simply wanted to dress up and escape into a simpler time for the evening, and for once not have to deal with misogynistic music and peer pressure.

So I've volunteered to help plan the next dance, and have suggested a cool, retro 1970s theme, which was approved. Hopefully, by my daughter's senior prom, there will be more of a nod toward tradition.

Tocqueville also states that, "in democracies, there is little dignity of manner, as private life is very petty."

This is where the value of schools and education again come into play, and the "dumbing down" of America should make everyone wince. We make fun of ourselves for our lack of knowledge about the world, but the laughter should be tinged with a grave sense of the nation's future. As educational standards are lowered, etiquette is not the only casualty – civility and ethics fall as well, values that ensure our continued survival.

Protecting our children from the crushing onslaught of culture is no small task, and it's one that ultimately falls squarely upon our shoulders as parents.

I've worked hard at raising my daughter alone. I've tried to teach her the idea that "class" speaks not of money, but of a refinement reflected in every aspect of her life, and that her voice can be heard. And, flying in the face of all current parental paradigms warning against this, I've tried to be her friend.

So far it's worked.

Pamela Michaels is a freelance writer and radio talk show host of KCLU-FM.

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