The curse of great expectations

It happens every spring. Hundreds upon hundreds of high school and college seniors prepare to leave the sanctuary of their comfy nests before stretching their wings — not to mention dozens of other hoary graduation speech memes — and fly off to change the world ...

... only to return to swallow cappuccino once they realize what their parents realized. And their parents' parents, their parents' parents' parents, and so on and so forth.

That the pursuit of happiness we were guaranteed at birth is just that — a pursuit — and the world's a cold and scary place that you, our latest best and brightest, must navigate through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

"A man said to the universe, 'Sir, I exist!' " Stephen Crane wrote.

"However," replied the universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."

It would help, of course, if this generation of graduates were better equipped to handle the twisty little passages set before them.

But, alas, confirmation has arrived that the intellectual paradox of human existence has made our minds less capable of handling what evolution throws our way — precisely at the moment we need all the brainpower we can muster.

In short, we're getting stupider "¦ umm, dummer.

A study released last week details how the residents of Western Civilization have lost an average of 14 IQ points since the Victorian Age. Something to do with the density of population centers and the decreasing ability to solve problems without the assistance of machines.

It was somewhat along those lines; I have to admit, it was dense reading, and I'm apparently not dense enough. It's certain, however, that the average teenager would barely look up from texting while driving before waiving off the idea that they're not as smart as Victorian kids as just another lie perpetrated by the middle-aged conspiracy in a vain attempt to exert diminishing authority.

You know, like trying to justify the targeting of your political opponents for IRS audits.

We'd like to think that our kids will find their way through the maze we've gotten lost in, or at least stem the tide of inherited ineptitude. But we're also quietly torn between a) wanting them to have a better chance to succeed than we did at their age, and b) the adherence to the all-American mantra that what's good enough for us should be good enough for them.

No wonder they don't listen to us. No wonder they spend their time tuned in and zoned out with their electronic enhancements. Heck, Microsoft recently unveiled its "IllumRoom" technology, which breaches the confines of a device and envelopes the game-player into their own cyber backdrop.

The intent, apparently, is "to push the boundary of living room immersive entertainment by blending our virtual and physical worlds with projected visualizations."

Is it the real life? Is it just fantasy? Sounds like a way to escape from reality "¦ which isn't exactly what we'd like from those entrusted with saving us from the mess we've left them.

We want the best for the next generation. Honest, we really do. That's one reason that a bill is before the Oregon Legislature that would prevent our children from being tethered to a fixed object for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period because latchkey kids treated like that tend to get lonely, unsociable and anxious enough to help make them more aggressive.

Wait a minute. That's what we want to do for dogs. Kids, dogs, tomayto, tomahto. Feed them, play with them, then when you need to rest ... shove them outside.

Just don't take them to some of the parks in Ashland. The dogs, that is, even if the town did loosen the reins on access to public property last week.

Noting how some folks consider their pets as equal members of the family, an Ashland parks commissioner summed up the apparent discrimination:

"It's like saying, 'I'm sorry. You can't take your kid to the park.'"

True, if they run loose they can get into mischief and both are prone to loud noises at a moment's notice "¦ although it's unlikely that your average 3-year-old is suddenly going to stop romping, squat down and make a deposit in the Japanese garden.

What am I thinking? This is Ashland "¦ none of the 3-year-olds in Ashland would dare be caught being average.

Still, it appears we're getting a handle on the dog problem. The only thing we apparently want to do for students is to cut local school budgets and charge them more for going to college.

"Do you know why adults are always asking you what you're going to do when you graduate?" comedienne Paula Poundstone asks her college audiences.

"Because they're looking for ideas."

And that's the issue, really. We were teenagers, we went to school. Our parents tagged out and left us in the dark with the Grue. But when it was time to come through "¦ well, let's say there's been an exhaustive run on the bank of creativity, not to mention spine.

Look at Josephine County or, rather, what will be left of Josephine County after yet another failed attempt to solve its insolvency issues. Last one out of Grants Pass, pay the light bill. Our freedom of the press apparently extends only to the point that we want to find out what happened as the White House works to board its doors to prevent leaks. Then, as soon as a tornado devastates Oklahoma, truth squad blowhards spring up spinning hot air about the disaster being a government plot in weather control.

No wonder Gov. Kitzhaber went to Bhutan last month for a conference on the Gross National Happiness movement of measuring success.

And he'll soon have help from Southern Oregon "¦ if the annual roundup of high school valedictorians is any indication. There are around 60 of them this year.

Now I know what you're thinking — there aren't 60 high schools in the Rogue Valley (yet), so how could there be 60 students with the highest academic rank among their classmates? And will they all be giving speeches, because that's a long time to sit in a metal folding chair or a high school bleacher.

Did you not read the leaflet in the mailbox about how our IQs are dropping?

So, whether it's a watering down of a traditional honor, or just an example of how our students are equally impressive, we can agree that we know what lurks in the shadows out there for our adventurers.

Imagine the mistakes they'll leave for their kids.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at

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