Having been born in 1936 has allowed me to witness both societal progress and retrogression. High on the list of things made better in our society are the great gains in civil liberties and economic opportunities, especially for racial minorities and women. People who are now deemed poor have a level of material wealth that would have been a pipe dream to yesteryear's poor. But despite the fact that today's Americans have achieved an unprecedented level of prosperity, we have become spiritually and morally impoverished compared with our ancestors.
Years ago, spending beyond one's means was considered a character defect. Today not only do people spend beyond their means but also there are companies that advertise on radio and TV to eliminate or reduce your credit card and mortgage debt. Students saddled with college loans have called for student loan forgiveness. Yesterday's Americans would have viewed it as morally corrupt and reprehensible to accumulate debt and then seek to avoid paying it. It's nothing less than theft. What's worse is there's little condemnation of it by the rest of us.
Earlier this year, as a result of a budget crunch, the Philadelphia School District had to lay off 91 school police officers. During the 1940s and '50s, I attended Philadelphia schools in poor neighborhoods. The only time we saw a policeman in school was during an assembly period when we had to listen to a boring lecture about safety. Because teacher assaults are tolerated -- 4,000 over the past five years in Philadelphia -- school police are needed. Prior to the '60s, few students would have thought of talking back to a teacher, and no one would have cursed, much less assaulted, a teacher.
I couldn't have been more than 8, 9 or 10 years old when one time, on the way home from school, my cousin and I were having a stone fight with some other youngsters. An elderly black lady walked up to my cousin and me and asked, "Does your mother know you're out here throwing stones?" We replied, "No, ma'am," praying that the matter rested there. Today an adult doing the same thing risks being cursed and possibly assaulted. Fearing retaliation, adults sit in silence as young people use vile language to one another on public conveyances, in school corridors and on the streets.