I learned long ago that shopping with teenagers requires me to patronize places I would otherwise avoid. The combination of loud, thumpy music, unreasonably priced clothing with manufactured holes in the knees and overly perky salespeople reminds me it is good to be a grown-up.
Recently, however, owing to his incessant habit of rapid growth, my 15-year-old son needed new shoes. Thus, I found myself in the chain store Journeys, where one finds all manner of casual footwear, including styles even a mother can approve.
The Journeys store at my mall is well-managed and well-staffed. The salespeople are truly some of the friendliest, most attentive and most competent I've found in a store that caters to young shoppers.
Still, I can't look these guys in the face. This is because despite their pleasant demeanor, every member of the sales team is pierced and tattooed in the extreme. They even sport "gauged" ear lobes — piercings that stretch the lobe to resemble elephant ears.
So I adopt a strategy I have dubbed "Product Scrutiny." Basically, I focus all my attention on the shoes under consideration as though I have never before bought footwear.
On our recent visit to Journeys, it happened they offered a freebie — a hat — for which we qualified by virtue of the size of our purchase. Two pairs of shoes, two packs of socks, tell the folks what they've won.
When the salesman shows us the free hat, I say, "Hmmm, I think the only time this style works is in the Cuban military or with a Che Guevara T-shirt."
My son nods in agreement as we both conclude the hat will go directly to the Halloween closet.
But my comment isn't lost on our salesguy, who offers cheerfully, "We have Che T-shirts!"
I say, "But he was a cold, brutal killer and the chief henchman for Fidel Castro. Why put him on a T-shirt?"
To which the young man responds, "Hey, viva la revolution. I dont like to live in the past."
I can't leave it at that, so I say, "Even in the present, he remains a heinous murderer. Being dead and all, he can't exactly rehabilitate himself."
Transaction complete, my son and I walk to the mall exit, and Jimmy listens to me rant about the magnitude of idiocy and ignorance that seems to permeate an entire generation.
How have we become a culture that thinks it is cool to wear T-shirts and caps glorifying a brutal mass murderer who helped to oppress a society with the scourge of communism? How have our young people adopted a philosophy as vapid and useless as "I don't like to live in the past"?
And what happens to a culture whose youth are so uninformed and uneducated?
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, we're going to find out. A few weeks ago it released the results of an annual survey of college freshman and seniors, in which 14,000 incoming and outgoing college students were given a 60-question civics test.
Half of the incoming freshmen failed the test, and worse, only 54 percent of graduating seniors passed. The schools that did the worst — that is, their graduating seniors actually scored worse than they did as freshmen — were among the nation's most elite schools.
Another important finding, though, is that four years of college influences students' opinions on a few popular yet polarizing issues: Abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, the divinity of the Bible and the opportunity to succeed in America. That the influence regarding these issues is resoundingly liberal is so obvious as to be a cliche.
So there's the answer to a couple of my questions. We're a culture whose young people think Che is cool because "The Communist Manifesto" is required reading for thousands of college freshmen, but not "The Federalist Papers" or even the U.S. Constitution. They've adopted a vapid "live for today" philosophy because they don't learn the history of our government or anyone else's.
What happens to such a culture?
Only time will tell.