Sorry Forrest, life is more like a bag of pistachio nuts: it's the work involved that gives the reward its worth.
Sadly, a lot of Baby Boomers are reaching a different conclusion, especially when it comes to instructing their children. I was watching the UConn Huskies the other night when the game broke for a commercial. On the screen appeared a group of happy kids sledding down a hill.
When they get to the bottom they gleefully ask, "Mommy, can we go again?"
"Okay, let's go," she smiles and loads the newfangled sleds into the back of her BMW station wagon so she can DRIVE THEM BACK TO THE TOP OF THE HILL. And upward they go.
The message is supposed to be that for a fair piece north of $50,000, you can buy a car that's great in the snow. But, even if unintentionally, it emblemizes the increasingly- held notion only results matter – that as long as you get to ride down the hill there is no value in climbing up.
I don't think I've met a kid who builds model airplanes anymore. It's kind of a shame really – even a blotchedly-painted, glue-smeared P-47 with a misaligned wing and a broken wheel will be remembered longer than a shiny new one from ToysR'Us.
Presumably, the BMW advertisement is tongue-in-cheek. Someone who is going to spend 50 grand on a station wagon ought to have a sense of humor. But the notion of shortcuts and finding ways to beat the system may be one of the lasting legacies of the Boomer generation.
You can see it in the way kids learn and play. Educationally, a huge aftermarket thrives on parents wishes to enhance their children's test scores. The Stanley Kaplan SAT course, for example, claims to bolster scores and the evidence is that it does help a little bit. It works by teaching kids how to spot patterns in questions and answers – it doesn't teach math but rather how the examiners design questions involving numbers. It's all about the score.
In Connecticut, we're all hot to improve the mastery test scores in elementary schools. There is some merit as a measure in this, and also to show which school districts are failing completely.
But it doesn't tell us much about the way kids are learning how to learn, just that they are being trained to do better on these tests.
Video games are a common pastime with youngsters in the nineties, especially boys. The most popular of these are role-playing games, like Tomb Raider, Zelda and Riven. The way these work, the player has to circumvent progressively more difficult obstacles and defeat evil villains to win. It actually takes a fair amount of persistence.
Sometimes, for instance, the player has to figure out that to open Door A, Door C has to have been opened and closed and Door B has to be left open while pushing Button 4. Or to defeat Zorg the evil blob, only one of the player's 25 different weapons will prove effective.
It might be better if kids applied this kind of dedication to their spelling or even learning the crossover dribble, but at least it's something. Or at least it would be if these electronic gamesters hadn't been trained to go right to the "cheat sheets." which are available.
In the computer store, right next to the games themselves will be shelves of books which, for a mere $19.95 will tell you step-by-step how to skip your way through the adventure. You can also get this stuff on the Internet, often for free. Here's an example from a shortcut guide to the game Riven (and this is early in the game before it gets really hard!):
"Turn around to exit the cave, but before you do, throw the lever to the left of the door, which raises the grate blocking another gate, then push the button to the right twice to rotate the room two more times. Enter the Gate Room and go through the open door to the left. Turn around and throw the lever to the left of the doorway then push the rotate button to the right twice, like before."
Even if you think video games are the biggest waste of time since "The Love Boat" was canceled, it does take some doing to figure one of these games out. But if the solution is provided, it's basically a jigsaw puzzle that hasn't been cut up into pieces. Part of the fun of sledding is dragging yourself back up the hill, even if it doesn't seem like it when you are a kid.
Of course, every generation thinks the one succeeding them is pampered and overindulged. Just because there's a TV commercial showing Mom happily schlepping her kids up the hill doesn't mean we're raising a bunch of spoiled prissies who will lead our nation down the road to ruin.
But I am going to start to worry if I hear someone ask "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" and the answer is not "Practice" but "Have your mother drive you there."
February 16, 1999