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Book Review of: The Road to Whatever
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The Road to Whatever, by Elliott Currie
What does "whatever" mean in this title? A sizeable number of today's teens are so frustrated--like rats who get shocked no matter what part of the cage floor they step on--that they just give up on themselves. They "can't do anything right" or can't be perfect (as demanded by parents or others), so they give up. Their situation is like that of a wage earner caught in the machinery of the IRS: a culture of punitive attitudes supersedes practical considerations, common sense, and even basic human decency. In such a situation, the only possible outcome is destruction. And it's this culture that many teens must deal with. Because of the intense frustration, they grow apathetic. A resigned "whatever, dude" becomes the new mantra.
The key to motivating people is the same as the key to having a good relationship with anybody: treating that person with dignity and respect. Yet, we find a total absence of dignity or respect in the way many parents treat their children. Elliott Currie brings us one chilling account after another of troubled teens. In these accounts, we can see it's not a "lack of toughness" or a "life of privilege" that drives kids into drug abuse and other self-destructive behaviors. It's a lack of respect and dignity. The cure parents and degreed social workers normally offer for this is often disrespect and humiliation.
The social (governmental) institutions that our hard-earned tax dollars support tend to compound the problems, with the attitude that the teen is the problem and/or the problem is within the teen. The philosophy is that if the teen can would correct his/her own behavior, everyone can be happy. These people don't realize a fundamental point upon which psychologists base talk therapy: self-destructive behaviors are often coping behaviors. Until you correct the environment a teen is in, the teen is not going to successfully correct his/her behavior. This, also, comes out clearly in accounts Currie brings the reader.
Another attitude that comes out is that all sins are equal. So, a kid gets into minor trouble--perhaps a string of things. A bad grade, sassing to a parent, staying out later than agreed upon, forgetting a chore--and suddenly, this teen crosses the line from human to evil incarnate. There's often little distinction between typical teen problems and real problems. I went through this myself, as a teen. I had long hair, and my dad wanted to throw me out of the house. Forget that I had straight As, held a job, was active socially and in church, and was an athlete in school. Of course, I could have simply cut my hair--but, I needed to make a statement and that was my statement. Both of us were stubborn.
Sometimes when parents encounter one small thing they "can't abide," the kid is "no good." Or, they get frustrated over many minor things and see their child as "lost." They forget their kid isn't out selling drugs or robbing liquor stores. This myopia is prevalent, and it's causing massive destruction. This is what Currie shows us in account after account.
The book does contain a couple of odd threads. One is Currie's negative remarks about the Reagan era. He doesn't make clear what part of ending Jimmy Carter's malaise, producing the longest peacetime economic expansion in history, ending the Soviet nuclear threat, or massively increasing job opportunities he objects to. Another is he proposes that we entrust our healthcare system to the same "geniuses" who use our hard-earned tax dollars to purchase $750 toilet seats and $900 hammers--he wasn't clear on how this would benefit teens or anybody else.
But if you can set aside the minor sprinkling of outdated left-wing politics, you will find this book is provocative and insightful--even helpful. If you have teens, you may find that reading this book to be one of the best uses you've ever made of your time. If you have bought into the simplistic theories of "tough love," "teen boot camps," and other half-baked measures that humiliate teens instead of accord them respect and basic human dignity, then you are on a path to failure. Thinking through what the kids in this book have to say can help you go forward with your eyes open.
This book doesn't expound yet another behavioral theory. Instead, Currie looks at real situations and takes us inside the minds of the teens. He reminds us that teens are basically good. They are people with feelings. Teens are not equipped to handle the demands placed on adults, and that puts some responsibility on the shoulders of adults. Teens have their own needs and if we will simply listen to them and try to understand, then we have a good chance of providing teens with what they need to succeed. Understanding these few facts--on the part of parents, neighbors, friends, mentors, employers, teachers, and social workers can help--can help adults involved with teens do a remarkable turnaround. And help nearly any teen from becoming "troubled" in the first place.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.