By Frank Wessling
High school newspapers offer a peek into the psychic world teenagers inhabit at whatever time they are published. They show a brash confidence in judgment about everything from music to sports to religion. At the same time, opinions are self-consciously personal, seldom expressed as universal truth.
In that way, the kids are relativists. They may be loud but they need to get along with their peers. They need those relationships, and that’s a bottom-line truth we need to keep in mind.
Some Davenport Catholics were upset over an early November issue of the Central High School paper, The Blackhawk. A special section on “Morals” contained critical comment about the Catholic Church that sounded like teenagers repeating what they hear in the air around them. Almost two dozen students contributed examples of “diverse thinking” on euthanasia, gluttony, pride, bullying, family life, lust, the media, and greed.
Serious research is obvious in some of the student articles. The students clearly are learning to look for information before judging. And from the many references to Catholicism and the Catholic Church, at least some of them see our faith and religious history as a good resource when thinking about the moral life. Let’s hope and pray that they keep this up.
One student even used the seven deadly sins of Catholic tradition to key a piece on “moral downfall.” Another quoted St. Thomas Aquinas on greed as “a sin against God.”
The problem for some adult readers was in a reference to the Catholic Church as among “best examples of the most widespread of the deadly sins, greed.” Money given to the Church doesn’t go to “a good cause,” according to this student. Most “is spent on the comfort and pleasure of those who run the churches.”
The article contained other examples of damaging greed, including the U.S. financial market gambling that led to the current recession. This part was focused and could have passed any editor at a major public newspaper. The paragraphs against religion as dishonest and greedy were more like undisciplined and scattershot opinion. If student papers were edited like a good professional product, they would have been sent back for more work.
Not that a teenager can’t feel and express disgust over greedy behavior by church people. That should be expected. But blanket condemnation of anything by simply identifying the whole with sins of a part is runaway emotion. High school students may need help in seeing this, but it should be part of what they learn.
It should be no surprise if students reach beyond their grasp. They should be trying out their voices on everything that interests them, including religion and faith – we would say especially religion and faith. They won’t sound mature, of course. They need adults around them who have integrated faith, religion and life as examples. Then they can be both critical and thoughtful.
In the meantime, let’s also hope they gain a better command of English grammar and usage than what’s found in so much student writing.