In 1974, I had a Newsday paper route in Elmont, NY. I decided I wanted a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bicycle like it was nobody’s business. I could’ve begged my parents for the money, but it was sweeter for me to save up my tips and get it myself. So, four months later, I walked out of the Mineola Bicycle store with my brand-new Varsity. I loved that bike. It was mine because I earned it; I made its purchase happen.
I tell that story to tell this story. My wife and I both teach; she teaches middle-school students, while I teach middle-aged aviation professionals. Even though we have cell phone violations where I work – if your phone goes off you buy donuts/cookies for the class – we don’t feel the need to confiscate cell phones from those who’ve bought donuts three days in a row; it’s a professionalism thing.
My wife’s school is different. When cell phones are a problem, the student’s cell phone is surrendered and kept at the office until the parent can pick it up. This happened to our son twelve years ago; his cell was confiscated on Monday; my wife didn’t retrieve it until late Friday afternoon. She handed it to him at home with a lecture, “If you lose it again, I will not retrieve it and I will cancel your service.” My son understood; he never had his phone confiscated again.
Where am I going with this? At my wife’s school, not only do the parents retrieve the phone THAT DAY, but they take off of work, drive from their place of business, hand the phone to the unrepentant child in front of the school administrator as if to say, “Here’s your phone that the mean school official took away from you, my baby.” School administrators keep the graduating line moving by graduating students with less-than-adequate grades, partially in response to parental pressures to ‘not fail their baby’ … or else.
Now I’m not a guy who wears plaid shorts, black socks and sandals, screaming at the kids to ‘Get off my lawn’. And I’m not trashing millennials; my sons are millennials. My older son joined the Army out of high school and saved lives as a Medic. My youngest is in the private sector; he has proven himself to be a go-to guy for his company. Both are college graduates.
No, I’m taking issue with my own generation of parents that continue to entitle their children. And I worry about the future of aviation; the two have a lot to do with each other. I fear that, in the not too distant future, the United States will be nothing but a line in a digital history book; a memory of what could have been great and could have lasted, if only we taught our children to be self-reliant.
My Schwinn bicycle story isn’t a testament to a wonderful young businessman/consumer; it’s a symptom. My wife’s story of disciplining my son isn’t a tale of hard-ass parenting; it’s a symptom. These events demonstrate what thousands of parents have been doing to prepare their children for responsibility, hard-work and dedication … by example.
So, what does this opinion mean to aviation? When I think about air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants, technicians, etc., I think of professionals who must think on their feet; run toward the emergency; think about safety – not their safety, but the safety of others in an environment where there are no break down lanes, tow trucks or ambulances.
Flight attendants are the first line of defense in terrorist situations, medical emergencies and passenger safety. Pilots must make split-second decisions in circumstances that arrive without warning. Air traffic controllers must be able to help troubled airliners in an airspace littered with aircraft of all types. Technicians rely on themselves to assure those split-second decisions pilots make are non-existent.
As future aviation professionals enter the schools, training environments, or military branch designed to prepare them for their chosen life, will they be ready? Are we as parents, indeed as a society, crippling our children by turning them into entitled adults, unable to make decisions or stick with the ones they make?
There are many schools that will teach people to become pilots. They have strict curriculums that demand only the best in the pilot candidates; run them through their certification qualifications until the lessons are ingrained. Technician schools are not easy to get through; they, too, have high standards and demands that a graduate truly earns their certificate. However, in the 1980s, I saw how many incoming students, still acting as they did in high school. They eventually washed out … back then, thirty-five years ago. Those were different days. Many middle-school students are an example of the times; students don’t ‘wash out’. Schools these days lean towards passing them on to the high schools and from high schools to the work force, whether they’re ready or not.
How would you feel, knowing that your pilots were passed through training because the air operator needed to maintain their numbers in the face of a pilot shortage? Wouldn’t you want the mechanic working on your children’s airliner to be fully qualified and experienced?
My wife and I often walk to IHOP for breakfast; we’ve sat side-by-side in a booth for thirty-four years; we talk as if we hadn’t spoken in weeks: laughing, joking, arguing or just catching up. All around us are people hypnotized by their electronic devices, unable to speak to a family member sitting directly across the table; they are incapable of pulling their attention from an i-phone to communicate, only looking up long enough to order, before returning to the bright screens.
The technologies are so fascinating; the devices answer all their questions, provide immediate satisfaction; all the while robbing people of their ability to talk, to think, to troubleshoot, to challenge themselves.
As technology increases in this digital age, our aircraft make engine trim or navigational decisions without asking the pilot. The aircraft tells the technician what’s wrong, removing the tech’s ability to find the answer himself/herself. Air traffic control will soon be run by computers that speak directly to the aircraft’s computers, excluding the controller from any decisions at all.
Perhaps this is best: the computers can make future decisions for all of our safety requirements; parents can continue to indulge their children’s egos and needs; electronic devices can hold everyone’s collective attentions with the latest Facebook News Feed or Twitter hashtag.
Yes, I’m being cynical. I’m also in the market for a new bicycle. Being a supporter of the old ways, I never felt safer than riding a ten-speed.