The word is disconnect. The word that is being used to understand what happened on the night of December 28 at the, now museum, farm house home of Robert Frost in Ripton, Vermont.
Some 28 teens and young twenties, men and women, boys and girls, spent the night in the farm house drinking, and while doing so trashing the Homer Noble Farm where Frost himself used to reside during his stay at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
At Middlebury Union High School that many of the party going teens attended "administrators and teachers are [still] talking about disconnection."
Gary Margolis, Associate Professor of English and American Literatures at nearby Middlebury College, admitting that it was not uncommon that high school students party, was bothered, however, by the "disconnect." By the fact that these kids grew up around here and [ought to have known] "that the place is somehow special."
Jay Parini, Professor of English and Creative Writing and author of Robert Frost: A Life, commented, "There are many ways this could be used as a teaching opportunity to talk to the nation about the value of poetry."
Gary Margolis added, "I would hope they would build in more than that. I would hope there would be an educational component, an opportunity for them to learn about this place they were just in, a place unique to where they live. And maybe they would have to write a poem about it."
Now there is certainly a disconnect between the kids and Robert Frost. But there is no less a disconnect between the literature professors and the kids. Do they really believe the things they say? "A teaching opportunity to talk to the nation about the value of poetry?!" "An educational component, an opportunity for them to learn about his place... have to write a poem about it?!"
In my experience we march our kids through our museums (not to mention our classrooms) believing (?) that some of the depth and beauty of the museum contents will somehow reach them, rub off on them, whereas if you've ever been a part of this charade you will know that the museum contents and the kids are world's apart and will remain that way certainly throughout the length of the visit. Disconnect.
What happened at the Homer Noble Farm may for a day or two be, as Parini and Margolis propose, an opportunity to talk about the value of Frost's poetry, perhaps an occasion to have the kids write a poem or two of their own. But shortly thereafter the disconnect between what the kids, at least most of them, are doing and thinking while in school, and what we think we are doing to them, with them, for them, will go on.
Things may be learned in school, but most often not those things at the top of our wish lists for our kids, things like civil behavior and responsible citizenship, respect for one's surroundings, respect for the past, appreciation of art and literature and music, the value of sacrifice and hard work and all such.
All such things learned, in fact the content of the most important lessons life has to offer, stem much more from example and experience than from the classroom. In the present instance perhaps a closeness to the poet, perhaps the living example of Robert Frost himself, might have spared the farm house from the teen onslaught during a night of drinking and partying. We will never know.
The disconnect, however, is all about us. Adults are disconnected from their children. Children are disconnected from the places they live. I give you the example of Kenya today, the daily images that strike us on the front pages of our newspapers, the bodies of children and adults, the teenagers at war with other teens, pictured on the front page of the New York Times shooting at one another with bows and arrows.
In Kenya the disconnect between the teens and the place where they have lived all their lives is no less pronounced than that between the Ripton, Vt teens and the Robert Frost farm house and heritage, both within their own community.
For the Kenyan teens live in the Rift Valley, that several thousand mile stretch of land running from the Red Sea in the north, down through central Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, all the way to Mozambique in the south. The valley, an infinitely greater and more precious heritage than the farmhouse, was very possibly the birthplace of our species. Fossil finds here during the past 50 years have pointed to our common origin in Africa.
The disconnect? Kenyan teens ought to have known that they were descendants of the very first humans, that they were close cousins of the teens who were the targets of their arrows, that the clan differences between them, the reason why the killings were taking place at all, were in fact of little or no significance.
Furthermore, had they ever been told that their ancestors were also our ancestors, and that all of us are members of one single species, cousins sharing a common biological heritage?
Of course they didn't know this. They hadn't learned this in school (although they may very well have been told it), no more than the Ripton, Vt. teens had learned that Robert Frost's poems were their heritage, and that the poet could have been no less precious to them as he is to us, someone from whom they might have gained insights of real importance to their own lives.
What did they gain from a night of drinking and carousing? What did the Kenyan teens gain from the bow and arrow shootout with their peers?
But perhaps things had to happen the way they did. The disconnect may really boil down to that between the young and the old. For are we really surprised by the behavior of the Ripton and Kenyan teens? Probably not.