In my regular contacts with college students I have come to realize that young people rarely pay attention to the news. Very few read the local papers and seldom do they watch international reports on TV. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey discovered that people, ages 18-34, are less knowledgeable about current events than their elders. The knowledge gap is widest on foreign affairs. This saddens me, because it reflects a lack of interest in the world around us, a world that often needs fixing, and young people are the ones who will be doing the fixing in the future.
Maybe, I am too pessimistic about it. I need to remind myself that most college students are more attuned to pop culture, and the national or the international scene is far away from their radar. When they become seniors in college and start to look for a job or a new professional path, by force, they will need to pay attention to their milieu and to the larger world around them. It is up to us parents, teachers and community leaders to open the eyes of the blind, releasing those who sit in the dark (See, Isa. 42: 7).
Truth to say, the present world community does not appear to be in good shape for young people to note. Muslim fundamentalists are wreaking havoc in places such as Syria, Iraq and even Libya; recently, anti-Semitism has, once again, raised its ugly face in many parts of Europe; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to rage; guns and violence proliferate in our country; Greece’s economy is in shambles and there is a war in the Ukraine. Can you blame the young people for not taking an active role in the workings of our society? We adults have not done a good job in becoming good role models in our dealings with others.
In spite of this bleak picture, the rabbinic tractate “Ethics of the Fathers” (c. 3rd cent. CE) calls us to civic duty and warns us not to separate ourselves from the wellbeing of the community (2:5 and 4:7). Based on this teaching, the Talmud goes even further and asserts, “He who does not join the community in times of danger and trouble will never enjoy divine blessing” (BT Ta. 11a).
However, it is clear that we, adults, must prepare the younger generation to be knowledgeable about our community and to take an active role in the pursuit of justice and righteousness in our society. It will be their world and we must turn over the ropes property and with confidence that young people will further the common good.
To that end, I have been asking my students at Boston College as well as at Framingham State University to read the local papers and to report to class weekly on worthy news as well as about ethically challenging events. For the first time now, I am starting to see some results: they are beginning to find out what is going on in the larger world. My hope is that if they know, they will eventually act, for, as The Ethics of the Fathers also asserts, the acquisition of knowledge is not enough; it must be translated into action (1: 17).
Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D