Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday School General Presidency Stresses Improved Learning and Teaching

Last summer when I was called to serve in my stake’s Sunday school presidency, my brother (currently serving in a bishopric) said that he had told his stake president that he’d pay 20% tithing for a “peripheral” calling like that.  I replied that the calling’s lower demand nature would be great were it not for my four other (actually five other) callings, one of which is quite demanding.

Each year prior to April general conference, the LDS Church’s Sunday school general presidency holds training sessions for Sunday school leaders at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.  Since I was unable to attend last week’s session due to another commitment, I drove straight to Salt Lake after work last night for the reprisal of that session.

I’m not a guy that likes to have meetings just to have meetings, but I’m pretty faithful in attending meetings that I should be at.  It really wasn’t my idea of fun to leave the house at 6 am when most family members were still asleep and not return until 9 pm when the youngest are heading to bed.  But the stake presidency asked me to go to the meeting, so I did.

Having attended many church training meetings in my lifetime, I think last night’s event was one of the better ones.  Quite frankly, it has been fairly common for me to leave priesthood leadership training meetings feeling beat up, having been told with great boldness the manifold ways we are screwing up.  To top it off, the leaders for whom those messages are mostly intended are rarely in attendance at such meetings.  (Go figure.)  I know I’m not the only one that feels this way about those meetings.

Last night was different.  I left the meeting feeling spiritually uplifted with some valuable tools I can use in my calling.  The 90-minute meeting was engaging and interesting.  The general presidency purposefully, yet skillfully used a variety of communication and teaching methods that kept the attendees involved.  This was a departure from the standard two-hour lecture series common to most large leadership meetings.

Well, most of the attendees appeared to be engaged.  The brother seated behind me fell asleep and started making funny high-pitched whiny noises until the gentleman next to him woke the man from his nightmare.  I’ve heard snoring in meetings plenty of times, but rarely have I heard people talk or make other noises during their meeting time slumber sessions.

The main emphasis of the event was on improving learning and teaching in the church.  Learning can take place without a teacher, but teaching cannot take place unless learning occurs.  One may go through the actions of teaching without reaching the students.  Church leaders and teachers should be the best learners so that they can help others learn.

One of the communication methods used was interactive polling.  Each attendee was given an electronic device.  The speaker would put a polling question up on the screen and we’d click a button to respond.  The responses were immediately calculated before our eyes.

One such question dealt with providing orientation for members that receive new callings.  It was clear from the responses that local church leaders need to do much better at this.  Orientation sessions should be sit-down affairs that last 15-30 minutes, not something that happens in the hallway.

During the orientation, one or more members of the presidency of the organization in which the member will be serving should provide the member with the resources needed to properly fulfill the calling.  For example, when orienting a new Sunday school teacher, members of the ward Sunday school presidency should:
  • ·         Provide the class roll, help familiarize the teacher with the class members, and explain any important issues.
  • ·         Explain protocol (meeting room, time, classroom procedure, etc).  Maybe the meeting could occur in the room where the class will be held.
  • ·         Provide the current curriculum.  Tell the teacher it’s theirs to keep and mark up.  Show the teacher which lesson will be taught next.
  • ·         Give the teacher a copy of Teaching, No Greater Call, and go over the section on preparing lessons (chapters 30-35).
  • ·         Address any concerns the new teacher has.
One brother asked whether the Sunday school presidency should train all newly called teachers in the ward.  The answer was no.  Although the ward Sunday school presidency is responsible for all teaching that occurs in the ward (including visiting teaching, home teaching, and family home evenings), they should only orient Sunday school teachers.  They can and should invite leaders of other organizations to receive training on how to manage their organization’s teachers, but such invitations should be free of coercion (D&C 121:41-42).

Organization presidencies are also responsible for ongoing teacher support.  Among the ideas offered were:
  • ·         Visits.
  • ·         Group training.
  • ·         Individual contact.
  • ·         Asking teachers to review specific chapters of Teacher, No Greater Call.
  • ·         Asking teachers what the presidency can do to help them.
The general presidency wants church members and leaders to make much greater use of the church’s online resources.  One question dealt with how often and why people have accessed the Sunday school website.  I thought this was funny because I had been using the site via my phone while waiting for the meeting to start.

We were told to watch for a new teaching website to come online within a few weeks and for a leadership library show up this summer.

Finally, the general presidency wrapped up with each member emphasizing one of Elder Bednar’s three points of gospel learning as described in Sunday School General President Russell T. Osguthorpe’s October 2009 general conference talk:
  1. Teach key doctrine.
  2. Invitation to action.
  3. Bear witness of promised blessings.

All teaching in the church should be both spiritually edifying and doctrinally correct.  Sunday school presidencies are responsible for ensuring that proper doctrine is taught in church settings.  It was noted that teachers are sometimes so disorganized or vague that it’s not clear what doctrine is being taught.  The Spirit has difficulty bearing witness of such insubstantial stuff.  And while discussions about peripheral matters can be stimulating, we are to focus on key doctrines in church settings.

Invitation to action on the principles taught is essential to people enacting positive changes in their lives.  Failing to do so is like a chef taking people on a tour of a marvelous feast prepared in his kitchen without inviting them to partake.  Teachers should not shy away from issuing properly inspired invitations to implement gospel principles.  Learning theory is great, but the real value lies in doing.

It was noted that some teachers don’t like promising blessings because they are not priesthood leaders.  But teachers aren’t being asked to invent new promises.  They are being asked to gain their own witness and then testify of the promises that God has already made through proper channels.  People need to understand the positive consequences that will result from their honorable actions.  This helps provide motivation to act.  It is an essential element of improving lives.

Church teachers and leaders should always be asking themselves how people’s lives will be improved by what they do as they carry out their callings.  If it what they are doing won’t improve people’s lives, they’re doing it wrong.

As I left the meeting last night, I was glad I attended, despite the inconvenience.  Our presidency now has material to use for the training meeting we are going to lead next month.  But more importantly, I left the meeting smiling, feeling spiritually uplifted and empowered to better fulfill my calling.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wedding Rings

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As a child I marveled at my Dad's wedding ring. It was a simple silver band that was lightly embossed with a very simple weave pattern.

Mom and Dad couldn't afford much when they first married. They lived far from both sets of parents, neither of whom were in a position to provide much support of any kind. Consequently, Mom's wedding ring was a very simple affair.

When I was still a kid, my parents had Mom's wedding ring re-worked. Years later they replaced the ring with something that was still relatively modest, yet far sturdier than the original. Dad's ring stayed the same. Despite Mom's encouragement to upgrade, Dad kept his simple wedding band.

After Dad passed away, I held his wedding band in my hand, feeling its surface that had been worn smooth by more than 50 years of wear. As I turned the ring over, something triggered a memory of the weave pattern that I had seen as a child. The pattern had been completely worn away so many years earlier that I had forgotten that it had ever existed.

Even as I think about this episode, I look at my own wedding band that I remove pretty much only when required for safety. It is a relatively simple gold band whose only notable markings are tiny characters stamped on the inside denoting the gold quality.

My ring is a rather unremarkable piece of jewelry. Yet it means a great deal to me.

The ring was originally half a size larger. In our first two years of marriage, I gained 40 lbs and then lost 60 lbs. To keep the ring from slipping off my finger we had it resized to fit my altered size. The ring has fit just fine ever since.

There are no big nicks in the surface of my ring. I hardly notice the thousands of tiny marks on the surface. The marks can more easily be seen with magnification.

My wife still wears the ring set that I gave her in two stages: the first when we became engaged, and the second when we married. Actually, she returned the engagement ring a week before the wedding so that I could get the two rings permanently welded together by the jeweler prior to the wedding.

We have had some maintenance done on my wife's ring a few times over the years. It is a somewhat delicate looking setting, but it has proven to be fairly durable. I assumed from the moment I acquired the ring that my wife would want to get something different after a few years. But she has been quite happy with her ring set and has shown no desire to upgrade.

Both of us wear our rings nearly always. I think there's some significance to that.

Neither my wife nor I are much into jewelry. The only other jewelry I wear is an old Timex wristwatch. After we were certain that we were finished having children, we got my wife a beautiful mother's ring. The ring is designed to complement her wedding set. She often wears modest earrings. Occasionally she will wear a non-valuable necklace of some sort when she dresses up. A burglar looking for jewelry in our home would leave with almost nothing of worth.

During the last few years of Dad's life, we were sometimes alarmed at how verbally brusque he was with Mom. This tendency was further complicated after a stroke, when he wasn't able to reason as clearly as before. Despite all of this, I knew that Dad was eternally devoted to Mom. Like his worn wedding band, Dad's devotion was constant.

Mom has a nasty arthritis condition in her hands. A few years ago she had a hinge installed on her wedding ring so that she could get it on and off without having to slip it over enlarged finger joints. Although Dad passed away nearly three years ago, Mom still wears her wedding ring because she still has a husband waiting for her on the other side of the veil.

As I consider my wedding band and my wife's wedding set, I realize that they really aren't worth much in money. That is, both are modest pieces of jewelry. But it's not the monetary value that is important. The real value in our rings far exceeds any earthly possession. In fact, the rings are only a poor symbol of this deeper meaning. But since they are symbols of something far greater, we will continue to wear and cherish our wedding rings.

I hope that someday after my passing my children will be able to hold my simple wedding band and reflect on how devoted I was to their mother. It would bring me great joy if that moment conjured in them happy memories.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prom Skanks

My wife was beside herself a few weeks prior to the high school's prom. Our high school senior son simply refused to go to the dance. Unlike his father was back in high school, my son is very popular. He could easily get a date with just about any girl at his school that isn't going steady with someone. He helped friends ask girls to the prom, but he turned his friends down when they tried to get him to ask a girl.

My wife did everything she could think of to cajole (and even bribe) our son into going to the prom. She conspired with his friends behind his back. She worked up ways for him to ask girls that he liked. One day my son came into my room and asked if I could get his mother to ease off about prom. He said that he simply wasn't interested in going. Citing the costs involved in attending a formal dance, he said that he didn't want to waste that kind of money on a one-time dating event. This particular social aspect of high school just didn't mean as much to him as it meant to my wife.

My wife is a wonderful mom. She really wants the best for her kids. But, having herself been a high school girl, her interest in getting my son to attend prom also had something to do with her thoughts about some girl that would be sitting at home alone on prom night instead of attending the premier event of the high school social calendar. Trying to sell the event as an act of service, however, did nothing for my son. At my urging, my wife glumly gave up on her dream of our son attending prom.

During the week following the prom, I saw links on my son's Facebook page to numerous photos of friends that had attended the prom along with their dates. All were carefully groomed. The young men were all dressed in fine formal clothing; some of it very classy. Each young woman had a fancy hairdo and near perfect makeup. All were exquisitely dressed.

But every last girl — most of whom stand up every Sunday and recite words about being "daughters of God" that "STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" and "strive to live [with] ... virture" — were dressed in various stages of immodesty. Some looked like a cross between Disney's Cinderella and a hooker. After seeing scads of such photos, I was relieved that my son chose to avoid the prom. I now live in desperate fear of the time when my young daughter will be of age to attend a prom.

This topic was fresh on my mind when I encountered this WSJ article that poses the question, "Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?"

Frankly, it's the moms that permit and even encourage their daughters to dress this way. Despite the evolution of partner roles over the past two generations, study after study shows that dads have relatively little say in how their daughters dress. They mostly defer to the girl's mother on this topic. So why is it that moms take delight in dressing their young daughters like aspiring porn actresses? What does this tell our daughters about their self worth and personal power?

The article's author describes a friend suggesting that moms dressing their daughters to look "hot" as a mom-daughter bonding experience. But the author feels that it goes beyond this. She writes:

"So here we are, the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation. We somehow survived our own teen and college years (except for those who didn't), and now, with the exception of some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, scads of us don't know how to teach our own sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily. We're embarrassed, and we don't want to be, God forbid, hypocrites."
I'm grateful that the author indicated that "some Mormons" know how to train their kids to be modest. Because judging from my son's friends' prom photos, there are plenty that don't.

The author has a point about moms wanting to avoid hypocrisy, but to me it does not fully explain the phenomenon I have been discussing. I know plenty of moms that grew up chaste and modest that now dress their young daughters like trollops. Perhaps their sense of being unpopular as a somewhat prudish teen is so keen that they are willing to bow to the standards of the world in a bid to enhance their daughter's popularity. I'm not sure how well this works in real life. Trying to prevent the pain of unpopularity this way will turn out to be a poor bargain in the long run.

I think the author's discussion of moms living vicariously through their daughters also strikes a chord. She writes, "... when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads."

Girls that learn that gaining power via sex appeal is useful and acceptable will not likely give up on it easily. When they find their own ability to exercise this power naturally diminished with age, they can relive the "thrill" by training their daughters in such arts. Even while admitting to this kind of parental indiscretion, the author laments that each succeeding generation seems to take such matters to new extremes — and not in a good way.

A family in our congregation has four lovely daughters. The three older daughters are now out of high school, but throughout their high school years each was regularly asked to school sponsored formal dances. Although church leaders frown on the practice, it is customary for girls to wear their formal gowns to church the day after the dance. These girls always wore outfits that were gorgeous without being revealing. Many moms complain of the difficulty of finding dresses of this nature. But these girls' mom insists that it can be done if one thinks this kind of modesty is important.

I've dealt with my own high schoolers, but they've all been boys up to this point. Since I haven't had a teenage daughter yet, I am hardly one to sit in judgment of how others parent their daughters. I pray that we will be able to deal with issues such as this with wisdom and integrity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

High Grades, but Cheap

One day as I walked into my son's high school, I was greeted by a large decorated bulletin board proudly displaying the names of the students that had achieved a 4.0 GPA during the previous term. The board was broken into sections by class. There was literally more than one hundred names listed in each section (for a student body of about 1,500).

I thought of my years attending the same high school. My name would never have appeared on such a list. Even after I escaped my history of C's in junior high school and learned to apply myself academically, I never got a report card that had straight A's. I had several that had a mixture of A and A– grades. But never straight A's. In fact, I could have counted on my fingers and toes the number of students in the school that achieved straight A's in any given term.

My son is very bright. He has a much higher cumulative GPA than I had at the same age. Yet he ranks as #128 in his class. My wife, who is much smarter than me, explained to my son that, although her GPA was .05 lower than his, she ranked as #26 in her graduating class (at a different high school).

If one were to compare simply the GPAs of the students in the classes from which my wife and I graduated and the students that will be graduating from my son's school in a couple of months, one would conclude that today's students are significantly smarter and/or harder working than were their parents at the same age.

I don't mean to sound envious, but such a conclusion frankly doesn't pass the smell test.

Years ago, the local high school gave out a pin for having been on the honor roll six times. I checked my old yearbook and saw that 137 of my class of 500 received this award. (My name is misspelled in the list.)

The school still gives this award, but it now requires eight terms on the honor roll. My son's graduating class will be about the same size as mine was. This morning I attended an award ceremony at the school where 209 members of the class were given the pin. The teacher conducting the ceremony indicated that many more would receive the award later this year. It looks like more than half of the graduating class will end up being on the honor roll at least eight of the twelve terms they will spend at the school.

Increasing the number of honor terms it takes to get the pin only gave the award a chimera of additional rigor. Tellingly, more than half of the award's recipients didn't even bother to show up to receive the honor this morning. Grade inflation has devalued the award to the point that it is rather meaningless.

Is this philosophy of lowering standards serving our students well? Achievements mean little when they come too easily. Or, as Thomas Paine put it in his essay, The Crisis, "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods...."

A generation of efforts to broaden educational achievement has instead cheapened the experience. This ill serves all students.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Belief vs. Faith

There is a qualitative difference between belief and faith, although, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Belief can amount to little more than a matter of opinion. Faith is substantially acting on a belief. One can believe in something without having faith in it. Belief is relatively undemanding, while faith requires commitment. Some dictionaries include terms such as trust, loyalty, and fidelity in the definition of faith.

Whether we admit it or not, each of us lives out our days committing acts of faith. We go to work because we have faith that the benefits of doing so will outweigh the consequences of not doing so. Although we may be operating on pretty good evidence that this is true, we cannot know its verity for certain until after the fact.

Some will argue that this is not faith. Let me give another example. A person that has never flown on an airplane may have every reason to believe that it is a safe form of travel. There is plenty of evidence to bolster such a belief. However, it requires an act of faith to actually get on an airplane to fly to a distant destination.

Fear of flying is a fairly widespread phenomenon. Mature adults can admit that statistics show how safe it is to fly on commercial aircraft. They may personally know hundreds of individuals that have safely flown many times. And yet they may have difficulty mustering sufficient faith to travel by that method. For such a person, submitting to air travel is a strong act of faith.

As much as our society revels in facts and data, scientists also know that the average human is no Mr. Spock. Even those that pride themselves on their rationality are, like the rest of us, sometimes profoundly illogical beings. In terms of the human experience, logic itself is often an irrationally applied concept.

As a computer application developer, I work with logic continually. Computers have become dramatically 'smarter' throughout my career. And yet logic usually works well because computer systems are still very narrowly scoped environments. When broken down into their basic building blocks, computers operate on the basis of millions and billions of minute yes/no decisions.

The same is not true for humans. For starters, our environments are much broader and far less controlled than computer systems. We operate in multiple choice environments with naturally imposed processing limitations and constraints enforced by context and past 'programming.' Myriads of decisions we make daily cannot feasibly be reduced to a series of tiny yes/no determinations.

On the other hand, some scientists have speculated that what we call intuition is really made up of countless hardware- and software-based determinations that are rapidly but subconsciously processed. In this view, what many think of as illogic may actually be much more logical than trying to make all determinations based only on purposeful conscious thought. Those that pride themselves on their rationality may actually be denying themselves of access to their brain's most powerful logic functions.

Even if this is true, however, humans tend to appear so illogical because we operate with heavy restrictions in a broad, varied, and evolving environment. It is not be possible for even the smartest and most enlightened among us to have sufficient knowledge and processing capacity to effectively deal logically with everything that we are called upon to deal with.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where from birth to the end of life we are saddled with having to place a great amount of trust on imperfect systems, people, and assumptions. We simply have no alternative. Although we all have our reasons for choosing various belief systems, we tend to do so because we admire others that hew to those systems and we have some level of comfort with those systems.

We are not static individuals. Humans often alter their belief systems when they encounter something with which they feel more comfortable.

When we have enough trust in a belief to turn it into committed action, we embark upon an experiment. How we proceed thereafter depends largely upon how we interpret the results of our experiment. Due to dramatic diversity of individual human hardware and software implementations, what looks like success to one may appear to be failure to others.

When we feel that we have sufficient evidence to back up our belief system, what seems like counter evidence to others will do little to dissuade us from our convictions. In fact, counter evidence presented by those adhering to different belief systems may come across as supporting evidence instead.

When you think about it, this isn't necessarily illogical, given that we are all operating on very limited amounts of truth. Even 'facts' obtained via the scientific method are inadequate because anything that can be reduced to such an experiment is necessarily limited in scope so that it loses its strength or is merely lost in the noise when dropped into the rushing stream of complexity that each of us continuously face.

It has been human tendency since time immemorial to engage in hubris. We either convince ourselves or pretend that we know much more than we really do, can place our vast store of knowledge in proper context, and can dictate what is best for others. Surely this is so in this age of exploding information?

We are merely fooling ourselves if we think so. Humility is prized as a virtue because it is so rare.

Despite it being broadly and officially discounted by elite society, faith is an integral part of our daily lives. It is and will continue to be an essential ingredient of the human experience. Given our limitations, we would do well to approach such matters with a dose of humility.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"I Decided"

I have described how years ago I lost 60 lbs over the period of a year, going from tubby to normal weight. I have mostly kept the weight off for more than two decades.

A couple of years ago, I ran into a longtime friend who is reaching a point where he can likely envision retirement from his teaching career on the horizon. He was my boss when I worked at Boy Scout camp as a teenager. Back in those days my friend was thin and wiry. Like almost every other middle age American, the years had added a bit of padding around his formerly lithe middle.

The day I encountered my friend after not seeing him for half a year or so, he looked decidedly older. But he also looked to be about the same size he was back when I worked for him. The excess pounds were gone. He had shed 70 lbs from a high of 203 lbs (which is plenty for a guy of his stature).

My first question was whether my friend was in good health. He told me that people ask him and his wife all of the time whether he has cancer or not. He assured me that he was in top health. In fact, he said that he hadn’t felt so good in years.

Having been through my own weight control challenges, I asked my friend what he had done. He said simply, “I decided.” When he saw my questioning look, he continued, “I decided to do what had to be done to lose the excess weight. Making the commitment was the hardest part.” He then flattered me by suggesting that I had been part of his motivation. Having seen me do it, he knew it could be done.

My friend’s approach to weight loss differed somewhat from my own. He employed a self designed approach focused on reduced calorie intake. This was not something he jumped into without research. There is a growing body of evidence that supports the concept that maintaining a restricted but adequate calorie intake both improves health and lengthens lifespan.

The plan was simple. Eat only at regular mealtimes (three times daily). Eat only a (truly) reasonable portion of the elements of a balanced meal at each mealtime. Eat nothing else at all. No between meal snacks. No dessert items — ever.

By implementing this plan, my friend was pleased to watch the excess pounds melt away over the months until he was normal weight for his frame. He boasts of pleasantly hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park without ever feeling out of breath or fatigued.

At the time I met up with my friend, I had slowly added about 10 lbs that were proving stubborn to get off. Having inspired my friend, I felt inspired by him. Last spring I decided to get rid of those extra pounds. Once the commitment was made for real, I found a way to successfully shed the weight and fit comfortably into my pants again.  It is surprising how much of a difference 10 lbs makes in stamina, agility, heart rate, blood pressure, just breathing, and general physical health.

My approach to weight loss isn’t like my friend’s. He says that for him it is a good thing to keep his appetite perpetually keen. He feels that self denial adds moral and mental strength. Besides, he loves his grandchildren so much that he wants to perpetuate his life as long as possible. If the research is correct, he is well on his way to his goal.

But not everyone shares my friend’s level of self discipline. Hunger is the bane of most people trying to lose weight. When hunger strikes dieters tend to eat excess calories, often of the variety they would normally avoid while trying to lose pounds. For this reason, many weight loss coaches suggest eating small but adequate meals and healthy snacks throughout the day to prevent hunger buildup.

Over the years I have discovered that no single weight loss plan really works for everyone that desires to lose weight. It’s not simply whether it works scientifically. There are hundreds of plans out there that do that. A plan has to work socially and psychologically for the individual as well.

For this reason, weight loss is a highly personalized thing. Each person has to find a plan that actually works for them. That might take muddling around until you find the right thing. In fact, it may require changing approaches over the years as you and your social situations evolve.

But the more I think about it, the more I think my friend is right. The biggest key to weight loss is deciding to do it. Once the commitment is firmly made, you will put up with a lot of things you wouldn’t have endured before making the commitment. Once the commitment is made you will find a plan that works for you.

But making a commitment is a two part thing. A commitment is no good if you don’t know where you’re going. You have to have a goal. My friend’s goal was to get back to his normal weight of yore. He made it. Those that are 70 lbs overweight but commit to simply “lose weight” will be far less likely to find success. A specific but realistic goal is an indispensible element of making a commitment of this nature.

Without a real goal-oriented commitment you will tend to sabotage your imagined purpose. My Mom attends a water aerobics class with some friends several times weekly. Mom complains that her friends want to stop at McDonald’s for a treat after almost every exercise session. This is an example of the well known exercise-reward-sabotage syndrome.

It takes an awful lot of physical exertion to burn 100 calories. Experts have long known that people that work out tend to reward themselves afterward with more calories than they burned during their workout. One of Mom’s exercise friends complains that she can’t seem to lose any weight no matter what she does. Her real problem is a lack of a real target and a real commitment.

You want to lose weight? The first step is a serious commitment. The rest will fill itself in. And who knows? Maybe you will end up being an inspiration to somebody else.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Writer Kay Hymowitz says in this WSJ op-ed that over the last generation society has spawned a new social segment that she calls "pre-adulthood." This phase is sandwiched between the teen years and full adulthood.

Hymowitz notes that the now common teenager phase is actually a relatively recent phenomenon that came about as the Industrial Age ripened. As the economy shifted from agriculture to industry and prosperity crept forward, it became decreasingly necessary for teens to economically contribute to a family's needs.

Moreover, workers began to become increasingly specialized. This happens in all advancing economies and it is one of the key ingredients to the expansion of prosperity. However, it also means that workers increasingly need better qualifications to become full economic contributors.

Some have argued that secondary schools arose as baby-sitting services for unproductive adolescents so that their parents could be freed up to work. While that may not be wholly incorrect, the fact is that schools arose to fill the economic need for better qualified workers.

One of the problems with the advent of teenager-hood as its own element is that it leaves people in limbo for a number of years. They are no longer children but neither can they be full social-economic contributors. Almost all respond with some level of rebellious behavior, lashing out against societal norms. This ranges from relatively benign actions to ones that produce long-term negative consequences.

Our social-economic system continues to evolve, creating demand for ever more specialized workers. The system has also permitted more women to not only enter the workforce but to excel in the workforce as never before. These elements together have expanded the limbo period from the teen years to the young adult years, the period that Hymowitz calls "pre-adulthood."

The advancement of women has decreased the demand for men to achieve responsibility and independence. To put it bluntly, women have less of a need of a husband in order to be socially and economically stable than used to be the case. The combination of these factors means that the pre-adult stage is mostly a male thing.

While women are graduating college and embarking on promising careers, men that have been "wait-listed for adulthood" are acting like adult-size teenagers. Hymowitz writes, "Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. ... Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does."

Just as marketers quickly took advantage of burgeoning ranks of teens in the 20th Century, they are heavily targeting those 20-something males that have little sense of responsibility.

There are certainly men that get an education during their 20s. However, some have complained that we are producing masses of educated barbarians that lack the kind of responsibility and self restraint required to maintain a civil society.

With men coming late to the social and economic party, many are no doubt slated to spend fewer years in a productive career than their parents' generation before they begin to crave the leisure promised by retirement. Having spent much and saved little during their younger years (and given the anticipated instability of Social Security), many of these men may find full retirement elusive as they age.

Families can do much to encourage their young men to grow up to be men. Those young men that fail to man up may be on their way to obsolescence. That would not be a good thing. One of the major issues for societies throughout time has been how to deal with their men. Societies that find useful roles for their men to play thrive far better than those that don't. Given our current trajectory, we may find ourselves in a bad place in a couple of generations.