I remember the day I stopped humming the theme song to the television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” It was midway through the semester at Towson University, and I had just met with a student who was furious that I had asked her to leave class because she had been e-mailing. She couldn’t believe I would do such a thing. I was angry that she flouted my no-texting/e-mailing classroom policy and, worse, that she lacked even a whiff of contrition.
I walked into my next class, a course that explored the declining health of civility and community in American culture. As usual, everyone’s eyes were buried in their cellphones. When class started, the tension was palpable. Ever since we had started exploring the toxic state of community, students had grown defensive. They hadn’t bought my argument that they needed to break out of their hyperconnected cocoons — “ramparts” may be more accurate — and live in ever-expanding communities where face-to-face relationships breed tolerance and the rewards of individual sacrifice.
I posed a question. “I just read a study which says that 81 percent of your generation doesn’t trust most people or large institutions,” I said. “So, how can we create community if we only trust our small circle of friends and families?”
“What’s wrong with finding our own small communities?” Ashley huffed.
A wave of “Yeahs!” sounded.