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Judy Woodruff Discusses the Generation Next Project

January 3, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The parents, let’s start with that. Did most young people — and now we’re talking 16-year-olds to 25-year-olds — was their first taste of religion from their parents?

JUDY WOODRUFF: No question about it, Jim. You know, for all the talk about rebellion and so forth among the young, most young people — and you see this anecdotally, you see it in the surveys and the studies that have been done — follow their parents, especially during their young years and their teenage years.

Now, when they get into their 20s, when they move away from home, either because they’re in school or they’re on their own, that’s when they may turn in a different direction. And what you just heard in that piece is that a number of them are unaffiliated. That’s the fancy word for saying…

JIM LEHRER: What does that mean?

JUDY WOODRUFF: That means that they are not identified with any particular church.

JIM LEHRER: They don’t go to church at all?

JUDY WOODRUFF: They don’t go to church or they don’t feel affiliated with any particular church.

Or, with the most interesting thing that’s going on right now, and it depends on which study you look at, 30 percent or 40 percent of them, the single largest group, describe themselves as evangelical Christians, born-again Christians.

There’s something very interesting going on. Now, we can talk a little bit later about what that means…

JIM LEHRER: Sure. But born-again means they were not born as born-agains. They have literally been born-again as young people, not as children of parents, right?

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right. But, now, a number of them have come up in those families, and they’ve remained faithful in those born-again evangelical churches.

But you’ve seen an influx of young people. You heard Charles Mitchell, born a Catholic, went to mass every week or several times a week. As an adult, he turned away from the church, and then he was attracted to the evangelical faith.

A 'passion' for politics

Judy Woodruff
NewsHour Special Correspondent
You've got young people across this country who are thinking a whole lot harder about what the problems are, what ought to be done, than we give them credit for.

JIM LEHRER: In a more general way, involving religion and other things, is that you've talked to a lot of these kids now. Is it your impression that they want to make a difference, not only in religion, but in government and politics? Do they want to do things?

JUDY WOODRUFF: That's a harder question to answer. Clearly, we met a number of young people who are very passionate about politics or about some volunteer, some community project they're involved in.

And when we talked to a young man in Chaz -- and I'm going to forget his last name. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, Hillman, Chaz Hillman. Very passionate about changing his neighborhood. He doesn't like the war in Iraq, but what he wants to do is he wants to do something for the poor people of Columbus, Ohio, his neighborhood, the four or five or six square blocks that he grew up in. That's what he wants to change.

JIM LEHRER: But is that based on a religious belief? In other words, "I have a religious belief, and my religious belief means I should help people who have a bad neighborhood to live in."

JUDY WOODRUFF: In his case, he is a religious young man, and his religious, his faith, is very important to him, but this passion, I think, almost transcends that. It's something that, when you get him talking, his eyes light up as he talks about what he thinks has to change. He grew up in poverty. He doesn't want to see other young people grow up.

On the other hand, Jim, we talked to a young man that grew up in Colorado, left high school, joined the Army before 9/11, thought this was going to be a way to get an education, see the world. Along comes 9/11. He goes to Iraq twice.

His name is Gabe Viejos, and Gabe essentially has fallen in love with the military and believes that the U.S. military is an essential part of this country, of what it believes in, of its extension of its values.

So, I mean, you've got young people across this country who are thinking a whole lot harder about what the problems are, what ought to be done, than we give them credit for.

I'm not going to sit here, though, and tell you that every single one of them is passionate. Some of them are just focused on paying their bills, paying off their college loans, keeping a job, getting a job.

Raised 'to be heard'

Judy Woodruff
NewsHour Special Correspondent
These young people were not raised just to be seen and not heard. They were raised with parents who read everything from Dr. Spock to all the latest child psychology books, "How to Raise a Child with High Self-Esteem."

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned in an earlier piece, an earlier segment in this that you had the feeling, too, that these kids see themselves, particularly the piece you did on the workplace, that the workplace should be adjusted for them. They kind of see themselves as special people.

Is that a correct reading of that?

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is. It's fascinating. And it comes, I think, to a large degree from their relationship with their parents.

These young people were not raised just to be seen and not heard. They were raised with parents who read everything from Dr. Spock to all the latest child psychology books, "How to Raise a Child with High Self-Esteem," "How to Raise a Brilliant Child," "How to Raise a Happy Child," and they have grown up with parents who were, in some cases, their best friends, right into their 20s and on.

And they're going away to school or they're going to a job. They're on the phone with their parents multiple times a day, not all of them, but many of them. Parents are e-mailing them. They may even be Instant Messenger-ing them.

JIM LEHRER: And we're going to hear a lot of them, in a word, right?

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are. We will, next week.

JIM LEHRER: I don't mean next week, but I mean from now until the end...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, from now on, this is the generation that is going to take over, and they are a distinct group. They're going to do things differently from the way our generation did it.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.