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Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Our kids need a code to live by

In 1776, America was in a bad way. Thomas Paine penned a thought that defined the totality of the era: “These are times that try men’s souls.” By viewing history, it becomes evident that perilous times were not germane to 1776 but are a consequence of existence.

“The story of man runs in a dreary circle because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him,” said Will Durant.

Durant’s words transcend time. We find that La Cañada, particularly our high school, has fallen prey to a world whose orbit has gone off kilter. The local news at the high school is disconcerting. Vaping, drug use, bullying, physical threats, a child in the hospital because of a drug overdose and of course the potential for gun violence are daily realities for our children.

Recently, I overheard the comment at Starbucks: “I’m glad I’m not a high schooler growing up in La Cañada.” Such thoughts contribute nothing toward a solution. If I were a kid, I’d rather take my chances in La Cañada than in North Korea or living in the present versus the 1960s with the likelihood of winding up in the jungles of Vietnam.


Each generation plays with the cards they are dealt. “Bad times have scientific value,” Emerson says. The core principles of literature tell us that adversity defines our character, which obviously can go one way or the other. Well, that depends on what we do.

Typically, I’m sitting at Starbucks writing when I’m asked a host of questions about the current plight of La Cañada. People must think that because my wife, Kaitzer, is on the school board, I’m privy to the inside scoop. Are you kidding? Kaitzer must think I’m a spy for the North Koreans because she barely tells me what the board had for dinner.

“Future Shock,” a nonfiction work by Alvin Toffler published in 1970, predicts the current malaise. Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451” is also an oracle for contemporary times. These books explain that it’s typical for us to mitigate the symptoms of malaise and yet ignore the effects of evolution, technology and societal values on culture.

These works speak to Durant’s contention that we are not masters of the earth and the contentions of philosophers who have warned us to master ourselves.


The insanity that currently grips us festered over time and embedded itself in our youth, in adults and the world. I am not a utopian but a pragmatist and believe that human life is both good and evil. Subsequently, I believe that morality must be legislated.

To abolish the 2nd Amendment will not mitigate the society’s ills. I’m a gun guy, and as a street gang worker, I carried a snub-nose .38 in the bowels of New York City. But, do we really need to own an assault weapon such as the AR-15? Shouldn’t we have stricter checks regarding who purchases a gun? But please, you can’t possibly believe outlawing guns is the solution.

Yeah, there are those who scream for the courts, the legislatures, the schools and the police to do something. I am convinced that a major component of the solution lies with parents. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic song “Teach Your Children” reminds us that when our children go into the world, they must have a code to live by. That’s our job, ensuring a code. So, instead of blaming everyone but the Holy Ghost we must hold our children accountable, look at ourselves, and give them a moral foundation.

Thomas Paine’s “Crisis” is appropriate today. He reminds us not to be a “Sunshine Patriot,” but to do something.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at