Friday, April 10, 2015

Rule-obeying college students? What has the world come to?

Our campus will soon become yet another tobacco-free campus.  No smoking tobacco. No chewing tobacco. No nothing.

And students seem to want such rules.  They seem to want to bring more rules on what they should not do on campus.  In fact, they gladly even lead such efforts.

What the hell is wrong with the youth today?

For the record, I have never chewed tobacco. Ever.  And my only experience with smoking was back during my first (second?) year of undergraduate studies, when I tried a cigarette and, according to my friends, I was apparently swallowing the smoke instead of inhaling it.  And that was the end of my tobacco minute.

Yet, I find it all bizarre that a huge campus can be designated as tobacco-free.  If an adult is going to smoke a cigarette in some corner of the campus far away from humans, what the hell is the public interest issue for us to step in and ban the consumption of a perfectly legal drug?  What is the harm to me from a student chewing tobacco in the dorm room?  On a sunny day, if a couple of friends sit on a bench and chew tobacco while talking whatever students talk about, what is so compelling for us to forbid it?  If they want to screw up their health by using tobacco, well, they have all the rights to be morons as long as they don't bother me.

"Bizarre" does not capture it well.  I need better, powerful words.  But, nothing works like "what the fuck!"

There are all kinds of rights issues that one can raise.  Set those aside.  What worries me even more is that students are so eager to craft more and more rules and welcome all kinds of intrusions from the elders in the university.

I find this conformist behavior troubling.  Well, I have been troubled about such trends for a long time.  Back in 2001, David Brooks wrote about "the organization kid" in which he wrote about the Ivy League students, but it was more than about those elite few:
Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist, lamented, "They are disconcertingly comfortable with authority. That's the most common complaint the faculty has of Princeton students. They're eager to please, eager to jump through whatever hoops the faculty puts in front of them, eager to conform."
That was in an essay back in April 2001.  Students being "disconcertingly comfortable with authority."  And that has escalated.  A rule-obeying student population that I find to be shockingly disappointing.

Brooks wrote then:
Not only at Princeton but also in the rest of the country young people today are more likely to defer to and admire authority figures. Responding to a 1997 Gallup survey, 96 percent of teenagers said they got along with their parents, and 82 percent described their home life as "wonderful" or "good." Roughly three out of four said they shared their parents' general values. When asked by Roper Starch Worldwide in 1998 to rank the major problems facing America today, students aged twelve to nineteen most frequently named as their top five concerns selfishness, people who don't respect law and the authorities, wrongdoing by politicians, lack of parental discipline, and courts that care too much about criminals' rights. It is impossible to imagine teenagers a few decades ago calling for stricter parental discipline and more respect for authority. In 1974 a majority of teenagers reported that they could not "comfortably approach their parents with personal matters of concern." Forty percent believed they would be "better off not living with their parents."
The youth of today were also raised that way.  Again, let me remind you that this is from 2001--before the events of 9/11, which then triggered the police-state apparatus that we now have in the US:
Other cultures controlled behavior by citing divine commandments. We control behavior by enacting safety rules. And we've all noticed that these rules are growing stricter and stricter by the year. Not long ago young kids bounced around in the back seat of the family sedan; nowadays any parent who allowed that would be breaking the law and would be generally viewed as close to a child abuser. Not long ago kids rode bikes unencumbered. Now a mere scooter ride requires body armor, and in many families kids aren't permitted to ride out of sight of the house.
Those kids are now today's youth who demand more and more rules even as adults!  How awful!!!

In case you think that the "child abuser" argument that Brooks made is hyperbole, well, remember the news about the free-range parents?  You forgot?  Here is a recap for you from last month:
The Maryland parents investigated for letting their young children walk home by themselves from a park were found responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect in a decision that has not fully resolved their clash with authorities over questions of parenting and children’s safety.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv hoped the nationally debated case — which has lit up social media and brought a dozen television film crews to their Silver Spring home — would be dismissed after a two-month investigation by Montgomery County Child Protective Services.
But the finding of unsubstantiated child neglect means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what would happen if the Meitiv children get reported again for walking without adult supervision.
Yes, the "crime" the parents committed was to allow--and encourage--their kids to walk home by themselves from a neighborhood park!

Oh well.  Is it any wonder that the youth seem to yawn at the Snowden revelations?  The rule-obeying students will make it all easy for a 1984-like scenario to unfold.  All the better that my time is limited.  Until then, rebel I shall! ;)


Mike Hoth said...

It's not really surprising to me that college students are willing to jump through hoops. As a college student of 7 years now, I've watched the "tobacco-free campus movement" from the inside virtually since its inception.

Like any other topic of discussion at a university, tobacco was doomed to either become the greatest thing ever that will solve all our problems, or the thing that will destroy humanity. Marijuana took the former position, tobacco has taken the latter.

It's also not surprising that young people are being raised to follow rules. Children of the 60s rebelled against their parents, and when the hippies had children they rebelled even harder. Then the third generation, mine, was born and Gen X went "wait, they're going to be WORSE than us?! Oh shit!" With two generations working to avoid that, it's no wonder we ended up so obedient!

Ramesh said...

This is a wonderful thought provoking post. When I was reading the tobacco ban bit, I almost had the same thought as Mike - ban tobacco and legalise pot ??????

But then you raise a very interesting issue of obedience. I hadn't noticed this phenomenon, but reading your piece, it looks that it has crept to take over the stage while we were not looking. What has happened to the youth in the US - where are the hippies, where are the rebels, where is everybody ?? Clutching at mommy's apron strings is the defining theme of this generation ????????

As for the Maryland incident, I was not familiar of it at all. From your mention, it appears that we should move the Ramamrithams who brought that case to a lunatic asylum.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, I have been worrying about this trend for years, even in graduate school. Which is also why I found that David Brooks essay so comforting when I read that back in 2001. Misery loves company, and Brooks offered excellent company.

Mike's comments are along the lines of the typical explanations that are offered. The excessive concern about safety comes from those perspectives.

But there is more than that. The primacy of getting rich plays a role--never before in human history has the pursuit of money so dominated the lives of ordinary folks. religion, how much ever an atheist I am, played a wonderful role in alerting the regular folks about a cosmos that is much grander than our daily lives. But, now, everywhere we turn--from the television to instagrams--it is all about the individual pursuit of money and instant gratification. And, thus, there is no inclination to rebel, with all the thinking having been completely dulled out or manipulated enough not to rebel.

Anne in Salem said...

As a parent of three teenagers and one college student, I have several thoughts. I like to think I have taught my children the value of following good rules and of arguing against stupid ones.

These kids have grown up with warning labels on everything and have heard the horrors of tobacco their entire lives. I'm not surprised they want to ban it. They see it as a health issue, not as a governmental intrusion issue. The government has been intruding all their lives - bike helmets, curfews, school requirements, etc.

The part about the drive for money is valid. If a teen's goal is to earn as much money as possible, he needs to get a good education, which requires a good college, which requires a good high school transcript, all of which require following the rules.

Today's parents may have many rules, but it seems some homes are completely lacking in rules. If children do actually crave rules, discipline, and order (bedroom floors notwithstanding), perhaps school rules fill the void left by lax parents.

Not many kids I know have much reason to rebel . . .

Sriram Khé said...

"Not many kids I know have much reason to rebel . . ."

Hmmmm ...

Sriram Khé said...

The latest on the Maryland parents ... yep, it happened again!


There are conflicting reports—the Washington Posts says the kids were picked up in a park, while says they were within one-third of a mile of their home. Either way, it appears the children were picked up by county police at about 5 p.m. and taken to Child Protective Services, but the Meitivs were not informed until 8 p.m. They were not reunited with their children until 10:30 p.m., and then only after they agreed to sign a “temporary safety plan” promising not to leave the children unattended. The children were reportedly left in a police car for several hours."

Most read this past month