Saturday, November 21, 2015

Where have all the young gone?

Back in April, I blogged about the rule-obeying college students, in which I wrote:
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?
Since then, the pace of commentaries has not been able to keep up with the rate at which students are demanding rules that would govern their own behaviors.  Reason comments on a report from Pew Research Center:
While two-thirds of Americans correctly believe the U.S. government should not prohibit speech that offends minorities, a shockingly high number of millennials—40 percent—support such censorship. Young people, it turns out, are more likely to favor suppression of offensive speech than older Americans.
One would think that it will be older Americans who will want to impose censorship, yet it is a significant number of youth who want rules that would suppress free expression.  WTF!

The Economist also worries about this trend, exemplified in the controversy at Yale:
As happens at many American universities, Yale administrators sent an advisory e-mail to students before the big night, requesting them to refrain from wearing costumes that other students might find offensive. Given that it is legal for 18-year-old Americans to drive, marry and, in most places, own firearms, it might seem reasonable to let students make their own decisions about dressing-up—and to face the consequences when photographs of them disguised as Osama bin Laden can forever be found on Facebook or Instagram. Yet a determination to treat adults as children is becoming a feature of life on campus, and not just in America. Strangely, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this development are the students themselves.
 As I noted in another post, this is not the kind of student that Mario Savio would have ever imagined as successors to their free speech movement in the 1960s.  The Economist also reminds us about that:
Fifty years ago student radicals agitated for academic freedom and the right to engage in political activities on campus. Now some of their successors are campaigning for censorship and increased policing by universities of student activities. The supporters of these ideas on campus are usually described as radicals. They are, in fact, the opposite.
It is crazy. Bizarre. And very much unlike the student protesters of the 1960s, the students of today are demanding care from authority figures:
When they experience the hurt that motivates them to political action, they’re deeply disappointed with parental surrogates for not responding adequately or quickly enough to support and nurture them.
While Mario Savio, et al, declared a "fuck you" on the establishment, including Ronald Reagan who was the governor of California then, today's college students want more and more safety and security from the establishment.  As my neighbor, "Archie"--who is a conservative establishment man himself--often comments with disgust, the youth seem to want to stay attached to mommies and do not want to be weaned off the breast milk!

Another commentary at Reason notes that while students are seeking the security and comfort of their small little "safe spaces" they are completely missing in action on the urgent problems of the day:
Throughout history—recent history, even—students have been some of the most reliable anti-war protesters. Where are they this time? (Indeed, where have they been for the last eight years of continued bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq?)
Students can pick whatever battles they like. But it would be great—and might even make a difference—if they were to organize against military interventionism and anti-immigrant xenophobia with as much urgency as they have against offensive Halloween costumes, problematic mascots, and Woodrow Wilson. (Even though he deserves it.)
I suppose navel-gazing is quite fascinating!


6 comments:

Anne in Salem said...

So many children today seem unable to function as adults. Change and difference and confrontation terrify them. Yesterday's student aside, they seem afraid to think. There is a strong group mentality and significant disapprobation of those opposing the group.

Is there a way to determine the source? Helicopter parents? Video games? Republican/democratic policies? Income inequality? None of the current scapegoats seems likely, except perhaps helicopter parents. If the students didn't learn as children to think, to fend for themselves, to question, the professors and the employers of the world will have a massive parenting job thrust upon them.

Mike Hoth said...

Of course we don't want free speech! We've been taught that half the dictionary is stuff you can't say in public, and most of them aren't even traditional curse words! Growing up, I learned what not to call people from Latin America. I wasn't taught actual slurs, mind you. I was told not to call them Hispanic and later not to call then Latino. Those, alongside "Black", "Asian", "Indian" (when referring to Native Americans), "gay", and "queer" were all bad words. Then they were acceptable, then they were bad again but only if you weren't one of those people.
Anne is right that students today don't know how to think. It's because we aren't supposed to. As a man consistently at odds with my peers (and professors!) on political issues, I've been deemed a homophobe, a racist, a chauvinist and a xenophobe. I'm none of those things, but most young people are unwilling to become a pariah for their beliefs. They're too concerned with being safe. As anybody who's talked to me at length can tell you though, I'm too stubborn to shut up!

Ramesh said...

We've disagreed many a time on free speech and we are going to again. To you free speech is a right above all else and subject to no constraint whatsoever. To me free speech is an important right, but subject to constraint as indeed every right is - there is no such thing as an absolute unfettered right in my book.

By all means expound any view, but must one deliberately cause offence to others. I hate PC as much as any of you, but I don't want to go out of my way to deliberately offend somebody. It is possible to make sane rational arguments on any point of view, whatever it may be and there is nowhere in America, or India, where that is going to be objected to. But I do not condone marching around crying Death to America or the hate speeches inciting people to violence.

I am surprised that both Mike and Anne feel the youth of today don't know how to think or that they are unable to function as adults. I happen to feel exactly the opposite. Maybe the context I live in is different, but the youth I see around today are far more capable and independent than what I was when I was a student.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, the Indian and American contexts are very, very different. Mike's and Anne's comments are with reference to the contemporary climate here, in contrast to what you observe in India.

My post, to which Mike and Anne are adding comments in support, is not about the right to "offensive" free speech but how universities are bending over backwards these days in order to make sure that students are protected from anything that will "hurt" them. Which is why there is the demand for "trigger warnings" in course syllabi--even for a syllabus for a law course in which rape has to be studied as a part of legal issues.

In the Indian contexts, it perhaps seems like students are more capable than we were when we were nineteen. From what I notice via the readings and when I visit, yes, they do. However, that is growth from a stage of practically not having any independent thought/action.

I disagree with Mike's comments about usage of certain words or the expression of certain ideas. Some words have such strong negative connotations that we want to avoid them--if our goal is to have constructive dialog. If somebody wants to use something like the *n* word, they certainly have the right to do so, but those are not the ones interested in meaningful and constructive conversations. Educating about the words and the historical malicious intent is different from merely policing though.

India's colleges and universities continue to function along those old lines of professors and administrators in colleges in parent roles. I was shocked, for instance, that a classmate of mine in India talked with her son's professors (without the son's knowledge) about his performance in college. India has no equivalent of our FERPA that clearly recognizes college students as adults with their legal rights--rights that cannot be messed around with even by the parents. It is odd, therefore, that increasingly students want a college bureaucracy to take care of them ... there is no one single reason for such a development--it has been a slow and steady decline on this front.

Sriram Khé said...

And then I go to read the NY Times .. which has a lengthy opinion piece on all these issues ... I should have merely outsourced my comments ;)
http://nyti.ms/1SbvE77

Anne in Salem said...

Ramesh, my comments come from observing teenagers and college students. My kids are 15 - 21. I see the group think in high school. My kids complain about it in college. My son can find very few people with whom he can have a constructive dialogue about political issues; most just spout liberal talking points with no thought, research, questioning, or conviction. They repeat what their parents say. It is frustrating for my kids, but they are both in the honors college at the same university. That is a limited perspective, but judging from how the kids were in high school, I am not optimistic that students at other universities think more broadly. I certainly hope so.

There are a handful of teachers at the local high school who foster deeper thinking. Two in particular teach AP history classes. The government class is running an election, complete with debates. My daughter is researching the issues but is frustrated by the shallowness of her opponents' comments so far. The other teacher has a favorite question - WHY. Drives the kids nuts until they realize the importance and value of repeatedly asking why. My older daughter credits this teacher with preparing her more for college than any other teacher.

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