Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can The Young'uns Be Made All Right?

I've spent the better part of the past three days writing letters of recommendation for scholarships, and, a new recommendation experience for me, prep school admission. That fact may help explain why this Alan Jacobs paragraph has had a disconcerting impact:
It’s often said that the current generation of twentysomethings are distinctively narcissistic, but the available evidence strongly suggests that that is not true: any narcissism that has set in to American society set in forty or more years ago, just as Christopher Lasch told us. But if they’re not any more narcissistic than their predecessors, these young people do often seem bereft of a moral vocabulary with which to assess their lives — and, perhaps equally often, they seem to be craving such a vocabulary. For that lack they have no one but their elders to blame.

Jacobs is certainly correct that they young'uns don't have the tools to access their lives. They know how to take pictures and post the photos to Facebook, but they don't know how to explain why the smiles are plastic. They know how to say they are bored but they are confused by concepts such as angst or ennui. If they can't express emotion, it's difficulty for me to believe they examine their moral or spiritual condition or can explain to anyone what they believe that condition to be.

I also worry that the "elders" will continue to fail the young'us. Some of my fellow educators remain so concerned with students' self esteem that they forget that pain is a necessary to improve one's self physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Some of my uber-bosses advocate Common Core and believe that STEM has saving properties. They, unfortunately, dominate state and federal departments education. Their efforts to remove from the curriculum the novels, myths, and poems that gave most of us the vocabulary we use to describe our moral selves will exacerbate the problem. Tech manuals don't build one's moral vocabulary, and I doubt that anyone will have the time to assign Lasch's work.

Many seem to believe that the 1950s were bland, but at least everyone understood the pathos inherent in James Dean's admontion to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. I'm not sure that the young'uns today can express that pathos. What's more frightening is that I'm not sure that they want to.

No comments: