It has been fashionable for the old to harangue and lament the young since fashion was a concept. Seneca of ancient 1st century CE complained of the slothful and dishonorable young men of Rome, so this phenomenon is not new- though I suspect that during times where institutions fail to meet a certain baseline of popular credibility, like during the turbulent years surrounding the early Roman Empire, the urge to complain about the young increases. Not because people’s immutable natures have changed too terribly much, on average, in the span of a few generations, but because those institutions and the ideas underlying them are held in such low regard.
Such thoughts rose to my mind and continue to linger as I watch the increasingly ridiculous response by a bunch of fascist and fascist-adjacent shitheads to the shooting in Parkland, Fla. A cataloging of such isn’t necessary for me to perform (check out Roy here and here), but it did make me think about what the world must look like through students in whatever grade.
School is for many purposes, dear reader, and in the interest of full disclosure I want to profess a sort of romanticized relationship of knowledge- and undoubtedly schools at whatever level exist to generate and/or disseminate human knowledge. But they also exist to socialize people, particularly the lower grades- an exercise in sales, if you will, from the young to the old. This is way things are and the way each of us is to behave, here’s what we know and what we want, how we make decisions, and how things came to be the way they are.
And if you will indulge me a moment, just what the fuck does the world in that sales pitch look like these days? A world in which students are endlessly evaluated but never really valued, where school funding is about “challenge grants” and A Race To the Top to figure out which of our nation’s children wants a good education the most. A world filled with endlessly marketed fantasies of security and achievement through this app or that, where you are promised the ability to get a college education or become a stock broker on your phone, but also a world where about 20% of the nation’s children are under the meager poverty line of this country, and about 42% are under twice the poverty level- 2015 numbers little changed from the 1980’s, despite the radical progress in technology and the accompanying wealth since then. It’s a world where the middle class has been hollowed out, and where the remaining labor who’s hung on through grit and luck are now expected to absorb the responsibilities of their ‘redundant’ colleagues- meaning longer hours, faster work, or both. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a world with the pretenses and forms of representative government unconcerned with popular will, in any case- for even when vast majorities of people across race, gender, and political positions have durably favored gun control, meaningful legislation remains elusive.
Perhaps that will soon change- hope springs eternal! But whether it does or doesn’t, it’s the mark of a brutish reactionary to to lecture the young victims to learn CPR when faced with the weapons of war, or compare David Hogg to a fascist, or nonsensically thrash about proclaiming Emma Gonzalez is a fake Cuban. This is the intellectual equivalent of a B-movie bad guy futilely throwing his empty handgun at the hero. Because it isn’t so much that these truths- that the United States needs gun control legislation at the federal level- are so easy a child could grasp them. It’s that children and students are the ones society expects to buy into these ideas, and they who inherit their consequences. And what else could make things as plain about that society as an allegedly representative government allowing score after score of human to be blown apart by weapons of war?
The United States laws, jurisprudence and political discourse all remain woefully unevolved on this issue, as I am aware that, as an example, there isn’t much distance between mass shootings and the arms destined for the hands of a soldier or military contractor. But to receive everything you want you must first receive some of what you want, and we desperately want- need- change. It’s not the fleeting passion or emotionalism of youth that drives these students to organize, it’s the quality of their perception of the future- and whatever else you want to say about the farsight of youth, it’s a damn sight better than the GOP’s.