“Kids grow up fast today,” people often say, but not always in ways that benefit society or the kids themselves. They’re usually referring to sexual awareness beginning much earlier than it used to. Girls menstruate earlier than they did in previous generations and we’re not sure why. Increased use of artificial hormones in animals and consumer products is suspect, but there are no certain conclusions and there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding early onset of puberty in boys. Aside from the physical, however, the kind of maturation that would make us productive members of society seems to be slowing down.
Far more American kids go to college today than did in previous generations. Taxpaying adults who underwrite much of their education at both public and private universities have a right to expect that there would be a commensurate increase in the collective wisdom of the generation they’re subsidizing. There are no quantitative methods of measuring wisdom that I know of, but anecdotal observations of today’s college students indicate the opposite is occurring, and unless they’re studying hard science or engineering, what they’re learning academically is often less valuable than what they might otherwise learn in the working world.
Yet public schools constantly tell students they won’t be successful unless they go to college and I’ve been thinking that’s not such a good idea. Many accepted as freshmen are deemed unqualified to take college writing or college math unless they first take remedial courses for full tuition, but for no credit. How then, I ask, did they ever pass high school English or high school math? Other high school seniors who insist they’re going to attend college don’t seem to know why. Either they’re not sure what they want to major in or they change several times during their college career and take an average of six years to finish a four-year course of study - often piling up huge debt the whole time. When they finally graduate, they’re almost as likely to move back in with their parents as go out and get a job. What can they do with a degree in Art History, Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, or Queer Studies anyway?
They could go on a quest to “find themselves” as so many young people claim to have been doing since the screwball sixties, while the rest of society enables an ever-extending adolescence. Democrats pushing health care “reform,” recently attached President Obama’s plan to forgive their student loans which for many are well into the tens of thousands. They also want government and insurance companies to continue medical coverage for “children” up to age 25 or 26. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the other day: "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance." As Mary Katherine Ham writes in The Weekly Standard last week, “If [liberals] insist on creating a generation unable to care for itself up to and past the ripe old age of 26 by incentivizing ‘children’—and I use to term loosely— to stay on parent's health insurance policies until they're turning the corner from Clearasil to Botox, there will be fewer educated, able-bodied people who ever learn to take care of themselves.”
Two generations ago, far fewer Americans went to college and I’m not sure that was a bad thing. There was some crazy behavior on campus but nothing compared to what it’s like today. Even though wealthy parents bailed their “kids” out of various scrapes, there were behavioral standards at most colleges beyond which nobody was allowed to go regardless of how influential a family they came from. The late Senator Ted Kennedy was twice expelled from Harvard when he was caught cheating.
After World War II, thousands of veterans went to college on the GI Bill, but they tended to be focused and businesslike in their study habits - even compared to the more-diligent students common back then. A friend who was an undergraduate in the late ’40s described what it was like when returning GIs started attending his classes. They were impatient with small talk, he said, and they expected to be learning every minute. Professors stepped up their pace and everyone treated the new older students with great deference. Contrast that with today’s returning GIs who are flagged as possible domestic terrorists by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Colleges that won’t allow ROTC or military recruiters to set foot on campus aren’t prone to respect returning veterans either.
If parents choose to support their offspring beyond eighteen that’s their business, but government shouldn’t require everyone to contribute - especially those of us who know they’d grow up much faster if they had to take care of themselves.