The segregation of the young in a state of prolonged adolescence means that they are kept in a subordinate and dependent condition (not merely unemployed but unemployable) at a time when they are physically mature and would formerly have qualified for adult status. The fact underlies the peculiarly generational character of the student revolt. It also tends to create a subculture of youth, although this “youth culture” is partly synthetic, created by the corporations and their propaganda agencies for purposes of commercial exploitation–for although the young are unemployable, they command impressive spending power. Young people are thus the victims not only of institutional segregation and low status, but of cynical propaganda that glorifies youth and tries to convince them that they have the best of everything. The official glorification of youth in the twentieth century closely resembles the nineteenth-century glorification of womanhood, which was cynically designed to keep women in a subordinate position, but which many women internalized, just as many young people today internalize the glorification of youth and remain permanently adolescents, emotionally, intellectually, and–not least-politically.
The problem of youth can no more be solved within bourgeois society than any of the other problems with which it is faced, because the solution requires a fundamental reorganization of education, and this in turn depends on a reorganization of the entire economy. What needs to be done is precisely what neocapitalism society cannot do without committing suicide: destroy the custodial function of schools; dissociate education from the process of providing qualifications for work, so far as this is possible, and where it is not, recognize more frankly the character of education as apprenticeship while seeking to improve apprenticeship itself; and, finally, provide acceptable alternatives to formal schooling, both for young people and–equally important–for adults.
Technical training should be shifted from the university to a new system of secondary schools, thereby releasing the university from its custodial responsibilities and freeing it for serious intellectual work. Graduation from the new technical academies or colleges, which students would enter at thirteen or fourteen and from which they would emerge at eighteen or nineteen, should qualify them for most work now open only to holders of a college degree. The object of such schools should be, not to offer the traditional rounded education–which in any case has become a hollow pretense even in the university–but to train scientific generalists, people qualified for technical work but capable of critical and independent thought and, in particular, aware of the philosophical and social implications of scientific work and of modern technology.
In a human and rational system of secondary education, specialization would not be allowed to interfere with the more basic objective, now neglected at every level of the school system, of relating special knowledge and science itself to human experience generally. By sacrificing its pretensions to classical education, the technical college would be in a better position than the university to capitalize on students’ hunger for ‘relevance’ by offering, for example, instruction in the scientific understanding of society instead of burdening students with required courses in the humanities which seem ‘irrelevant’ to most students for many good reasons along with many bad ones. The technical school, by retreating not only from the absurd pretense to offer a complete classical training but also from the present swollen conception of the school as the sum of a person’s education, would make it possible for young people to enter the adult world at eighteen or nineteen. It would also be organized in such a away as to free them, while they are still in school, from compulsory full-time instruction, leaving them with time for games, jobs, reading, and the cultivation of the inner life. The possibility of attending a university and pursuing scholarly work should always remain open to those who are interested in and qualified for such work, while the years of technical schooling and apprenticeship should provide time and space in which young people can change their minds about the direction they wish to take.
Christopher Lasch and Eugene Genovese, “The Education and the University We Need Now,” The New York Review of Books, October 9, 1969.
I heartily agree! I ruminated on these very things when my boys were growing up. They were not academics and did not want to go to college. They loved working with their hands. I had wished there were more trade school options.