It is not your imagination. Although we’ve been saying “What’s wrong with kids these days?” since Socrates, the “kids” we’re talking about now are in their twenties or even thirties. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been paying attention, and he has some very insightful things to say about Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.
When so many adults are living with their parents into their thirties, glued to a screen and not contributing to the household, we know that we’re seeing a failure to launch on a massive scale. We can’t blame the economy any longer, but it may have something to do with anti-free speech riots on campuses. Our young people have come to believe that their lives should be completely comfortable, never demanding sacrifice on their parts, and not requiring them to think too much. With social media, they can communicate only with people who agree with them on all issues, so when real human beings around them have different ideas, they feel justified in shutting them down by any means. In other words, today’s Millenials and Generation Z members are not equipped to take part in the life of a nation that came about as a result of an idea. Our founders expected the citizens of the country to be a moral group of people who read books and discussed issues, and today’s young adults cannot rise to the challenge. Our identity as a nation, and, indeed, our national security, is therefore at risk.
Ben Sasse lays out a program for Americans to follow in order to raise up a generation of adults who are thoughtful, industrious, and courageous. I was surprised at how much I agreed with him until I realized that he is a homeschooling parent, as I was years ago. The first point of his remedial program is to “flee age segregation,” which is astonishing in today’s America. However, shutting children into a room all day with 30 other people their own age and only one or two adults is such a new and bewildering concept. Humans are born into families, with at least two adults and a few kids of various ages, plus perhaps elderly adults. Until recently—historically speaking— people worked and socialized as families, and even the first schools had students of various ages all together. The stringent age segregation in school, which takes up more and more of a child’s life, is truly a modern aberration in human history. When children spend their days observing only the behavior of other children, they will act like children. When they observe adults, they will act like adults.
The senator goes on to prescribe hard work and less consumption in order to build character and create productive citizens. He gives statistics that show that many Millenials are perfectly comfortable with materialism as a goal of life. Sasse is raising his children to do serious manual labor and to take satisfaction in their accomplishments. In fact, he advises his readers to take pride in their work because of the contribution it makes to society, rather than continually grasping for more money and possessions. He also recommends that young people travel to broaden their understanding of the world, but not as a tourist would travel. Rather, he advises “roughing it,” or spending time as a student abroad, in order to dig into the real life of the citizens in other countries.
Finally, to my delight, Sasse builds a reading list by imagining that our young adult could only have one bookshelf that holds sixty books. Beginning with an inspiring account of how the Founding Fathers’ passionate ideas were a result of the wave of education that came from Gutenberg’s print revolution, he asserts that the United States can only continue to exist if the population reads the right books and understands the philosophy behind its founding. He divides his list of sixty books into twelve categories with only five books per category, creating what he believes is the canon essential for building a thinking society. He actually leaves a couple of categories blank so that the reader can fill in with the topics that are most important in her own life. If you are a historian or have been educating your children at home for any length of time, you probably already own many of these titles.
Sasse plainly states that this is not a policy book. It is a somewhat political book, and certainly a philosophy book, a parenting book, a self-help book, and a current events book. It is filled with both book learning and common sense. While the author deplores the ignorance and apathy of the rising generation, he presents a positive, forward-thinking plan for the future. Nebraskans can be proud.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.