Interesting discussion over at Pajamas Media this week. Dr Helen Smith and her readers comment on what role, if any, a school teacher should play in shaping a young student’s political beliefs. One recurring observation from the thread, is how pervasively left-leaning today's young people tend to be, and how remarkably conformist they seem to be to the liberal worldview they are presented with, in their classroom, in their homes, and through the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert/Rick Mercer media that they consume.
The question arises: Are the young no longer pre-disposed to rebel against the old?
My personal conversations with young people throughout the recent Canadian and US national elections lead me to conclude that the young today are far more conformist and adoptive of their parents’ values than was the case when I was their age.
Way back when, it seemed a natural state of affairs to disagree with one’s parents, and any other figure of authority in our lives. Every young kid in our neighborhood, and in my classroom, seemed to behave that way. Our parents went to church, so the young person would choose not to go; they would support one candidate or one party so the young person would swear allegiance to the opposition. If our elders disliked a particular kind of music it became our mission to learn to love it. A teacher in school would explain the value of reading this author’s work and recommend we stay away from this other one, and our response was to promptly read the other one.
It was part of our nature to defy, to test, to rebel against the expectations and guidelines imposed upon us. We simply took it for granted that the older generation knew less than we did; what young person wouldn’t come to that conclusion, as they learned of the world around them, and how messed up it all was. Pollution, corruption, war, senseless cruelty… this was the world we were inheriting, brought to its sorry state because of the sorrier belief system under which the older hands were steering its course. Who wouldn’t rebel?
What has happened to that spirit of youthful rebellion? When a parent is committed to supporting Obama and the Democrats, how is it that the child of that parent chooses to play along, adding their voice to the family chorus of support? When a parent suspects Bush of complicity in the 9-11 attacks, why is it that the child unhesitantly parrots the parent’s beliefs? Why not be “cool” and root for the “bad guy”, as they do on so many other occasions?
Is this youthful shift towards uncharacteristic conformity a natural consequence of the greater changes in the last few decades that seems to allow for adults to never grow up and experience adulthood?I remember wanting to rebel against my elders, but certainly not against my peers. Do the children today view the elders in their midst as so childish in their behavior, so immature in their worldview, that these elders end up being seen more as their peers, to be emulated? Do the young no longer see their school teachers, their “priests” (the sermons delivered from televised pulpits like The Colbert Report seemingly being taken as Gospel Truth by their young, avid followers) and, most importantly, their parents, as occupying the traditional role of authority figures whose modeled behavior is to be resisted? If no authority is ever exercized, after all, why consider them authority figures in the first place..?
The tension and conflict that comes from this resistance is actually of benefit to each, young and old. For the rebellion of the young forces the old to revisit their ideas, to find ways of explaining the wisdom derived from their experience ever more clearly, so that it may make sense to a mind bereft of that experience. As the saying goes: if you ever want to learn a subject, teach it. Every so often, that process forces the teacher to learn from their student, as the old must first re-teach themselves the lessons they then try and impart to the young. What better schoolhouse on how to be a parent than to raise rebelling children, what better test of your understanding of why you believe what you believe, than to attempt to get someone determined to resist you, to share those beliefs.
Much as we drive a car to our intended destination down the road by artful combination of its gas pedel and brake, so too does society compell the natural tendency of the old, of adhering to conforting tradition, to be in direct competition with the natural rebelliousness of the non-conforming young. By the clash of these opposites, we get our forward momentum.
How much further shall we progress, I wonder, if the natural tension that arises from opposing combustible forces has, seemingly, run out of gas?