Some of America's Most Promising Youth Are Seeking an Even Higher Education
Those who wish to glimpse what the future holds or even to know present culture in its purest form very often look to the mental and moral health of the nation's youth. And what they find is generally discouraging. The over-sexed, underdressed teenagers who seem to alternate between hanging out at the mall and spilling out the intimate details of their lives on myspace.com do not seem to be preparing themselves for positions of moral and political responsibility. Even at the other end of the spectrum, at the nation's leading universities, young people seem to lack strong character.
In the mid-eighties, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind offered a depressing diagnosis of America's "flat-souled" youth: university students who lacked heroes, a love of the great books, or even a sense of evil, who lacked, in short, what the Greeks called thumos or spiritedness. Their "primary preoccupation . . . is themselves, understood in the narrowest sense." Whatever the differences among these students, they shared the common belief "that truth is relative."
A decade and a half later, in the pages of The Atlantic, David Brooks offered a similar portrait of the "organization kid," constantly talking on his cell-phone, keeping up with an extensive e-mail correspondence, participating in half-a-dozen extracurricular activities, all the while keeping himself on the honor roll at an elite university. Notwithstanding his impressive drive, he lacked the thumos, or as Brooks put it, the sense of chivalry, expected of university students in the first half of the twentieth century. Above all, the organization kid avoided any kind of moral discussion or judgment. Even those who called themselves religious did not believe in original sin.
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