By John Klar
This spring, visiting professor Ryszard Legutko was prevented from speaking at Vermont’s prestigious Middlebury College due to strident opposition by extremist and intolerant students. This was the second such embarrassment for the college: writer Charles Murray and a Middlebury professor were insulted and assaulted there in 2016.
Professor Legutko recently related his perspective on the experience, revealing that the college not only caved to the disruptive and disrespectful students, but legitimized their conduct. Further, the students have set out to proscribe future discourse that might again ignite their sociopathic anarchy.
Last year, our nation’s children walked out of high schools to complain about school shootings. Encouraged by teachers and principals, these students proclaimed that they would finally end school violence by effecting changes to national gun laws. Many have praised these optimistic youths; others have condemned them. Both approaches are wrong.
Addressing the rebellion of America’s youth in the 1960s, writer Wendell Berry remarked that “this generation is as subject as any other to intelligent scrutiny and judgment, and as deserving of honest criticism. It has received much approbation and condemnation, very little criticism” (“Discipline and Hope,” 1970). Mr. Berry argued that the ’60s youths correctly criticized their parents’ world but that without guidance, they eventually embraced those same values in new forms. Thus, the Flower Children took root in Silicon Valley, where they now grow bald while the military complex and industrial waste flourish.
Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students sharply criticized college professors who encouraged student walk-outs to protest the Vietnam War. Disrupting education and politicizing issues in this way is destructive both of education and of political discourse. Or worse…
Last year in Parkland, Florida, students were encouraged to protest against guns, and all students were released from school, even if they chose not to participate. One 11-year-old sixth-grader who elected not to protest was struck and killed by a car at 10:27 a.m., when he should have been in school. Who is responsible for this death? Prayers and tweets will not suffice.
Berry and Bloom both criticized professors and other adults who, instead of correcting or challenging our youths, grabbed a bullhorn and joined in. A notorious example is Professor Timothy Leary, who famously concluded that LSD is intellectually enlightening and advocated its use, advising disenchanted young people to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven advocates for extending the vote to 16-year-olds (“Listen to the Young,” he admonishes). Vermont Public Radio commentator Bill Schubart proclaimed that “I’ve recently learned I’m a “privileged, cisgendered, white male[.] … I’ll keep an open mind about identity politics, and trust the next generation to better educate me on the concept.” Talk about optimism — an old man hoping to be educated about his hitherto unknown identities by those with less than fully formed brains.
This failure to steward our youth is now extending to even younger groups. In most ancient cultures, there was no concept of “adolescence.” Jews, Romans, Greeks — all adhered to rites whereby “manhood” was acknowledged: one was either a child or an adult. We moderns have indulged ourselves greatly, employing the nebulous cloak of adolescence to confer the benefits of adulthood on children (without responsibilities) and to conversely extend childhood into adulthood by excusing adults who behave like children. This frees would-be leaders like Bill Schubart (who references the “turmoil” of his own ’60s experience) to offer the precise opposite of sage advice to those who follow.
Consider what Allan Bloom took a snapshot of for us in 1987:
Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.
Thirty-plus years later, our youths have been corrupted by unhealthy food, limitless violence in television and pornography, phone and internet obsession that leaves them anxious and stressed, and Facebook that feeds toxicity. (Old people don’t understand self-immolation very well; perhaps our youth will “better educate us.”) One is compelled to ponder whether Bill Schubart skipped class to drop acid with Jay Craven and Timothy Leary. But Professor Legutko paid heed and describes in his book The Demon in Democracy how this corrupting consumerism now threatens Western civilization at its core.
America’s youths are more alienated than their elders, and the internet that promised to unite people causes a new degree of isolation. Studies have found that 30% of college students don’t know how to boil an egg; 52% of high school students don’t know how to change a tire; 70% of young people have no clue how to sew on a button. Yet we grown-up adolescents are yoking them with responsibility to “lead” us to solve our social ills while they can’t find jobs, many require psychiatric medications, and the national deficit has exceeded the capacity of the human mind to comprehend. High hopes, indeed.
Vermont leads the nation in adults who behave like errant children and delegate leadership to infants. Small wonder that Vermont uncritically embraced a 14-year-old candidate for governor. Vermont is the forefront of the new utopian vision of which Ryszard Legutko has cautioned — this is the state where Black Lives Matter flags are flown at numerous schools, and textbooks are edited to teach children that Vermont is a white supremacist culture. This is where young children halt public parades while no police or other authorities intervene.
In Vermont, this experiment now extends to sexual and gender identity decisions in early childhood, and genital-mutilating surgeries at taxpayer expense, which insurance companies are mandated to provide without age minimums. Vermont’s largest hospital even invites children to think ahead before they attempt to alter their sex:
We can provide a referral to the reproductive endocrinology team at the UVM Medical Center to discuss fertility preservation options if it is desired by the patient and family, and if the patient is at pubertal age[.] … When the right time comes, planning for having children is a part of life. Like everyone else, a transgender person has choices. Once on pubertal suppressive treatment and/or gender affirming hormones, the likelihood of being able to have biological offspring decreases significantly or is not possible at all. It’s good to plan ahead.
If America looks ahead, it will see the chilling dystopia unfolding in Vermont, where bizarre government-imposed perversions of identity, culture and society are being augmented by swelling poverty and an opioid crisis. It’s about time we adults embraced adulthood and led our children instead of abandoning them.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.