Not Harvard Bound
Some of America’s Most Promising Youth Are Seeking an Even Higher
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.
More recently, Tom Wolfe has exposed in I Am Charlotte Simmons the decadent behavior of students on America’s premier university campuses.
Flat-souled youth. Organization kids. Charlotte Simmons. As accurate as these portraits of America’s contemporary youth culture may be, I have become increasingly convinced that they are local accounts, based on observations of students at the University of Chicago or Princeton or Stanford or some other elite institution, that tell only one story—and perhaps not the story that gives the greatest insight into the future, or of one possible future, of America. There may, in fact, be another story with a far happier ending.
We have long assumed that the elite universities and colleges prepare the brightest and most ambitious students in the nation to lead the country in every field. Thus, the impoverishment of soul among these students has become increasingly a cause for gloom.
The old assumption might still be correct, but based upon my experience at a leading charter school in Colorado and what I know to be taking place in other charter and church schools around the nation, as well as among homeschoolers, I believe the time is coming when we shall view the lack of thumos in young people, caused ultimately by their lack of a love for truth and beauty and for God, as a blue-state malady in an increasingly red-state America. The lurid accounts of moral decline in contemporary students simply do not describe the mental and moral condition of the students I teach every day.
Increasingly, I am putting my money on these latter students—bright, moral, faithful, energetic, and hard-working young people in red-state America—rather than on those sophistic and often morally stunted youth currently attending the nation’s major universities. By “red-state America” I do not mean simply Republicans or people who happen to live in the red states. I mean the culture that deliberately embraces traditional morality, principally based in the Christian faith, most prevalent in, but not confined to, the “red states.”
If my thesis is correct, we would not expect to find a predominance of great-souled students on elite campuses, since Ivy League universities and their equivalents—at least for now—are enclaves of relativistic, secular, blue-state America. To find great-souled students, we must cast our nets to the other side of the boat.
Terrence O. Moore , a former US Marine and history professor, is the principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado (www.ridgeviewclassical.com). His ?Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown? and ?Heather?s Compromise: Settling for Mr. Right Now? appeared in The Claremont Review of Books (www.claremont.org).
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