It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in attempting to solve a problem we sometimes make things worse. Not only do characters in Jane Austen’s books learn this lesson, but examples abound in personal and public lives. Ronald Reagan told his son that his greatest regret was being the first governor to sign a no-fault divorce law. While his intentions were good, it was a decisive step in devaluing marriage and the traditional family, a move that has harmed men, women, children and the country.
A Wall Street Journal editorial (Feb. 20, 2020) bemoans the difficulty business are having filling blue-collar positions and concludes that we need more legal immigration since a greater percentage of young people are enrolling in college and their participation in the labor force is lessening. I happened to read that editorial at the time that I am reading Senator Ben Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult. I have just started the book, but I was intrigued by the idea he presents that the increase in mass schooling was a major factor in developing a previously non-existent youth culture in the United States. Mr. Sasse points out that in 1870 fewer than 2 percent of the population were high school graduates while by 1950, that percentage had risen to 75 percent. It is obviously higher today.
One consequence of this increased schooling was the displacement of parents, family, community and work at the center of teen’s lives and their replacement with social activities with peers. As a country, we increasingly emphasize hours spent in school ignoring whether or not it is associated with learning. A shocking number of college graduates today would lose handily in academic competition with a high school graduate of one hundred years ago. As education has become more universal, its value has diminished. High school is often a farce, graduating students who are not only illiterate but who lack the discipline, commitment or desire to contribute to society. For too many today, college is a place where minds are closed and lack of knowledge is celebrated. Instead of looking outward for workers as we race to increase schooling access and opportunities for American youth, maybe we need to recognize the deep flaws in the system we have produced.
Animal rescue shelters rarely let people adopt an animal for free. One of the reasons is that they want the prospective owners to show some sense of commitment. Things that come too easily are easily scorned. This past Sunday, my husband and I attended a school event celebrating a tremendous amount of work done and the future acceptance of great responsibility by about 100 thirteen-year-old boys. If more schools in our nation, and more families, stopped infantilizing our children and demanded that they step up to the plate and earn their place in society, we could increase the availability of blue-collar workers at the same time as we restored value to a high school and college education.
P.S. Do you recognize the literary reference in the Musing? My husband and I have an ongoing debate on this question. Do chime in.