By Abraham Entin
In 1960/61, graduation from a public high school in Chicago, I came across a book entitled Growing Up Absurd. The Author, Paul Goodman, wrote about the impact of “education” on young people of that era. The New York Times put it this way:
“For Goodman, the unhappiness of young people was a concentrated form of the unhappiness of American society as a whole, run by corporations that provide employment (if and when they do) but not the kind of meaningful work that engages body and soul. Goodman saw the young as the first casualties of a humanly repressive social and economic system and, as such, the front line of potential resistance.”
The book validated and reinforced all my thoughts and feelings about my youth. I had grown up in a working-class family in Brooklyn and then Chicago, and was graduating with not only a diploma but also a scholarship to the elite University of Chicago. I was voted “most likely to succeed” in my graduating class, and was profoundly alienated from the whole educational process. I had felt for a long time that school was my prison, to which I was sentenced until the age of 18 or graduation from High School–whichever came first. How to survive the intervening 8-10 years was the constant focus of my life.
My alienation began, I came to realize, out of an experience I shared with many of my generation. As first and second graders we had been subjected to air-raid drills, in which we were we told to “duck under your desk and cover your head” to protect yourself from an atomic bomb attack by our Russian enemies.
It did not take a genius to realize the absurdity of this instruction, and to raise the question of why our teachers were telling us to do such a weird and useless thing. My immediate conclusion was that these people were stupid and had nothing to teach me. Goodman’s book confirmed my growing realization that it was more than stupidity–it was deliberate policy by a “humanly repressive social and economic system”. Any and all trust I may have had in the institutions of society were revealed to me as illusions–a revelation that has helped me build a life of clarity and commitment over the course of 75 years.
The deep distrust that most young people experience today is well earned. How can you trust schools that cannot even prevent gun violence from invading campuses–and “leaders” who cannot or will not pass the most basic controls on guns in our society? Or a system that does not seem to care if students graduate from college into a life of debt slavery, on a planet that is deteriorating from a failure to address the most glaring evidence of systemic trashing of the environment on behalf of the accumulation of wealth and power?
This question of trust is one of the most crucial issues facing young people today as they search for answers to the dilemmas and challenges of now and tomorrow. We are are being buried under of a barrage of “information” from sources known and unknown. How can we figure out who is speaking to us and whether they are trustworthy or not? I will address this question in more detail in upcoming posts, but I would leave you today with two basic dictum: “Cui Bono? (Who benefits) and “Follow the money”–two ways of asking who will profit from the decisions that are made and the policies that are-or are not-implemented.
Abraham Entin is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller who dances at every opportunity. He is a long-time student of Rudolf Steiner’s social ideas and is particularly interested in how spiritual perspectives influence and help bring about positive social change.
He is the author of Living on the Fringe: A Memoir