Today’s young Americans live in a remarkable future. From the day we were born, we’ve been told by our parents, our relatives, our teachers, our coaches, our mentors, and our friends that the world for us is a land of unbounded opportunity. Pick a dream, we were told, and fight for that dream. Nothing would be off limits to those of us who worked hard enough. Thanks to our parents, racism, poverty, sexism, and so many other social ills had supposedly been defeated; men had gone to the moon; and dinner could be made by placing food inside of a magical box-shaped machine. We were handed what looked like a world of guaranteed excellence, without any significant obstacles left in our way.
To earn our place in this brave new world, we dutifully spent our childhoods in school (not that we had a choice). There we learned how to read (sort of), how to write (or type, whichever), and how to do math (2 + 2 = potato?). We learned about history (so full of evil white men, and nobody else, ever, except maybe MLK… and the guy who invented peanut butter!), science (E = mc2 = atom bombs), and government (all five1 branches). We took classes on art and music (until their budgets got cut). And in the end we were told it was time to go to college, to learn the skills that we would need to prepare us for the rest of our lives.
Those of us who followed the template, we each spent a year or two in preschool, twelve years in mandatory education, another four (or five, or six) years in might-as-well-be-mandatory education. What we got in exchange for those twenty years of our lives was a confidence that we were finally ready. We were told that it was time to take on the world, to be truly our own people, and to make our dreams come true.
Confident and daring, we went out and got ourselves into post-collegiate housing (which looks conspicuously like our childhood bedrooms) and mastered the art of gourmet cooking (“Insert burrito [A] into magical machine [B]“). We got used to taking charge household chores like mowing the lawn (or calling the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service call the lawn service, or letting the lawn service service service… uh… where were we?), vacuuming (roomba!), and laundry (just like in college). We went out and
got found looked for talked on Facebook about how hard it is to get jobs, thankful that being an adult doesn’t mean we have to stop playing games with our friends. And when one of our things breaks, our parents are right there to tell us how to fix it (or to just fix it themselves, since, after all, they already know how).
Right from the beginning, we’ve been raised in a sea of useless knowledge with a promise that, somehow, all of that would come together to unlock the pathway to our dreams. The truth is that, for most of us, it won’t. Very few of us pass our days dreaming of being able to sit around for days on end thinking, perhaps trying to conceive of amazing new worlds, or unique new perspectives through which to view the world that we share. Most of us want to actually do something, but through our whole lives we have never learned how.
The full ramifications of this are far from obvious, but a few important observations are in order. Because we have been systematically denied knowledge of the world, we are often ill-equipped to handle many of the bad situations which naturally arise during life. This leads to the perception that even though we are now in our 20s and 30s, that we are still children who are helpless without our parents’ care. Worse still, it denies us the ability to stand up for ourselves, because we have become so dependent on others for help that we wouldn’t dare to risk disrupting that support network — a support network which includes the government.
In our culture and media, it’s become common to make fun of the Millennials for being so clueless about “common sense” kinds of things. While this makes for good comedy, it neglects the true nature of what’s really happened. The lack of knowledge isn’t a result of laziness or stupidity. It is, instead, a systemic result of doing what we’ve been told, learning what we’ve been taught, and living the life that was set out in the template that we were provided at birth.
It seems that our world without obstacles may be an obstacle all to itself.
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