Public Intellectuals and Postmodern Youth
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Public Intellectuals and Postmodern Youth book
Laws have been passed in nearly a thousand cities to either inaugurate or strengthen curfews designed both to keep youth off the streets and to police and criminalize their presence within urban space. In addition to being demonized by certain elements of the media, young people often find themselves inhabiting a postmodern world of cyberspace visuals, digitally induced representations of reality, and a society largely inhabited by malls, fast food restaurants, and a post-Fordist landscape of low-skill jobs. The adult world provides few markers for negotiating this landscape; instead, it offers youth a representation of the past that is thoroughly modernist in orientation, a world in which the culture of print, certainty, and the suburbs provide what appears to be an increasingly irrelevant set of referents for mapping the existing social order. This is most evident as working-class youth and youth of color are increasingly warehoused in modernist educational institutions in which rigid discipline and outdated knowledge are joined with a cultural addiction to excessive individualism, competitiveness, and Victorian moralism. Instead of helping children overcome the despair, hopelessness, and isolation that permeates youth culture, many adults appear to blame youth for the problems they face. One measure of the despair and alienation youth experience can be seen in the streets of our urban centers. The murder rate among young adults eighteen to twenty-four years old increased sixty-five percent from 1985 to 1993. Even more disturbing, as James Alan Fox (the Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University) pointed out recendy, is that “murder is now reaching down to a much younger age group-children as young as 14 to 17. Since the mid-1980s, the rate of killing committed by teenagers 14 to 17 has more than doubled, increasing 165 percent from 1985 to 1993. Presently about 4,000 juveniles commit murder annually.”2 Coupled with an increase in poverty among children, a changing world economy that provides fewer jobs for the poor, and a rise in fractured families, one of the most notable features about the crisis of democratic public life in the United States is that youth appear to be one of its main casualties. And, yet, the assault on youth is happening without the benefit of adequate rights, fair representation, or even public outcry.