The classless generation

TW: classism

Buried inside of Ron Fournier’s rather dull and predictable article in The Atlantic on the crisis of millennial disinterest in government and politics, I found an interesting chestnut. Fournier allegedly spoke directly with one group of current high school students:

Matt Kissling teaches government at Langley High School, an elite public school in suburban Washington that caters to the sons and daughters of U.S. congressmen, ambassadors, and Cabinet members. If his students aren’t the best and brightest, they’re close enough. So I asked them: “How many of you volunteer in your community?”

Every student raised a hand.

“I teach autistic kids to ride horses,” Morgan Wallace said.

“Me, too,” said Ashley Morabito. They’re all chirping now:

“I work at a food pantry.”

“ … at my church.”

“Tutor reading …”

“… and teach English.”

“But how many of you think traditional public service is the best way to help your community and country?” I asked. “In other words, how many of you will make a career in politics or government?”

Not a hand went up. No chirping. Nothing — the only noise in the abruptly silent room was the electronic hum of a fluorescent light. Finally, Shayan Ghahramani, a student, whispered, “Is this a joke?”

Now, to begin with, the idea of community service being something entirely distinct from government work for US millennials – typically defined as being born shortly after the 1980 “Reagan Revolution” – shouldn’t be surprising. We were actually raised within a culture where governance was defined as strictly disinterested if not actively hostile to social welfare. Even if we are uniquely interested in community service, it makes sense for it to rarely occur to us to seek that out in a public sector position, because of the political reality in which we’ve been raised.


(Guess what gamed system got even more messed up during that time period? From here.)

Likewise, Fournier fails to even cursorily consider whether the “best and brightest” (by which he meant ‘born to the wealthy and powerful’ – you can practically hear the echo of older phrases like ‘good breeding’ in his words) are representative. He’s posited the millennials in the US as a classless generation, with no reasoning to support that.

While the studies to back it up don’t exist to my knowledge – I would suspect that this limitation imposed on millennials is being expressed uniquely among the socio-economic sample of us he actually spoke with. As members of what’s essentially a political and economic elite, it would make sense for many of them to wholeheartedly accept the prevailing wisdom of their subculture. In an era of elites wishing to free themselves from democratic constraints, it makes sense that their children (if motivated to improve general welfare)  would like those benefits to be mediated through charity. They would like to exercise control over who is assisted and how much and in what ways.

Among the variously less privileged classes of millennials, I suspect you would find dismay at how few government programs are actually hiring, how drastically those that remain have been cut in wages and pensions, and how dramatically smaller their purviews are after decades of welfare “reform” and other moralizing movements. In short, there’s a sleight of hand involved in pretending that there are no classes among us young folks and then that the wealthy can speak for all of us.

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One thought on “The classless generation

  1. […] in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about […]

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