Certainly the college curriculum on most campuses is neither interesting nor demanding -- which is the crux of the matter. Anyone who has had an opportunity to compare the workload of a generation ago with the workload carried by college students today knows why college students have a lot of time on their hands. The profs demand much less reading and writing today than in the 1960s, when campus reformers began to gut the curriculum. The reformers relaxed the rigor of college studies. Today's profs must have a lot of time on their hands, too. Maybe they, too, binge drink -- but more discreetly.
Actually, the very best students today are probably as good as the best students were in years gone by. Their performance upon graduation suggests that. But it is the lesser students who strike me as so empty. When I encounter them, they seem almost always to be very amiable but also ignorant, aimless and bland. Today's youth culture lacks esprit . I suspect this is because so little is demanded of the rank and file. They have their cars and high-tech entertainments, ample funds and time on their hands. They are a pale rendition of generations past.
I was struck by the vacuity of today's college students while watching CNN's documentary of the rise and fall of Dr. Howard Dean. Much of his support came from college students. They were the contemporary version of the 1960s collegians who campaigned for Sen. Eugene McCarthy's insurgent presidential bid against President Lyndon Johnson by getting "Clean for Gene."
Those students had some fizz to them. They sang folk music, and they sang well. They composed slogans, and they were literate. I disagreed with them, but they were for the most part learned, highly principled political activists. Dean's youthful volunteers brigades were dopes, and untalented dopes. Unless CNN was befooling us, the kids were listless, vacant and not even very convincingly angry. The songs they sang were infantile.
If I were among the bored and the under-employed on campus today, possibly I, too, would become a binge drinker. Yet it seems like an awful waste of time and, for that matter, of good booze. Perhaps they could steal a chapter from 1920s collegians and become goldfish swallowers -- assuming the animal rights indignados would not object.