Brooks, Friedman Go Back to School

It’s Youth Week on the New York Times op-ed page!

Yesterday conservative columnist David Brooks came out with “The Odyssey Years,” a trifle in which he looks at the emerging new phase of development between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood. “During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school,” Brooks wrote. “They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.” Brooks, of course, is primarily concerned to know if this paradigmatic shift will undermine old-fashioned American mores. And he finds some consolation: “Surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives,” he concludes.

Today flat-earther Thomas Friedman follows up with “Generation Q,” or “What I Learned on My Latest Publicity Tour of North American College Campuses.” Friedman is “baffled and impressed” by the current crop of college students. “I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be,” he says. “I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.” Turns out they weren’t scared into their tortoise shells by 9/11; instead they’re traveling the world, and even doing some good in the process. Also turns out their fascination with Facebook is “no substitute” for unvirtual, honest-to-goodness activism.

I dunno, guys. There’s something about both of these pieces that rings false to me. Maybe it’s that smug, self-satisfied tone that each of you has perfected; maybe it’s the overly broad generalizations that both of you bring to the subject. Or maybe it’s a sense I get that neither of you is actually listening to the next generation so much as projecting your own thoughts and hopes and fears and ideas onto them. It’s telling that the only person quoted in either column is Friedman’s daughter, who’s worried about climate change.

Are the twentysomethings in the midst of their Odyssey Years really concerned about how courtship rituals are being “fundamentally scrambled”? Does Generation Q really worry that if we don’t deal with the deficit, we’ll all be “working for China” twenty years from now? You know how you can find out? Ask them.

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