But where some variation of “follow your dreams” would have gone when I was in college, I heard “learn a trade” and “get good at living on very little money.”
Dean Dad's take on this is interesting, for he sees it as a generational issue, whereas I see it as a class issue.What I didn’t see, though, was youthful idealism. I didn’t see what I used to think of as teenage bravado. I saw some very young people who had been forced by circumstance to act in ways that used to be the province of their elders. I saw young adults, rather than teenagers.In many ways, that’s great. Given the very real economic obstacles many young students face, a certain gritty realism is appropriate. And if memory serves, teenage bravado can be wearing in its own right.But that “bulletproof” teenage stage -- that, in retrospect, relies on a base of economic security -- serves a purpose.
Although I went to college in a time that was supposed to be somewhat idealistic, the people I knew at public universities never went through a "bulletproof" stage of economic security where they thought "follow your dreams" was good advice. Idealism costs money, either immediately or in the future, and they knew it.
That's not to say that people weren't idealistic, or that they didn't do the same stupid things that college students have always done, but they understood the "gritty realism" of the consequences. The idea that you could throw yourself on the economy like a trampoline and bounce back wasn't part of the equation.
Private universities or elite publics--sure. My friends who came from upper-middle-class professional backgrounds knew they could do whatever they wanted. If they made money in the summer working for their parents' friends, it went toward backpacking in Europe and not toward next year's expenses. It's not that one was wrong and the other right, but they were different experiences.
I've been thinking about this because of reading other Mid-Century Males, Jack Kerouac and other Beats in particular. Kerouac didn't want to be tied down, which may be the understatement of the decade, but whenever he got the urge to travel, which was most of the time, he had two things going for him: (1) plentiful manufacturing or service jobs that he could get easily and then leave and (2) like Allen Ginsberg, a family that, though not wealthy, would scrape up the money for bail for him when he got in trouble with the law.
The same seems to be true for the following decade, the 1960s, as I mentioned in a post about a year ago in talking about Sara Davidson's Loose Change:
What I actually took away was that people in those days could quit, drop out, or do any damn thing they felt like doing, and there would be someone or something to pick them up afterwards: plentiful jobs, more jobs than there were applicants, seemingly; a network that would allow the main character, with just a phone call from one of her parents, to go to Europe and work as a translator in Italy; and a generous system of social service benefits that wouldn't let them fall into poverty. They could change the world--or at least the upper-middle-class white women in the book could--because the world was going to support them financially no matter what they did. I realize that that's probably not true, but it has a truthiness to it and seems true, given what Davidson describes.I think Dean Dad is right, but only partially so. The idealism gap, if you can call it that, was always there for some students, but now it's hitting the class that used to be told "follow your bliss," and that's what speaks to the troubling reality that he's talking about.