Fight the Man

This past quarter-decade has seen an unprecedented curtailment of youth rights in the USA. Perhaps in reaction to the massive exhibition of the power of young people as a vanguard for political and social change in the 1960s and 1970s, federal and local government began a movement tempering the power and freedom of the country’s only legal residents deprived of suffrage. The national re-lifting of the drinking age to twenty-one created an interesting, although slightly hypocritical, climate under which a male may conceivably submit to mandatory registration for the selective service, get drafted, fight, and die for the United States of America without having ever legally drank to his country. Many local governments have imposed youth curfews, justifying their existence as a crime-fighting tool when all evidence points to its impotency in combating criminal activity. That, at the same time, minors can be tried as adults and executed is even more disturbing. Physical restrictions on youth, however, are far from the most glaring example of the rampant paternalistic adultism which has enveloped our society. Education, the vehicle by which culture is sustained, and the seed from which much progressive thought springs, has regressed into bureaucratic and political nonsense that has absolutely nothing to do with how to best educate the nation’s young people. The current state of American education, in conjunction with governments’ arrogant censorship of minors’ access to information, best illustrate the sudden resurgence of the quashing of youth rights, for they directly impact the vitality of the mind. The American education system, especially as expressed by public school, exemplifies an attitude of paternalism completely contrary to the values our nation is based on. The fact is that the public school system is intended to create neither future leaders nor intellectuals. Based on the Prussian (yes, the same Prussia which produced most of the support for Kaiser Wilhelm and the Nazi Party) idea of Volkshule, intended to break students as individuals and create mindlessly productive workers, obedient to the absolute power of the state as well as to the commands of their superiors. Zero-tolerance policies, through which students are often deprived of their right to an education in response to offences as trivial as assaulting a pear with a concealed butter knife, magnify the oppression of the current education system. Equally disturbing is that many schools are now considering mandatory drug-testing for all students engaged in after-school activities. This stands in direct violation to the restrictions on law-enforcement brought forth by the Constitution’s guarantee of due process. Though such gross violations of youth rights within the education system are most glaring at public schools, private schools, including Andover and its peer institutions, are not immune from such breaches. Many schools loosened their regulations throughout the seventies and eighties, but there has been a continuing trend to rein in such liberties at private schools. Furthering the theme of anti-intellectualism which pervades popular attitudes toward youth is the censorship of young people’s access to media. Federal and state governments are often compelled by such conservative, pseudo-religious lobbying groups as Focus on the Family to limit youth access to any sort of material the lobbyists deem “objectionable.” Internet censorship at public school libraries, which often moves beyond pornography and interferes with access to information about world religions, sexuality, and health, including family planning clinics, is particularly troubling. It is conceivable that such censorship is unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Such a notion is reaffirmed in Supreme Court decision of the 1969 student rights case Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the Court asserted that “Students do not shed their constitutional rights…at the schoolhouse gate.” Youth in this country, like other citizens, must free themselves from governmental intrusion into any of their constitutional rights. While the dynamic duo of Tipper and Hillary might attest to the contrary, this right includes their freedom to access information. As the Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 case of Missouri v. Danforth, “Constitutional rights do not mature and come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority.” The amount of time one has spent on this planet should have no bearing on one’s right to exercise the liberties granted them by this nation’s constitution. Youth are citizens in the truest sense of the word, and deserve all of the rights and privileges granted to Americans. State and federal governments feel they can continue stomping on our rights due to our inability to hold its enactors accountable, for few young people possess the enormous financial resources necessary to engage in endless litigation. That we are continually deprived of our rights and abused by authorities while we possess virtually no means of defending ourselves, aside from seeking the assistance of adults, is truly criminal.