Youth in the Neoliberal Age

Neoliberalism believes that we have reached the end of history, a steady-state condition of free-market capitalism that will go on replicating itself forever.
The Neoliberal Arts, Willliam Deresiewicz

Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire

My provocation of Deresiewicz’s essay concerns the concept he puts forth of the role of youth in the age of neoliberalism. The role of youth in the neoliberal age, he argues, is different from what it was from the period of the romantics through modernity. Youth has historically been understood to inhabit the unique role of skeptical questioner of the world. Our current higher education system is skewing this expectation. With the mad rush to secure spots at perceived elite institutions for economic and philosophical reasons driven by post-modern neoliberal values, this historical role is being extinguished, with nothing unique or particularly notable to replace it. Young people are now simply small, less developed adults. But is this really true? And, what does this say about our concepts surrounding the role of adults in relation to their society?

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4 thoughts on “Youth in the Neoliberal Age

  1. Because he is looking at the current situation from a position based in the past, I think Deresiewicz isn’t able to see that younger people today can still make critical distinctions between their role as neoliberal producers-in-training and active learners pursuing knowledge for its own sake. He is also making these observations from the perspective of professor at a small private liberal arts college, where the pros and cons of “workforce education” are not up for consideration. He seems to see an either/or scenario. Ultimately doesn’t their successful navigation of this more complicated landscape come down to how and what students are taught?

  2. I completely understand your reaction, Troy. But does Deresiewicz really see today’s youth as undeveloped or unquestioning? What about his views in the very last paragraph?

    And: I am curious as to what the class will say about administrators creating a “parallel college” through extracurricular activities, internships, and such.

  3. I am curious to see how (if) tuition free opportunities for students at state college will impact teaching and learning. Could free college be the undoing of thinking of college as a commodity?

    • I wonder about that as well, but I think as long as students have internalized the neoliberal mindset (which I think many have) it will take more than free college to undo their thinking that college is the road to the ‘big bucks’. To Deresiewicz’s point, the ‘problems’ are everywhere because neo-liberalism is everywhere.

      I like the hopefulness of Deresiewicz’s conclusion, but I worry about the nostalgia surrounding it. The entire piece centers on the dangers of neoliberalism and then concludes with the idea that if young people bond together they can overcome as a force outside the university. I wonder about historical precedents here. We can look to the students of the 1960s and their demands on the university, but we can just as quickly look to the backlash. And while concrete needs like ‘economic opportunity, for racial justice, for a habitable future’ might propel students to action, they could just as well paralyze them. I recognize how pessimistic this is, but I am very wary of the romanticization of the power of youth.

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