Why was everything going to hell in 1917? Ralph Philip Boas, Associate Professor of English at Whitman College, suggested a large measure of blame should be placed on young people:
The danger of democracy is never that it will be too stern, too rigid, too intellectual, too conservative. No, the danger of democracy is that it will be too easygoing, too soft, too emotional, too fickle.
The weaknesses of democracy show nowhere more clearly than in its attitude in America. Our country is the paradise of youth; here we think only of our duties toward our children, never of our children’s duties toward us. An American works himself to death for his children — happy not in their respect and their love, but in their success. Everything is done for the American youth.
Look at his education. Schooling is free from the kindergarten through the university. The State taxes itself willingly that its boys and girls may have the best education which it can give them. And what does it ask in return? A sense of responsibility? A sense of gratitude? Service in the army? Service in civil life? No. It asks nothing in return.
It is pathetically proud of the advantages its youth enjoy, never once realizing this fundamental danger: If you train up young people to be soft and luxurious, to expect everything as a right and to give nothing in return, to absorb unthinkingly all the advantages of civilization without adding anything to those advantages, are you training up young people who can help in the great decisions of a democracy?
Of course, this has been an age-old complaint — indeed, Aristophanes was complaining about “kids these days” back in 419 BC. And the same youth who Boas criticized in 1917 went on to become the adults who would lament the rise of rock ‘n’ roll a few decades later.
As Dick van Dyke asked in Bye Bye Birdie, ‘What’s the Matter With Kids Today?”
Real Democracy’s Need Is Discipline of Youth: A Land Where Responsibility Harmonizes with Freedom, Not a Mere Paradise for Children Without Sense of Obligation
From Sunday, May 6, 1917