Notes: Organization Kid


    Written in 2001. His points on rebellion don't hold as much post-recession and everything else that's been happening now, but the question of character building and morals is one that I was never brought up to consider.

    • The young men and women of America's future elite:
      • work their laptops to the bone
      • rarely question authority
      • happily accept their positions at the top of the heap as part of the natural order of life
    • Students have difficulty talking about moral argument and character-building
    • Students motivated by opportunity and goals
      • Always aware of next step
    • No rebels trying to buck the system, compliant with authority
      • Very polite disagreement
      • Faculty as sacrosanct
      • Aware that they’re supposed to feel guilty about not marching, but don’t actually feel guilty
        • Stanford has its fair share these days
    • Article targeting the meritocratic elite subset of my generation
      • Totally used to and expect to be shuttled from skill-enhancing activity to the next
      • Always under adult supervision
      • A life of order
      • Generally happy with their lot


    • Now know of nature + nurture
    • So many scientific products now to stimulate development
    • Childhood development as race
    • Accomplishment begins with the first breaths of life.

    Elementary school

    • 60s and 70s saw little homework and short school days
    • 1983 A Nation at Risk: rising tide of mediocrity
      • Schools are too loose and free-flowing
      • Rejection of “natural” education
      • Emphasis on testing and accountability
    • Drug usage changed from prompting impulses and thinking outside the box to suppressing impulse and keeping behavior within the box
    • Authority and accountability have replaced experimentation and flexibility.


    • Play dates instead of just going out and playing
    • Liability and litigation have made everything safer and more restrained
    • Writer argues that parents have no right to let their own worries dominate their children’s growth


    • Current mood is that teens were given too much space
      • 1967 Gault case: students have same due-process rights as aduls
      • 1982 Emancipation of Minors Act: teens can sign contracts, own property, keep their earnings
      • High schools of 70s and 80s adopt open-campus policies
    • Now children are to be stimulated and honed
    • Three pillars: science, safety, achievement

    Moral life of Organization Kid

    • Very little generational consciousness
      • Not fighting to emancipate itself from the past
    • For those reaching adulthood during most of the 20th century, the backdrop to life was loss of faith in coherent systems of thought and morality
    • Youth culture emerges in latter half of 20th century: better to be a nonconformist
    • Today’s students live in world where counterculture and the mainstream culture have merged with and co-opted each other
    • Fundamental debates are over among young elite
      • Democracy vs dictatorship
      • Capitalism vs socialism
      • Diverse family patterns
      • Militant feminists are of grandmotherly age now
      • Religion is fine as long as you’re not aggressive about it
    • Universe is just and orderly
    • Comparative to pre-WWI elite
      • That elite was relatively unconcerned with academic achievement but went to enormous lengths to instill character
        • About teaching sense of social obligation and chivalry
        • More dances and events, students compete for glory through hazing and combat
        • Sports were more like medieval tournament
          • No scholarships
          • Build character and cultivate manly courage
        • Belief that life was a noble mission and constant internal struggle against sin
      • We now place enormous emphasis on achievement but don’t know what makes for a virtuous life

    Love, success, being happy

    • Back then, leaders of Princeton were conscious of the fact that they were cultivating an elite
      • Now administrators know they are educating an elite but seem guilty about the whole notion of elitism
    • So no self-conscious code of chivalry
      • Do not have an inherited moral system
    • Although today's parents impose all sorts of rules to reduce safety risks and encourage achievement, do not go to great lengths to build character
      • Don't offer much help with the fundamental questions
      • Let kids steer themselves
    • We assume if adults try to offer moral instruction, it will just backfire, because our children will reject our sermonizing (though they don't seem to reject any other part of our guidance and instruction)
      • Maybe adult institutions no longer try to talk about character and virtue because they simply wouldn't know what to say
    • Easier to discuss more easily quantifiable concepts such as long life (vs eternal life) or success (vs good)
    • In this world hardworking students achieve self-control
      • In that one virtuous students achieved self-mastery
    • Maybe the lives of the meritocrats are so crammed because the stakes are so small