As marked in Ken Bielen’s piece earlier this afternoon, today is the 35th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. I’m sitting here on the last day of classes at the end of my first year as a university professor, and it occurs to me that much has changed since the National Guard opened up on all those unarmed students back in 1970.
Say you wake up tomorrow to “Four Dead in Ohio.” Four students have been shot to death. How did it happen? Under what circumstances, here in 2005, could such a horrific scenario come to pass? Well, we have the US military engaged in a seemingly hopeless quagmire in a country around the world that most Americans couldn’t find on a map if you put an AK-47 to their heads, so that condition is in place. After all, this was the impetus for the student demonstrations at Kent, right?
Okay, stop laughing, get up off the floor, wipe away the tears, and compose yourself. I’m being serious here.
Of course, the fact that there’s just about zero chance of innocent kids getting gunned down in an anti-war rally is a good thing, and please don’t interpret this as an attack on today’s students. It’s really not. But compare 1970 and 2005. Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a crowd of American undergrads righteously pissed off enough to stage a major rally about a war? There have been some student uprisings in recent years, but the only ones that got out of hand were about drinking, not war. Or civil rights. Or any other political issue.
My students are very different creatures than were their Baby Boomer parents, who would by god raise mortal hell when they perceived injustice. My students are good kids, by and large, but they don’t seem capable of collective outrage over injustice. They have very little sense of themselves as a group, I don’t think (although they may well understand themselves as a market – and I say this as a member of a generation that has no freakin’ clue about itself, for what it’s worth). As a result I find it hard to imagine how they would ever constitute a force for positive, paradigm-busting change. Perhaps they have the revolution in them somewhere, but from where I sit this afternoon, it’s far from obvious precisely what would be required to arouse it.
We’ve come a long way, baby. 35 years ago, Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder lay dead in Ohio. Walk through any undergrad dorm in America (save Kent, I guess), and see if you can find a single student who knows.