Writing about abortion (Part II of the Rant is almost ready to go up) has gotten me thinking a lot about the perspective of older age, and the impoverishment of a youth-obsessed society that doesn't get to cushion the jagged emergencies of youth in a buffer zone of seasoned priority and proportion. It's nothing less than astonishing how many things that young people think matter most intensely don't matter very much in the long run, and vice versa. Abortion is a good example, because when you're young sex seems SO important, and babies can be seen less as a consequence or purpose of your sex life than as a threat or hindrance to it. Twenty years down the line, the child you had or didn't have will impact your life infinitely more than most of the sex you had or didn't have. (More on that in Part III.)
It never really occurred to me, though, that young people's obsession with and immersion in their own peer group might not be entirely natural, until today, when I read Stepping Stone's eye-opening post on age grading in schools:
Industrialization . . . by removing work from the community, pushed children into schools where they interacted more exclusively with their same-age peers, and often apprenticed to abstract tasks instead of practical ones. And the bonds of family and community began to fray:
The growth in emphasis on age-graded institutions has created a societal structure in which associations with similar-age people has taken precedence in many cases over intergenerational family and community relations. - Barbara Rogoff
It seems like many of the problems we see with children today are come from this "uprootedness" from a spectrum of other ages, from family, and from community. They also stem from a lack of meaningful, practical tasks and responsibilities given to children. The more we can do to root our society back down into a sense of family and community, and the more we can do to give our children, especially adolescents, meaningful tasks and responsibilities-- the more we can take the best of both the world as it was and the world as it is, instead of shunning one for the other-- the better off we, and our children, will be.
Not only have children lost their vital usefulness to the family and community, but older people have, too. Once you begin to see this, the degree to which we continue to live in an age-stratified society, as we were trained to do in school, is nothing short of astonishing. And it's not just kind of sad, it's an economic, cultural and psychological loss of unknown proportions.