Thursday, 15 February 2018

Some Reflections on Youth

Retirement, gentle reader, is sometimes a pain in the proverbial.

It’s liberating to have free time, and not to have any consequential responsibilities, but I continue to miss the routine of having a task or series of tasks with results and deadlines.

I guess the best part of fifty years of routines and responsibilities is habit-forming.

As a consequence, I’ve embarked on a series of projects, probably more than I realistically have time for. The theory is that I’ll filter out the less productive and enjoyable of these, concentrate on the ones I’m enjoying, and arrive at a reasonable balance.

One of these projects involves being available to a large boys’ school as a mentor for senior students.
It involves working with small groups of these 16/17 year-olds and answering a series of questions they have scripted.

The tone and content of the questions reveals a great deal about how these young men see the challenges presented to them in the twenty-first century.

Unfortunately, they tend to have a fairly bleak view of it all.

One of the issues they face, is the multiplicity of choices available to them, choices not only of vocation, but of identity.

Back when I was their age (and remember, we’re talking early sixties), my choices were limited. In terms of occupation, I was getting good marks at what was called an “academic” secondary school programme, so I was destined for teaching, clerical work in a bank or somesuch, or journalism. Back then, there were actually jobs to be had in journalism.

As a young male at that time, there were no issues of gender identity. Homosexuality was either ignored or ridiculed, so if you were unlucky enough to be gay (a term unknown back then), you hid the fact.

Women knew their place, and weren’t, as I recall, at all vocal about their stereotyped role and lack of power.

I drifted into teaching, but don’t recall ever seriously considering anything else.

National Service came along as a wild card, but that’s another story.

Listening to these boys the other day, it became clear to me how much more difficult it is for them to carve out a role which provides what used be called “self-actualisation”.

Then there’s a whole bunch of other more prosaic, but important issues, such as the casualisation of employment, the cost of housing, and the lack of meaningful jobs. There are jobs out there, but the dearth of clerical positions, accessible trades (wrapped up in the flensing of the TAFE sector), and the cost of tertiary study combine to set up barriers that weren’t there fifty years ago.

I was able to study at no personal cost (except my bonding to Education Queensland) and was in-service trained at a post graduate level by my employer on two separate occasions.

For young men these days, that is the stuff of fantasy.

The sessions with the boys are enjoyable – they’re bright and much more articulate and assertive than I was at that age. Their (female) teacher is present, but she doesn't get involved in the to and fro of the discussion. These exchanges generate a frewheeling momentum of their own, and she really isn't needed.

On reflection, it would be great to be seventeen again, but I wouldn’t change places with them. 

At least they aren’t under threat of conscription. I doubt we’ll see that aberration again.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...