A review: “The Vanishing American Adult”

For months I have been anticipating the release of Senator Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult.

As a twenty year-old recent college graduate who is frequently embarrassed by my own generation, I was eager to read Sasse’s analysis. I was not disappointed.

“America’s youth are in crisis,” a brief snippet of the synopsis reads. “Raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents and coddled by well-meaning but misbegotten government programs, they are ill-equipped to survive in our highly-competitive global economy.”

“Many of the coming-of-age rituals that have defined the American experience since the Founding: learning the value of working with your hands, leaving home to start a family, becoming economically self-reliant–are being delayed or skipped altogether. The statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.”

I finished the book in one day, and was amazed at how relevant Sasse’s analysis is. From the beginning, Sasse makes it clear that the book is not “political.” It was refreshing to read a book addressing the problems in today’s society without being sucker-punched by the author’s political beliefs.

As a historian myself, I found great interest in Sasse’s discussion on some on the economic, educational, and societal changes our country has faced since the American Civil War.

Sasse does an excellent job discussing some of the problems of the American education system, pointing out that there is an important distinction to be made between “education” and “schooling.” I’ll have three degrees at the age of twenty-three, but after reading Senator Sasse’s book I took the time to analyze how my experiences in higher education has differed from my “schooling.” Sasse discusses some of his wife’s personal experiences as a teacher in the public school system, and how they helped shape some of the ways they parent.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking point of Sasse’s book is his discussion of the “segregation” of children and the elderly. Sasse points out that the elderly often go to retirement homes after they reach a certain age, and there is little to no interaction between society’s wisest and its children. As someone who spent a lot of time around my elderly family members as a child, I had not previously considered that the same cannot be said for most of my peers.

Other topics discussed by Sasse include parenthood, higher education, mortality (yes, you read that correctly), sex, and the economic decline of our nation.

“Our democracy depends on responsible, contributing adults to function properly–without them America falls prey to populist demagogues,” the synopsis concludes. “A call to arms, The Vanishing American Adult will ignite a much-needed debate about the link between the way we’re raising our children and the future of our country.”

I couldn’t agree more.

You can purchase Senator Sasse’s book here.

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