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Youth and the Postwar World

by Clarence Linton - 1942

This discussion focuses on the participation of youth in making the postwar world.

MANY different things have been said and written about this very broad and very important topic of youth in the postwar world. I have chosen to focus my discussion on the participation of youth in making the postwar world. Everything I wish to say about youth and about the postwar world is either conditioned by or a resultant of the part which youth shall play in making the kind of world in which they want to live.1

I shall use the term "youth" loosely to include all young people of the world who have not yet fully established themselves in the responsibilities of adult life. I shall hazard certain assumptions with respect to the kind of postwar world which I think youth want, and what they can and should do to make such a world.


It may be stated as fact that the most basic need of youth is to participate in the important affairs of life. Growing awareness of this need to participate in adult responsibilities is inherent in the nature of youth—that indefinite period in the life of young people during which they must make the transition from the relative dependence of childhood to the necessary independence of adulthood. Every normal youth desires above everything else to become an adult—to know that he counts—to be accepted by adults as important—to have everyone recognize that he is capable of and willing to do his share of the world's work.

The most basic need of youth finds overt expression in rebellion against arbitrary parental and school authority; in attempts at purposing, choosing, deciding, planning, and achieving for himself; in the friends he chooses, in the way he dresses, talks, and uses his time; and in seeking a job, so that he can have greater control of his own life, get married and establish his own family, and assume the full responsibilities of the adult citizen.

Whatever may be our judgment of the capacities of youth of a given age to share in solving their own problems, not to mention the problems of adult life, there can be no doubt about the need of youth to feel that they have a vital role to play in the affairs of men. This need develops gradually as the child becomes youth and is accelerated as the youth becomes more and more adult.

The Western democracies, particularly the United States, are just now emerging from a long "black-out" for youth. During the ten years of the great depression youth were told that they were not wanted, that they could not have a share in the affairs which concerned them most. They could not have jobs because that would deprive their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters of jobs. They could not marry and establish families because they had no jobs. Millions of youth had only two alternatives: either they must remain in school regardless of capacities, interests, and needs, and often under most humiliating circumstances, or they must spend their youth in idleness. For other millions demoralizing and disintegrating idleness was the only possibility. They must stand by as spectators, not as participants in the affairs of men. They did not count except in a negative way. They were an economic liability to their families and to the communities in which they were forced, through no fault of their own, to maintain a most precarious and often humiliating existence. They were told to remain children and forced to act as children. They were also a social liability. Who knows what seeds of juvenile delinquency were sown, and nourished during this period, or what the harvest is yet to be? They were a threat to the stability of the society in which they were denied an opportunity to play a positive role. Owing to lack of knowledge, experience, and judgment there was real danger that youth would follow an unscrupulous leader making false promises as did the youth of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Fortunately, our government and educators saw this danger, and took steps to enlist the creative energies and capacities of youth in constructive educational and work programs, thus in some measure, but not adequately in my judgment, providing the opportunity for youth to participate in solving their own problems. It is now generally agreed that these special programs were necessary but quite inadequate to meet the genuine needs of youth for participation in life.


If this war has no other virtue, it has at least given youth a temporary, and substitute, role on the stage of life. Suddenly youth have been thrust onto the center of the stage to play a dramatic and heroic role. After the Battle of Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill epitomized the role of youth in the present crisis when he said in unforgettable words, "Never before in the history of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few." This statement is literally true today throughout the world. It is the youth of the world who must bear the brunt of the fighting. It is youth, more than any other age group, who must make the sacrifices in blood, sweat, tears, and lost opportunities. It is the youth of today, tomorrow, and for generations to come whose future is at stake. Youth must pay the price of either victory or defeat.

It has been truly said that this is a war of total populations. Men, women, and children must share in the sacrifices, often of life itself. But it is youth for whom opportunity is to be won or lost. It is on youth that the burden falls most heavily. And the tragedy of it all is that youth has had no responsibility for the conditions which have made their sacrifices necessary. Must it ever be so? Is there no way by which youth can help to create a world in which such sacrifices will be unnecessary? Must the sins of their fathers always be visited upon youth unto the third and fourth generations? There is no escape from this fundamental law of nature. But it is a basic assumption of my argument that youth can and should participate with their fathers in removing the conditions and motives for sin, and thereby lessen the price that must be paid by generations to come.

It has often been said that the hope of the future is vested in the youth of today. Never before in the history of man has so much depended on the quality of youth. Do you feel secure in your confidence that the youth you know will prove equal to their task in winning the victory and the peace? Can we depend upon their knowledge, skills, and sense of values to carry through? I must confess that I wish we had done a better job of providing youth with opportunity while they were in our homes, churches, schools, and communities. I wish we had had more vision, resourcefulness, and courage in providing opportunities for their participation in vital living—in helping them develop sensitivity to the things that really matter in life, in developing consistent and effective behavior patterns through guided practice in living, and in seeing with understanding and courageous convictions the implications and meanings of their experiences, and insofar as possible, of our experiences too. Please don't misunderstand me. I do have great faith in our youth. I have confidence in their capacity to win the victory. They do not lack courage. They do not lack loyalty to the things they know and cherish. My misgivings are chiefly that I fear we have not sent them forth to fight on all fronts as well equipped as we might. Dean William F. Russell's speech at the opening session of these All-College Conferences made crystal clear the failure of our schools to give youth the help they need. I am saying now that one of the chief reasons why our work has not been more effective is our failure to provide youth with the opportunities for participation in purposing, choosing, deciding, planning, achieving, and in appraising the outcomes of the experiences they have had with us in our homes, churches, schools, colleges, and communities.

While I confidently expect our boys and girls to win the war, the larger task is still ahead. It is more important that they win the peace. If they do not win the peace this war like the last and many others before will have been largely in vain.


Youth who have participated in victory will not be denied participation in the peace. They will demand and receive an important share of the responsibility for making the kind of postwar world they want. But what kind of postwar world do they want? Will they want to continue the kind of world that we have taught them to defend? Will they want a world in which special privilege is granted to a few without responsibility for the welfare of the many? Will they want a world in which their younger brothers and sisters are denied opportunity to participate as they themselves were made to stand aside in idleness and humiliation during the depression? Will they want a world in which hatred of our present enemies is the dominant motive for the provisions of the peace treaty? The answers to these questions depend largely on the quality of youth we have sent forth from our homes, churches, and schools to win the war. If they fail, we have failed. If they succeed, we may justly and proudly claim to have done our work well. Both the winning of the war and the peace are largely dependent on what we have already done. If we had had the vision, the resourcefulness, and the courage to take youth into our confidence! To tell them what kind of world we want! To ask them what kind of world they want, and why, and how it is to be attained. If we had only set out together to purpose, plan, achieve, and appraise the broad outlines, basic values, and necessary methods of attaining the postwar world, we today would have more assurance that youth are equipped for their task of winning the peace.

While it is later than we think, even now, there may still be some time— how much time we do not know—but some time which may be used to enlist the resources of youth now in our schools and colleges in cooperative participation with us in determining the nature of the postwar world they want.

Some of you are doubting that youth know what kind of postwar world they want. It may be said that youth do not know enough, youth have had too little experience, and that youth lack vision and judgment. I must agree. But how are young people to gain the knowledge, judgment, vision, courage, and experience unless they participate as equals in the necessary preparation for the tasks which they must assume? There is no magic about becoming a voting citizen at twenty-one, becoming head of a family at twenty-four, or becoming a congressman or a senator at age thirty of thirty-five. The behavior patterns which characterize the life of the young man or young woman prior to the assumption of important responsibilities are likely to persist, and in large measure determine the manner in which these responsibilities are discharged. If youth performs well in winning the victory and the peace, it will be because they have developed in previous experience qualities necessary for such service.

It should be emphasized here that I am not suggesting that youth can or should assume full responsibility for making the postwar world. This is obviously impossible. The postwar world must be made out of the same human and physical resources of which the world we now know is made. Youth must function in a world in which children and adults play their respective roles. But the youth of today are the adults of tomorrow. They do not come into their full capacities of adulthood without careful education and guidance in participation. The immaturity of youth does place definite limitations on their participation. But it is our special mission in society to guide them in the early steps of their participation. We must rest our case with the youth who have left our schools and colleges for the far-flung battlefronts, and largely for the peace conference, too. My plea is for those who are still with us and for others yet to come. Assume that we shall win the war, and that we still have some time. What can we yet do to win the peace —to help youth create the kind of postwar world that they really want— and to want the kind of postwar world that they can and should have?

Here I hazard a very important assumption. It is this: If youth are given a genuine and vital role in making the postwar world, they will want a much better world than that we have known. They will undoubtedly tread on some toes. They will not be so much concerned about whose toes are in their path as we are. They will undoubtedly make mistakes, but in that they will have much in common with us. They will courageously attack problems which we have failed to solve. They will not be deterred from action by the fact that desirable objectives may be difficult to attain. They will not be hampered by vested, selfish interests, at least not to the same degree that their elders have been. They will strive for a world in which high-sounding principles, shibboleths, and wishful thinking are translated into realities. They will want a world in which rights are achieved through the faithful performance of duties and the discharge of responsibilities. They will want a world in which practice is squared with theory. They will want a world in which there is respect for individual personality for its present worth as well as its potentialities—a world in which the individual is respected for what he is, not for who his father is, the side of the tracks on which he was born, what color of skin he may have, or where he may choose to worship his God. They will want a world which provides equality of opportunity for health, education, and the pursuit of happiness for all peoples everywhere. In short, they will want a world in which the brotherhood and interdependence of all men is the basic motive for human intercourse—a world which gives the greatest possible guarantee of enduring peace.

But someone asks: Does youth know how to make the postwar world they want? No, they do not, and they never will unless and until we, the parents and teachers of the world, teach them how to do it; nor can we teach them until our teachings are translated into deeds. Youth must learn by doing in the day-to-day life of the home, the church, the school, and the community.

I have great faith in-the present capacities and in the potentialities of youth when given an opportunity really to participate in planning and achieving their own destiny. But youth need guidance. That is our responsibility and our opportunity. My faith in youth goes further. I believe that youth will seek and use all the counsel and wisdom we can give them in their participation. They desire nothing more than that we place confidence in them; that we recognize that they can and should participate in solving their own problems and the problems of this sick world in which they live. They ask only that we show them the way. Long ago it was said that where there is no vision the people perish. Ours is the responsibility of seeing the way and of guiding youth step by step until they are able to take the torch and carry it forward. They have the energy, the will, and the courage to travel ways we have never trod


This discussion would be unrealistic if it did not take account of the obstacles which youth will encounter in attempts to make the kind of postwar world they want and should have.

The first obstacle we have already noted: namely, the lack of knowledge, experience, and judgment of youth for the responsibilities they must assume. There is, therefore, always the possibility that unscrupulous leaders will misguide them into the acceptance of unworthy goals, to say nothing of methods which may destroy the very purposes for which such means are ostensibly employed.

The second obstacle is the fact that we, the parents and teachers of this generation of youth, have not given them the clear vision of the goals to be sought that we should; and, especially, we have not given them the guided practice in participation in solving really vital problems which would give the fullest measure of assurance that they will be able to carry on now by themselves, exercising independent and critical judgment of the leaders to whom we must entrust them.

A third obstacle, and perhaps the most difficult obstacle of all, which youth must face and overcome in making their postwar world is the psychology of hate implanted in their minds and emotions by the necessities of winning the war. We must win the war. They and we must hate the enemy in order to develop the outraged public opinion necessary for the war effort. But what will be the consequences? Will youth suddenly change from hatred of the enemy to hatred of war? Will reason be restored in the peace conference? Will they see their that war is the result of conditions which must be changed before there can be enduring peace? Thoughtful men are saying today that there can be no enduring peace until the fanatical youth of the dictator countries are utterly annihilated. Other thoughtful men are saying that there can be no enduring peace until the Four Freedoms are translated into realities—until the brotherhood and interdependence of all men are recognized as the foundation for international relations, What will the youth that we have sent forth to the many fronts of the war and the youth who participate in making the postwar world say about these questions? I wish we had more time. I wish we had done a better job of helping youth think through the possible answers and the probable consequences of the different answers.

A fourth obstacle to the participation of youth in making the postwar world is our distrust of the competence of youth. Adults in general distrust youth. They do not have confidence in the judgments of youth. They are afraid to let youth try their wings. There is great danger, therefore, that after the war is won we shall tell youth to stand by and watch how we do it. We now acclaim youth. Youth have the star roles in the drama of war. We proclaim them heroes; we give them medals. We tell them that everything we believe in and hope for depends on their knowledge, skill, and courage. But, unless I greatly misjudge adults, when the war is over we shall demand the star roles for ourselves. Those who have fought with us to win the war will not be content to play minor roles or to become mere spectators. But what about their younger brothers and sisters who did not get star roles during the war? Their basic need for participation in the drama of life is great. Must they stand by as spectators as other millions did during the great depression?

A fifth obstacle to the participation of youth in making the kind of postwar world they want and should have is a basic conflict between the needs of youth and the needs of adults. This conflict has both psychological and economic components. Psychologically, youth need to grow up and assume the responsibilities of adult life. They need to become independent of their parents and teachers in purposing, choosing, deciding, achieving, and appraising their experience. On the other hand, adults need to protect their children, to keep children dependent on affection and discipline. Adults need especially to feel a sense of security in the obedience of their children in their thoughts and actions —to feel secure in the knowledge that their children will want and will maintain the values that they themselves hold, the way of life that they themselves have known. Independence of judgment and direct participation of youth in the vital affairs of life is a threat to the sense of security of their parents. Economically, youth need to become independent of their parents in order to gain control over their own comings and goings, to marry and establish homes of their own, to gain the means of achieving the objectives of life which they set for themselves. Adults need to maintain their jobs in order to maintain the standard of living they are accustomed to or to which they aspire. When jobs are plentiful they are content to see their children get jobs and become self-supporting, but with self-support comes independence and conflict with parental authority. When jobs are scarce, parents compete with their children for the jobs to be had. This intensifies the conflict between the needs of youth and the needs of adults. When times are good, children are an economic asset.

When times are bad, children become an economic liability. But the most important factor in the conflict between the needs of youth and the needs of adults is the declining ratio of youth in the total population and the increasing proportion of older adults who tend to be conservative and to resist social change. If youth are to make the brave new world which they rightfully want and should have, they must inevitably come into conflict with the vested interests, conservatism, prejudices, and resistance of adults. What can youth do about this problem? Obviously they cannot solve it alone. As in the case of all other problems of youth and adults they can and should have a vital part in the solution, provided we, their parents and teachers, are wise enough to take them into partnership and guide them in their discovery of possible solutions.

The cost of this war in human lives sacrificed, in bodies and minds crippled, in wealth destroyed, and in opportunities lost staggers the imagination. This wanton waste of human and physical resources is made the more tragic and inexcusable by the realization that the war itself will solve no major problem, and by the further realization that this war could have been prevented if only the adults of the world had had the will and the courage to do what they knew should be done. But special privilege, self-interest, and greed of a few were permitted to deny equality of opportunity for all.

What hope is there for enduring peace? I see but one hope. That hope is youth. That hope is the participation of youth in making the kind of world they want and the kind of world they should have

1 Address delivered before the All-College Conferences on Education, held during the Summer Session of 1942 at Teachers College.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 44 Number 2, 1942, p. 92-99
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9217, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 7:03:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Clarence Linton
    Professor of Education, Teachers College
    Professor CLARENCE LINTON, who contributed the discussion of "Youth and the Postwar World," is on leave from Teachers College for the duration of the war, serving as educational adviser with the Army. According to present arrangements, Professor Linton is to leave in the near future for service overseas.
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