Adolescent Alienation and Youth Policy

by Edward Wynne - 1976

Adolescent alienation represents a profound shortcoming in our social and political institutions. (Source: ERIC)

Edward Wynne is associate professor of education, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. Research for this article was partially financed by the National Institute of Education, grant no. NE-G-00-3-0219x. The author also wishes to acknowledge the advice of Professor James W. Guthrie.

For perhaps twenty-five years, America has witnessed a steady growth of alienation among adolescents and youth. As we will see, the character of this alienation can be described by a number of objective measures. The means through which this alienation has been expressed have varied: attitude changes, drugs, suicide, or overt antisocial conduct. To some degree, this variation has masked the basic pattern of persistent intensification. As a result, we are occasionally disturbed by particular subtrends (e.g., drug abuse, student strikes) but fail to see that the subtrends are part of an overarching trend. This shortsightedness has handicapped the matter of diagnosis, and we are prone to apply piecemeal and inconsistent remedies, instead of correcting basic flaws in our systems for socialization to adulthood. This paper will present an array of data portraying these patterns of alienation, and summarily discuss the matter of remedy.


The most significant symptom of alienation has been the steady increase in youth suicide rate. Between 1950 and 1974, the annual suicide rate for white males, 15-19, went from 3.7 per 100,000 members of the cohort born alive to 11.9 per 100,000.1 The pattern of increases was persistent and incremental. During these same years, the overall national suicide rate for adults remained comparatively constant, ranging from a high of 12.1 to a low of 9.8. No other age group had an increase in suicide rate between 1950 and 1974 equal to the rate presented above. (Between 1950 and 1974, the rate for white females, 15-19, went from 1.9 to 3.3.)


There is evidence of increased drug use by the young. In 1971, 30 percent of all college students surveyed in a national sample reported having used marijuana in the last thirty days; in 1970, 28 percent of a similar sample reported such use. And this use and experimentation extends to other, more powerful drugs: Seven percent of the respondents in the 1971 sample reported having used cocaine.2

The issue of trends in drug use is complicated. Thus, we do not have data about the national level of youth drug use before the late 1960s. However, we do have some trend data from the late 1960s onward. The most thorough data cover San Mateo County (California) school students for every year from 1968 to 1976.3 This community is recognized as one with a relatively intense drug use and is, therefore, not typical. Still, there is evidence that "California trends" seem to spread, and the data provide a form of fore casting indicator. Table 1 shows the San Mateo data on marijuana use among certain high school grades.

These data reveal a stablization of use at a comparatively high level of intensity. Nationally, it is also significant to recall that arrests of males under 18 for narcotic law violations increased 1,288 percent between 1960 and 1972.4 The most recent report of the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded that "there is no indication of any recent decline in the annual prevalence of any drug, with the possible exception of psychedelics."5

There are also data on increased youth use of alcohol. A survey in one community reported that the percentage of seventh grade boys who began drinking during the previous year increased from 52 percent in 1969 to 72 percent in 1973. This increase is consistent with equivalent increases reported in other surveys. And this adolescent drinking is not simply tasting: In 1971, 25 percent of the eleventh graders covered in a national survey reported being drunk four or more times during the past year.6

The use of cigarettes has also increased. While smoking is, of course, widespread among adults, it is a dangerous practice. Typical data disclose that between 1969 and 1975, in a national sample of females 13-17, the proportion of respondents who smoke a pack or more of cigarettes a day rose from 10 percent to 39 percent.7

The San Mateo data referred to earlier also provide evidence of the breadth of use of stimulants and depressants by children and adolescents. Students were annually asked between 1969 and 1976 if they had "significantly used" any of the following substances during the past school year: alcohol, amphetamines, LSD, marijuana, or tobacco. The surveys covered students from the seventh to the twelfth grades. The data are given on page 26.

There is some trend data about delinquency cases. Between 1957 and 1972, the rate of delinquency cases (per 1,000 child population aged 10-17) disposed of in American juvenile courts rose from 19.1 to 33.6.8 Drug cases were a significant, but not central element in this increase. There are also data for increased antisocial conduct in schools. One survey reported that, in the sample of schools studied, assaults on teachers increased 85 percent between 1970 and 1973. During the same period, the weapons confiscated from students by school authorities in the schools surveyed had risen 54 percent.9

The increase in self-destructive and antisocial behavior has extended to the area of sexual relations. Venereal disease increased among both sexes aged 15-19 between 1956 and 1974. Reported cases of gonorrhea (per 100,000 members of the cohort) rose over 200 percent, while syphilis increased 100 percent.10 Between 1950 and 1974, the estimated number of illegitimate births for unmarried white females went from 5.1 per 1,000 such females to 11.1.11 The increases in venereal diseases and illegitimacy occurred during a period of widespread availability of antibiotics, medical services, and contraceptive information and devices. It is also significant that, between 1960 and 1972, the number of females under 18 arrested for violent crimes increased 388 percent, while the proportion of males arrested increased by 203 percent.12


We should also consider the student unrest, building takeovers, and other youth disorders of the late 1960s and early 70s. There has been student disorder in American history, but the most recent wave involved a higher proportion of our youth cohorts, and more drastic forms of destructive conduct. For example, during 1969 and 1970, over 8,000 bomb threats, attempted bombings, and bombings were attributed to student unrest.13 In 1970, nine of the top sixteen names on the FBI's Most Wanted List were youth activists, wanted for crimes such as bombings, murder, and bank robbery.14


A number of pieces of attitudinal trend data are available to help us interpret this alienated conduct. Many of the populations surveyed do not represent the national youth population. However, even where the surveyed populations are essentially upper-middle class youths, the socialization system for such youths is typical of long range socioeconomic patterns in America. In other words, persisting trends in the country are for children to come from increasingly well educated parents, with each generation living at a higher economic level than its predecessor. Thus, the attitudes that appear in upper-middle class children will gradually permeate successive youth cohorts from lower classes.

Between 1948-49 and 1968 successive freshman classes at Haverford College, took the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory test.15 A sample of the student responses reveals the steady and incremental decline in youth attitudes sympathetic to cooperative and group activities: more and more, the student evince attitudes consonant with withdrawal from contacts or responsibilities connecting them to others.

This growth of withdrawal attitudes among Haverford students was coupled with an apparent simultaneous increase in egoistic attitudes: Between 1948 and 1968, the proportion of such students who thought they could work great benefit to the world if given a chance rose from 40 percent to 66 percent, while the proportion of these 17 year olds who thought they knew more than experts rose from 20 percent to 38 percent.16 It was not clear how these increasingly withdrawn and introverted students could (a) render such benefits without human interaction, or (b) acquire the experiences incident to becoming so knowledgeable.


Other data about youth attitudinal trends shows that the Haverford patterns are representative of trends displayed by successive cohorts of late adolescents on many college campuses. Attitudinal tests were administered to students at Dartmouth in 1952 and 1968, and at the University of Michigan in 1952 and 1969.17 Several similar questions were asked the students at both colleges. They were asked whether "Human nature is fundamentally more cooperative." Agreement declined from 66 percent and 70 percent, at Dartmouth and Michigan respectively, to 51 percent and 55 percent. Another question asked them to say of "Most of what I am learning in college is very worthwhile." Agreement declined from 67 percent and 74 percent respectively to 58 percent and 57 percent. Again, the students were asked to identify private and public institutions (e.g., school, church, family) that they felt related to. The number and intensity of summed identifications declined from 296 to 259, respectively, to 269 and 206. A third group of studies on student attitudinal trends were conducted at several unnamed private colleges between the early 1950s and 1966.18 Those studies showed shifts on an attitudinal expression scale evaluating student desire for impulse expression from 41 percent (pro-impulse) to 54 percent, and a decline in the proportion of students describing the need to be liked as "very important" from 48 percent to 26 percent.

There are also recent series of surveys of a national sample of college age youths taken between 1969 and 1973 by Yankelovich.19 Unfortunately, these surveys do not replicate the questions asked in the Haverford, Michigan, or Dartmouth studies, nor do they cover equivalent populations. Still, I contend they show a continuation of the trends towards egoism and withdrawal. Among the college students surveyed in 1973, the importance of "privacy" as a value increased from 61 percent to 71 percent.20 At the same time, the respective importance of "religion" and "patriotism," two values which stress the individual's obligation to extra-personal concerns, declined from 38 percent, and 35 percent, to 28 percent and 19 percent. The series also showed a continuing pattern of gradual dissemination and acceptance of college youth views among noncollege youths. In general, the views disclosed in the survey demonstrate an enlargement of expectations about the rights of students and citizens, and a lessening of expectations about the responsibilities of these same persons.

The interpretations presented for the preceding data are buttressed by a recent cross-cohort survey by Bengtson. He surveyed the attitudes of American adolescents, middle-aged, and older adults. The survey disclosed substantial differentiation among these cohorts on the value continuum, "Collectivism/Individualism." The young cohorts were most individualistic. Bengtson observed that this finding "contrasted with many portrayals of contemporary age-group cleavage." This cross-cohort study (see footnote 21) is especially significant since the longtitudinal studies presented above disclose that these individualistic attitudes have become progressively more intense for successive youth cohorts.

Another revealing attitudinal study in 1972 showed that students with an A average in college were more pessimistic about the availability of work for any serious job seeker than students with a C average, or than high school graduates who were working (48 percent - 78 percent - 82 percent). In other words, the higher your grades or the less job experience you had, the more pessimistic you became about anyone's job prospects.21

There is also significant cross-cultural data about the attitudes of American children. The data were disclosed in a contemporary international study of youth interaction patterns in six cultures.22 Five of the cultures represented underdeveloped or primitive environments. The sixth group of students were children in a New England community. A common rating scale was used by observers in all locations to evaluate youth conduct on the dimension of altruism vs. egotism. A total of 134 children between ages 3-6 and between ages 7-11 were observed in the entire study: Approximately 9,500 interacts were identified in the study. When the median level of altruistic conduct was treated as 50 percent, the American children, with a level of 8 percent, scored as the most egoistic. The next lowest group was a tribe in India, with a level of 25 percent. The number of children involved was small. Still, the dramatically high level of egoism among the American children, compared to the nonwestern cultures, suggests that the data may justify comparative generalizations about the overall level of egoism among American youths, or youths from industrial societies.


The preceding data invites analysis. But the analysis must be put in an appropriate framework. The data has limitations. It does not tell how any particular youth or group of youths will act, since the proportions of youths afflicted with dramatic forms of alienation-suicide, violent crimes, alcoholism-is fortunately small. In general, the data is not decomposed into socio-economic classes, although some of the symptoms of alienation (e.g., student unrest, drug use, evidence of withdrawn attitudes) are clearly common among upper-middle class youths. Still, the data provides a powerful tool for forcasting general trends affecting youths and younger adults, and for interpreting significant elements of youth conduct.

The data demonstrates that increasing youth alienation is a long range trend-probably at least 25 years old-and that it may assume many forms. The trend is likely to persist, and even intensify. In other words, assume we tentatively identify the social forces that have been increasingly alienating our young over the past 25 years. Whatever we believe those forces to be, it is hard to identify any twenty-five year old trends that have substantially reversed in the immediate past. Long term trends change very slowly, if at all.

The trend raises very important social policy issues, going to the central question of social continuity. The survival of any society depends on its ability to create successive cohorts committed to the continuity of its major traditions. Those traditions include matters such as the production of goods and services which will be used to maintain the young, the aged, and the ill; the maintenance (through taxes and military service) of a necessary defense establishment; the persistence of a decent level of public order; and the commitment of citizens to constructive community and political activities to sustain the commonwealth. The modes of satisfying these traditions are mutable, and necessarily include adaptations. However, widespread and continuing commitment to the central themes of those traditions is central. Without such commitments adults of productive age may fail to adequately provide for the emotional and physical needs of the young or old; society may not maintain an adequate level of defense; public disorder may pollute social life with fear, or simply make sociability so unpleasant that we adopt cellular modes of existence; or, community and political activities may be abandoned to irresponsible and incompetent leaders and followers, and governed by short-sighted egotism. These disastrous outcomes can be the product of excessive personal cynicism, withdrawal, anger, selfishness, and social incompetence among our youths and adults. Essentially, these characteristics are related to alienation, and to inadequate socialization to adulthood.

Some support can be found for this interpretation in one of the longitudinal studies of contemporary drug use. That study followed the national cohort of males who had graduated from high school in 1969.23 In 1969, their mean age was 18, and 1.1 percent of them had "ever used" heroin; by 1974, with a mean age of 23, the "ever users" of heroin has risen to 5.7 percent; and 2.7 percent of the 1974 sample reported having used heroin in the past year. These data do not leave one with a comfortable feeling about the maturity of many members of this cohort of chronological adults.

Attitudinal surveys have also found evidence of increasing dissatisfaction among adult Americans with many important public and social institutions.24 The most careful analysis of these attitudinal data undertaken so far-covering the period 1968 to 1972-concluded that the cohort 21-24 years of age, the youngest cohort consistently surveyed, evinced a comparatively high level of distrust of government. The only two cohorts with higher levels were those 50-59 and over 70.25 Perhaps one cause of this estrangement is not the inadequacy of government per se, but rather inappropriate socialization of the young. Still, the data are a dramatic example of the persistent and destructive impact of youth alienation, since enlarging adult cynicism can have a corrosive effect on public life.

It is impossible to say when an undesirable trend may reach a critically dangerous point. But we can foresee that real and serious social and public tensions may arise in the future: over the economic issues, defense issues, shortages of important goods. When those tensions arise, our ability to meet the challenge will depend on the commitment and adaptability of our population.


Suicide rates are a classic tool for the analysis of alienation. The rate measures a finite phenomenon: the act of self-destruction. In any single society, such acts will tend to have a relatively constant significance: The individual was faced with overwhelming emotional demands. While the accuracy of suicide counts is limited, the widespread persistence of relatively steady rates of suicide demonstrate that the counting systems, in different years, reach approximately the same proportions of the victims. Thus, while we cannot determine the actual numbers of suicide in a cohort, it is appropriate to assume that any measured increases over time, in one age cohort, reflects real increases in suicides in that cohort. Our focus is on the measured rate of change, or on comparisons between the rates in different groups. Suicides are also an important indicator because we assume-with some plausibility—that for every successful suicide, there are many concealed suicides, unsuccessful attempts, and seriously alienated persons who do not take the final step. Suicide is a small, but revealing tip to the social iceberg.

We do not have definitive information about the causes for the increased youth suicide rate. There are a number of studies on contemporary adolescent suicide, but these studies have essentially a psychological orientation.26 That is, they focus on the circumstances surrounding the suicides or suicide attempts of individual adolescents. Such studies, though they provide useful information, are not very helpful in analyzing overall trends. For instance, a psychological study may reveal that many persons commit suicide after receiving a severe disappointment. However, many other persons are obviously subject to severe disappointments and do not commit or attempt suicide. When we have long range changes in youth suicidal trends, we may discover from a psychologically structured study that more persons are committing suicides as a result of disappointments. But we do not know, from such studies, whether the increase in youth suicides is actually related to (a) an increase in the number of disappointments, or (b) a decline in the ability of young people to resist the same number of disappointments. In other words, the social forces increasing the adolescent suicide rate might make adolescents less resistant to "ordinary" tensions.

The absence of more precise data (especially socio-economic statistics) about the increase in the adolescent suicide rate is unfortunate. And such research, especially involving long range trends, is not easy to do, because of the limited data routinely kept on adolescent suicides. But Durkheim's seminal work and analysis, and other pertinent data about youth trends, provide us with useful insights and information.

Durkheim discovered that in nineteenth century European societies suicide was more prevalent among Protestants as compared to Catholics, urbanites as compared to rural persons, the affluent as compared to the middle-and lower-middle classes, single and married childless adults as compared to married adults with children, males as compared to females, and persons in the liberal professions as compared to laborers and tradesmen.27 In other words, people apparently were shielded from suicidal impulses because of the communal intensity of their religion, the stability of their life patterns, the predictability of their aspirations, the intensity and complexity of their social commitments, the focus of their responsibilities, and the tangibility of their work products. All of these shields were forces that place humans in complex but predictable patterns of human relations that move toward identifiable goals. Durkheim concluded that, in modern societies, "suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of the social groups of which the individual forms a part."28 Individuals who were identified with weakened or disintegrated groups were more independent, or as he put it, "egoistic." Durkheim described egoistic suicide as a type of suicide arising from excessive individualism. Thus, in modern societies, suicide is a measure of the extent of individual integration or disintegration in the society.

Much of the data previously cited in this paper demonstrates the growth of patterns of extreme individualism and even selfishness among adolescents. Thus, it is often selfish to commit delinquent acts: to injure or threaten others, or to steal from them. It is selfish to destroy public property made by the money and sweat of others, in order to make your point or release your frustration. It is selfish to become pregnant (or make someone else pregnant), and bring into the world a child without the emotional support that arises in a stable family.

We should also recognize that much of this adolescent anti-social conduct does not float around off in space, but descends onto tangible victims—most of them also adolescents. For instance, adolescents have the highest rates of crime victimization. The victimization rate (per 1,000 members for each age group) was 122 for 16 to 19 year olds, compared to 64 for the total national population.29 In other words, adolescents were twice as likely to be victimized—probably by other adolescents. The most frequent crime committed against the young were larceny and rape. And, of course, most of the despised drug pushers who sell drugs to young users are other adolescents, trying to earn money to buy motorcycles, run autos, or dress in a colorful manner.

The shifts in youth attitudes-as well as conduct-are also consonant with a growth of egoism. For example, most of us probably believe that it is right for a group member-who is himself equally at fault-to take the blame for his fellows. We call such an attitude loyalty or fidelity. In the Haverford questionnaire, this measure of potential fidelity declined from a 63 percent to 45 percent. In a sense, it probably also represents a selfish (or self-centered) attitude when students at public colleges-where 60-70 percent of the costs are born by taxpayers—to describe the world as largely uncooperative. Without the cooperation and sacrifices of others-and not only their parents, but all citizens—the students would not be given most of the costs of their education.

But Durkheim was concerned with more than egoistic conduct. He also hypothesized that alienated persons would be excessively inclined towards loneliness, withdrawal, and self-destruction. The use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are often especially associated with such attitudes. Sometimes, such use may be in a social con-text-a dope or drinking party—but frequent or intense use under any circumstances typically significes that the substance is to "crutch", to cover-up the users' sense of social inadequacy. The same sense of inadequacy is implied by the responses to the attitudinal questions which suggest increasing drives towards isolation (e.g., the growing stress on privacy as a personal aspiration).

In other words, the data simply demonstrates the increasing egoism and loneliness among the young.

In this study on suicide, Durkheim was not especially concerned with schools, but with social institutions in general. He contended that the suicide rate in modern societies is only an indicator of the tension created by all forms of modernization, and that such suffering would gradually tend to display itself in other, more socially disruptive forms. He concluded his analysis with a plea for the creation of new social institutions that would increase the individual's sense of group embeddedment. He fully understood that such institutions would appear in a guise that would be disturbing to modern materialism, individualism, liberalism, and rationality. At the same time, he understood that such institutions must be wedded to the practical—as well as the psychic—needs of the society, and reflect viable historical conditions. In Suicide, first published in 1893, he proposed the creation of institutions akin to trade unions-to create fraternity around the work site-to satisfy the needs he identified. Presumably, we would conclude that his proposal has not been effectively carried out. Most modern trade unions, whatever their many virtues, do not give their members a sense of embeddedment and symbolic satisfaction. They are far too deeply influenced by contemporary materialistic rationalistic currents.


Durkheim's general analysis is quite applicable to modern formal education, at all levels, from preschool to higher education. These education systems are highly disintegrating. They:

1. Segregate the young from adults except for their immediate family and teachers, a highly restructed class of adults.

2. Segregate the young from contact with youths not in their immediate age range.

3. Segregate the young from contact with youths with different ability levels, or from different socioeconomic classes.

4. After elementary school, they often segregate the young from persisting contacts with particular members of their cohort, since students are frequently shuffled from one group to another to meet the needs of rational scheduling.

5. Compel the young to submit to structures that demand they display an extraordinary degree of self-control and cognitive focus.

6. Fail to encourage young people to participate in cooperative work efforts.

7. Compel the young to work on projects unrelated to proximate social and economic needs.

8. Deprive the young of the chance to receive relatively immediate, tangible, commonly valued reinforcements (e. g., money, punishments, or pats on the back) in exchange for their efforts.

As schooling has been prolonged, academic teaching has become more professional and specialized: Though educators as a class have many responsibilities, the work done by individual educators (e. g., guidance counselors, sixth grade teachers, mathematics teachers) has become more restricted. Thus, the responsibilities of individual educators are more segmented, and they are less able to offer their students wholesome models of adult workers in control of their environment. It is true that the trend is toward lower pupil/teacher ratios. But contemporary institutional structures compel teachers to have many brief contacts with many different students, compared to a smaller number of lengthy, intense contacts with fewer students. These patterns in education have been fostered by the growth of larger school districts, larger school buildings, faculty specialization, school bureaucracies, teachers unions, and other rationalizing forces. Those forces are an essential part of the modernity which Durkheim found associated with suicidal attitudes.

The perfunctory contacts fostered by these arrangements permit the teacher to transmit focused cognitive information to the student; but they make it difficult for the participants to share strong, integrating emotions such as anger, affection, or humor. But unless strong emotions are fostered, accepted and dealt with in school, constructive affective learning-learning about the integrating release of emotions-is impossible. And by the term affective learning, we mean learning how to control and express ones emotions-anger, anxiety, fear, affection, humor-in a substantial and satisfying fashion. And we might substitute, for that term, words and phrases such as maturity, common sense, incidental learning, or coping skills. But one can no more learn how to express, organize, and interpret feelings largely by reading books, than one can learn how to cook, drive a car, or play tennis through a lecture. This does not mean that "affective instruction" should encourage students to express their emotions in chaotic and diffuse forms; however, the extreme restraint of emotional interaction can be as dysfunctional as the disorderly outbursts of the alienated. In modern schools, with their low levels of emotional interaction and complexity, a pupil can properly feel that, while he has received a great deal of cognitive information, no one really "knows" him. Furthermore, as the process continues, the pupil becomes increasingly afraid of being "known," or of "knowing" anyone else; the less experience he has with inter-generational intimacy, the more uncomfortable it will appear. At the same time, at the deepest level, the pupil understands that he needs the intimacy which he fears and does not understand how to manage.

The anxious, withdrawn, and antisocial attitudes often found in adolescents has another significance we should perceive. In modern schools, individual adolescents are placed in environments composed of the most "unsocialized" members of the society. That is why the young are most frequently victimized by criminals. Regardless of the prosocial attitudes of individual adolescents, after awhile they are likely to feel put upon by their peers. And inevitably, they may be moved to respond in kind, or at least adopt an attitude of excessive-but understandable—withdrawal.

But not only have schools become more rational and bureaucratic. We have also greatly extended the length of student exposure. The basic data is simple: Persons born in 1895 attended formal education an average of 742 days in their lives; those born in 1965 should average 2,124 days attendance.30 Postsecondary attendance has played an important role in this enlargement: in 1870 approximately 2 percent of the college-age youth population attended institutions of higher education; in 1930, the figure was 12 percent; now it is 37 percent.31

During the same period which we have extended school, we have increasingly isolated young persons from out-of-school intergenerational environments, or situations where they participate in productive, socially integrating work. There were fewer gainfully employed workers between the ages of 10-15 in 1930 than in 1870, despite the quadrupling of the labor force in the same period.32 Continuing this trend, labor force participation rates for youths between 14 and 19 declined from 64 percent in 1945 to 43 percent in 1962.33 But the decline of youth involvement in adult-related work has affected more than paid employment. Farming has also been an important source of such social integration. But the proportion of American farming families declined from 54 percent in 1900 to 5.2 percent in 1968.34

Other significant changes in the process of socialization to adulthood have been wrought by the growth of suburbanization, affluence, and technology. Children in suburbs are more likely to be isolated from diverse responsibilities than either children in cities or farms-which is why suburbs are so often called bedroom communities. Between 1950 and 1970, the proportion of the total population living in suburbs rose from 25 percent to 37.2 percent.35 Affluence has generally diminished the pressures of youths to seek employment, and has increased the money available to buy conveniences that lessen household responsibilities for the young. Between 1947 and 1971, the median American family income rose 77 percent in real dollars.36 Of course, technology has increased the number of around-the-home devices that money can buy. These devices decrease chores and make it less necessary for youths and adults to engage in interaction to satisfy either social or work needs.

These patterns surrounding students—specialization, comparative affluence, bureaucracy, brief, transient relationships, and infrequent occasions to release or exercise strong emotions—are common to other aspects of postindustrial society. Their appearance in school merely represents the application of modern organization patterns to the rearing of the young. Indeed, they are only a magnification of the trends which Durkheim identified in the late nineteenth century.37 However, modern schools are probably more bureaucratic, more age- and skill-homogeneous, and less adapted to the exercise, release, and training of emotions than most modern adult endeavors. Furthermore, young persons probably have greater need for affective learning than adults. It is one thing to expect a mature adult to accept an environment where possibilities for emotional release are restricted. But when we apply equivalent (or stricter) restrictions to the young, we may create unhealthy confusion and ignorance, as the students "do not feel right," but do not have enough affective knowledge to fully understand what is wrong, or what correctives are appropriate.


Signs of dissatisfaction with existing socialization arrangements have appeared at some levels. Critical reports and analyses have appeared.38 Proposals have been made about career education, action learning, schools without walls, and credit for life experiences. Some of these proposals have been more focused on getting youths into out-of-school experiences, as compared to revising school patterns. However, these alternative approaches are essentially matters of tactics; that is, there is a large amount of agreement as to the nature of the changes needed, and understandable differences of opinion as to how that end can be best attained.

The proportion of youths in eligible cohorts going to college has also slightly diminished, although it is not yet clear whether the diminishment is due to a decline in the enrollment of the marginal or the more able students. (Some of the preceding data suggest that it is precisely the more able student, from higher SES families, that have the greatest need for socially integrating experiences. For example, college student use of marijuana and other drugs was more frequently reported by youths from college educated families: In 1971, 43 percent of the students whose fathers were high school graduates reported marijuana use; 57 percent of the students whose fathers were college graduates reported such use. The equivalent figures for the use of hallucinogens were 15 and 21 percent, and those for cocaine were 6 and 9 percent.39)

Other proposals have been made-apparently in response to the challenge-for pass/ fail courses, free schools, values education, more legal rights for students, and courses in sex and drug education. Obviously some rationale is necessary for making "rough sorts" of the diverse proposals. We cannot pursue all these solutions with equivalent energy.

I suggest that a Durkheimian framework may provide us with a useable sorting tool. Such a framework would assume that the young are excessively isolated from serious, persisting intergenerational and intragenerational contacts, and the main themes of adult life. This isolation frustrates effective socialization to adulthood. The framework would lead us to support remedies that increase the length and intensity of contacts between youth and adults, that diversify the forms of these contacts, and that enrich inter- and intracohort contacts among the young. Furthermore, appropriate remedies would give young persons increased, consequential responsibilities related to the day-to-day operation of society. The framework would disparage changes that involve the young in talking about or writing about (in a term paper fashion) issues, or that encouraged transitory human contacts, or contacts within restricted social or generation classes.

Programs generally characterized as career education, action learning, and so on may satisfy the Durkheimian criteria, if the young are given responsibilities where their inevitable learning mistakes generate obvious and immediate consequences, that flow back upon them (and not upon others). As examples of such programs, I can suggest inter- and intracohort tutoring, participating in school maintenance, accepting concrete, carefully defined, and supervised on-the-job responsibilities, (particularly in profit-making businesses), performing well-organized community service activities (e. g., reading to the aged, hospital aides) or organizing and carrying out effective extracurricular programs of all sorts, including recreational, fraternal and service activities. In such programs, great stress should be put on maintaining persisting contacts between particular persons. Minicourses and other forms of "nibbling" should be serverely discouraged, since they will not generate the intensity of contact that is a prerequisite to integration. Every effort should be made to insure the students work with persons, and accept responsibilities, that model the diverse challenges and talents that exist in the adult world-including salesmen, policemen, nurses, clubwomen, housewives, and union business agents, as well as the more usual social workers, advertising agency employees and medium level government bureaucrats. And the programs must eventually be designed to emcompass undermotivated, as well as deeply engaged, students.

Many other proposed programs do not meet the Durkheimian test. Often, the programs focus on talking-values education-instead of focusing on students carrying out responsibilities to one another, or to society. Sometimes, they do not provide for intense, continuing contact (e. g., sex education and drug education), but merely assume another specialist will be called in to do the job. (Perhaps this has something to do with why the increase in illegitimacy has very roughly paralleled the nationwide spread of courses in sex education.) Some of the programs release students from unpopular demands, but do not make any specific definable demands on students. As a result, such programs fail to surround individual students with a pool of peers who are-in some identifiable way-committed to helping him. (And the "demand" that each student worry about the welfare of his fellows is often an uncomfortable standard.)

Increased legal rights is an ambiguous goal. Does it mean that each student shall be given increased protection from the antisocial conduct of other students? Is that a right? And how do we enforce that right if we concurrently increase the rights of other students to engage in disruptive conduct? Of course, the truth is that "student rights" is essentially a code word for individualism, and that such individualism probably increases the anomie in the school. The fact is that modern students have a higher level of individualistic legal rights—hearings, the right to disagree with school policies and attack them, the right to refrain from flag salute-than ever before in our history. It is hard to believe that enlargement of those rights is the cure for the persistent growth of alienation.

Of course, students need to learn about drugs, values, rights, and obligations, and to receive emotional support from their institutions. But that "learning" should essentially be transmitted affectively, as opposed to using more formalism, cognition, and legalism. Perhaps a concrete example of affective learning in school may serve to make the point: In some ghetto schools, students choose to spend their limited funds on relatively costly clothing, although such clothes are often poorly adapted to business or job seeking purposes (the clothes essentially demonstrate the juvenility of their wearers to potential employers). Assume a school, where the principal required teachers to wear business dress everyday. Assume a scheduling structure that fostered greater personal student/teacher contacts. Gradually, through such contacts, the students might come to realize that the teachers wore business dress out of consideration-or affection-for the students, to provide them with appropriate role models. This could not be preached to the students, but the implicit message of concern and respect that it communicates might give the students a new sense of the ties that exist between them and their teachers, and of the ties between them and the larger society. This could be a good lesson in values education. In sum, the students, through such a pattern, might learn (a) how restraint is a form of respect to others, (b) that their teachers respect them, (c) that they are deserving of respect, (d) that their teachers are deserving of respect, (e) that there is such a thing as being disrespectful, and (f) how to show respect to potential employers. These important learnings are not well taught by talking or by specialists


Whether the disorder here described has reached a plateau or not is impossible to say at this time. In any case, the disorder represents a profound shortcoming in our social and political institutions. It is problematic whether or not these institutions are becoming more corrupt or dictatorial. However, the data do show that they are becoming less effective at socializing the young to become mature, wholesome, and committed citizens. Thus, while the social criticism of youth may be worthy of short shrift, the growing alienation being evinced by our future citizens is evidence of serious social mismanagement. Youth alienation should become an important item on our local and national political agendas, in the interest of the youths who are suffering, and of the country which they will help to maintain and govern.

No matter what happens in the public arena in the immediate future, we are dealing with long-range trends. Inevitably, there will be continuing-and perhaps even increasing-youth disorder ahead. It will appear in varied and unpredictable modes. It will spread into important aspects of adult life. Many different remedies will be applied. Some may even tend to enlarge the problem, since they will essentially represent an intensification of already alienating policies. Other remedies will be appropriately applied, but may not produce satisfactory effects, due to their conflicting pressures which they must resist, and to the limited intellectual and physical resources available. Hopefully, we will gradually develop and apply a large enough pool of appropriate remedies to control or reverse the long-range trends in youth alienation. But it will take a very long time, and a great deal of persistence. Still, the challenge of maintaining a culture is important enough to be worthy of persistence.

1 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, personal communication, 1976.

2 U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics, 1973. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973, p. 168.

3 San Mateo County, Department of Public Health and Welfare. Summary Report, 1976, Surveys of Student Drug Use. San Mateo, Calif.: Department of Public Health, 1976.

4 U.S. Department of Justice. Crime in the United States, 1972. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972, p. 124.

5 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana and Health, Fifth Annual Report. Washington, D.C.: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1975., p. 63.

6 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service. Second Special Report on Alcohol and Health, preprint ed. Rockville, Md.: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1974, p. 128.

7 D. Yankelovich, F. Skelly, and A. White. A Study of Cigarette Smoking, Vol. I. New York, N.Y.: Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, 1976, p. 36.

8 U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics, 1974. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1975, p. 368.

9 U.S. Senate, 94th Congress, 1st Session, Preliminary Report, Committee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, Our Nation's Schools. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975, p.4.

10 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Health Services Administration. Approaches to Adolescent Health Care in the 1970's. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975, p. 12.

11 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service. Trends in Illegitimacy. U.S., 1940-1956, Series 21, No. 15. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968; and U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, National Center for Health Statistics. Monthly Vital Statistics Report 24, No. 11, Supplement, February 13, 1976.

12 U.S. Department of Justice. Crime in the United States, 1972. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972, p. 124.

13 President's Commission on Campus Unrest. Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970, p. 387.

14 "Nine Radicals on Most Wanted List," The New York Times, November 28, 1970, p. 13.

15 D. Heath. Growing up in College. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1968, p. 67.

16 Ibid., p. 68.

17 D.R. Hogue, "College Student Values," Sociology of Education, Vol. 44, 1970, pp. 170-197.

18 M.B. Freedman and P. Kanzer, "Psychology of a Strike," in E.S. Sampson and H.A. Kron, eds. Student Activism and Protest. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1970, pp. 155, 158.

19 D. Yankelovich, Inc. The Changing Values on Campus. New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1973; and D. Yankelovich. Changing Youth Values in the 70's. New York, N.Y.: The John D Rockefeller 3rd Fund, 1974.

20 Yankelovich, The Changing Values on Campus, op. cit., p. 16.

21 V. L. Bengtson, "Generation and Family Effects in Value Socialization," American Sociology Review, Vol. 40, 1975, p. 369; S. M. Lipset, "How Education Affects the Youth Vote " Saturday Review: Education, Vol. 55, 1972, pp. 68-70.

22 J.W.M. Whiting and B.B. Whiting, "Altruistic and Egoistic Behavior in Six Cultures," in L. Nader and T.W. Maretzki, eds. Cultural Illness and Health. Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1973, p. 56.

23 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. Heroin Indicators Trend Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1976, p. 22.

24 Ben J. Wattenberg. The Real America. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974, pp. 272-283.

25 Arthur H. Miller, Thad A. Brown, and Alden S. Raine, "Social Conflict and Political Estrangement," paper delivered at the 1973 Convention of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, May 3, 1973, pp. 44 ff.

26 NX. Faberow. Bibliography on Suicide and Suicide Prevention. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972; and N.L. Faberow, et al., "Research in Suicide," in H.L.P. Resnick and B.C. Hathorne, eds. Suicide Prevention in the '70's. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973.

27 E. Durkheim. Suicide. New York, N.Y.: Free Press, 1951, p. 165.

28 Ibid., p. 209.

29 U. S. Bureau of the Census. Characteristics of American Youth: 1974, Series P-23, No. 51. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975, p. 29.

30 B. Duncan, "Trends in Output and Distribution of School," in E.B. Sheldon and W.B. Moore, eds. Indicators of Social Change. New York, N.Y.: Russell Sage, 1968, p. 608.

31 U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statistical History of the United States, Colonial Times to the Present. Fairfield, Conn.: Stamfield, 1963, p. 207; and U.S. Bureau of the Census. School Enrollment in the United States, 1972. Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce, 1973, Series P-60, No. 247, p. 4.

32 J.S. Coleman, et al. Youth: Transition to Adulthood. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1974, p. 26.

33 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical History of the United States, Colonial Times to the Present, op. cit., p. 71.

34 Ibid., A-34-5 0; and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969, p. 441.

35 U.S. Bureau of the Census. Money Income in 1971 of Families and Persons in the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.

36 Ibid., p. 31.

37 E. Durkheim. The Division of Labor in Society. New York, N.Y.: Free Press, 1933.

38 U. Bronfenbrenner, "The Origins of Alienation," Scientific American, Vol. 231, 1974, pp. 51-53; B. F. Brown. The Reform of Secondary Education. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1973; Coleman, op. cit; F. Newman. Reform in Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973; and E. Wynne, "Socialization in Adulthood: Different Concepts, Different Policies" Interchange, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1973, pp. 23-25, and No. 2, pp. 73-78.

39 U.S. Department of Justice, Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics, 1973, op. cit.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 78 Number 1, 1976, p. 23-40 ID Number: 1236, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 7:37:14 PM

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