Life · Parenting · Politics

Penn State scandal an indictment on a generation? Not quite.

There’s no lack of opinion about the sex abuse scandal surrounding the football program at Penn State. The best have focused on the fact that college sports, particularly football, are abusive in their very nature, taking advantage of young people while paying 7-figure salaries to coaches. On the other hand, we have this post, where a 31-year-old graduate student argues (poorly) that the Penn State scandal is evidence of the failings of his parents’ generation. (Note to readers: Go read the link above before reading further in this post. I’ll wait.)

Thomas Day, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago, has decided that the pervert who allegedly raped multiple young boys and the athletic culture that let him get away with it (and, ahem, the district attorney who decided not to prosecute when Penn State Police reported the incidents), are one more example of his elders screwing up. His argument is weak on a number of levels, but strong emotion will do that to you. Then again, one would hope that someone in graduate school could come up with a more cogent and non-generalized argument than that Baby Boomers basically inherited the Garden of Eden and destroyed it before passing it on to their kids.

He says that his parents generation:

… inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

Really? Baby Boomers were born between the years of 1946 and 1964. They reached their 20s between the years of 1966 and 1984 and took the reins, so to speak, of the world at about the age young Mr. Day is now, between the years of 1976 and 1994, and they lived through a Great Recession of their own in the ’80s. (Boundless economic prosperity, my fanny.) Day argues that Baby Boomers have have spent their entire lives trying to mess up their kids’ future. As opposed to, say, earn enough money so they could send their kid to Penn State. Or buy him a car. Or put food on the table. Or fight for Title IX and affirmative action and women’s rights and Civil Rights and, oh yeah, set up Pell Grants and other higher education initiatives so the younger generation (aka Mr. Day) could have a chance at a better life through higher education. (Note to Day: I didn’t say have a guarantee of a better life. I said a chance. There are no guarantees in life.)

I’m guessing that Day probably was spoiled by his parents, as were so many children of the Baby Boomers and spoiling comes with consequences. While my husband and I took a different route from many Baby Boomers and lived on one income while we raised our four children, we had many friends who were dual-income families and, Day is correct, those dual incomes led to lots of spending. But that spending was not, as he argues, all about the parents. Rather, it tended to be all about the kids, and the result is a generation that believes things should be easy: they should be able to start at the top with a job, the top with the type of house they buy, the top of the heap with everything.

Life has been easy for Day’s generation, and now that they’ve got a really bad break – an economy that’s crashing on all of us, not just them – they are whining and, in Day’s case, blaming Baby Boomers. More from his piece:

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

News flash, sweetie – you don’t ask for a job. You EARN a job. You compete for a job. You work your butt off at a McDonald’s or a Staples or a vet clinic or wherever will hire you, and in your free time, you network and apply and hone your interview skills and compete for the job you want. You don’t complain. You don’t spend a bunch of money eating out multiple times a week or going to happy hours. You save and scrimp and get by and then, hopefully, get to work. Something, by the way, your parents generation did in droves. In fact your parents’ generation is still at it. Why? Because they’re good at their jobs and, sadly, there is an entire generation (that would be yours, Mr. Day) who don’t think they should have to work all that hard and thus, can’t compete with the Baby Boomers for the jobs out there.


Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Really? First, your parents generation is still trying to help clean up the mess. Do they need help from the younger generation? Absolutely – but the younger generation has, thus far, not shown up in any record numbers. The Baby Boomers downgraded the country’s credit rating? Funny, I thought that was Standard & Poors, which, as you surely know, also gave great ratings to the banks that got us into the mess in the first place. As for the battle over entitlements and the debt, again, not your parents’ generation but, rather, Congress and – surprise! – one of the leading figures of the younger generation – President Obama. Believe me, your parents’ generation is just as pissed off about all this stuff as you are.

What is holding your generation back, Mr. Day, isn’t a lack of leadership from your parent’s generation, but rather, a lack of dedication and spine from within many in your own generation. This is, after all, the generation for whom the term “delayed adolescence” was coined. They want sushi instead of beans and rice or chicken-vegi casserole. (And that sushi your generation so craves? What about the environmental damage that over-fishing is causing? Where’s the leadership there?). You want to take over? Please – we’d love to see some of your ideas. But the ideas that you spout in your opinion piece don’t hold water. Such as the idea that we have a leaderless culture and that’s what led to Penn State students acting like criminals:

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

The riot had nothing to do with those students lacking elders as leaders. It had to do with some college students being immature and – no doubt fueled by the shots your generation so prefers to beer – stupid. If they had been mature and thoughtful, they wouldn’t have been defending Paterno, they would have been raising money for the victims and figuring out a way to reform the college football system. If they’d been thinking (as leaders do), they would have never fallen into such god-worship of a football coach and a university in the first place.

You think you can fix the world? Have at it, brilliant boy. We are waiting for someone from your generation to step up and lead. But what have you done for the country lately? The Occupy Movement, where one person speaks and the rest of you repeat and no one seems to know exactly what the goal is? Have you run for public office? Do you vote? Most of your generation hasn’t even given deep thought to the upcoming elections. This post says you’re dispirited; I would say you’re intellectually lazy because it takes time and focus to study and examine all the issues this country is facing (and all the many sides to each of those issues). Do you do that? Have you read a policy paper? Or do you, like most of your generation, get bits and pieces from Colbert, Jon Stewart and Facebook?

In your follow-up post to your screed on Baby Boomers, you said that “in time, our generation will take the wheel.” That sentence, Mr. Day, is what is wrong with your generation: You’re still waiting to dive in with both feet and solve the problems. When your parents were your age, I bet they were in the thick of things. Stop waiting. Take the wheel now. Come up with solutions now. You actually take a pass at DOING anything in your follow-up post:

There is so much to be done in Washington — immigration reform, reforming our entitlements, cleaning our environment, putting people back to work — and my parents’ generation could make their mark as the one that kept America on top for good, if they only acted.  Listen, I’m 31 and in graduate school.  Very few people in my generation are in positions where we can directly make change.

You are wrong, Mr. Day – and – dare I say it? I think you might be afraid. You can directly make change now. Run for office, for goodness sake. There is many a Baby Boomer who worked full-time while in graduate school and volunteering for the public good or serving in public office (local school boards, for instance). You can do it.

You are long on critique but short on solutions. We ALL all know we need immigration reform, etc., but HOW we get to that reform is where the hard work is. Roll up your sleeves and jump in Mr. Day, or, respectfully, stop blaming your parents’ generation for what ails us. Unless you are living off the grid, you’re part of the problem, too. Take the time, energy, concentration and focus to really examine the country’s problems and figure out possible solutions. We eagerly await your ideas and hope they come soon because, frankly, your parents’ generation is getting tired.







6 thoughts on “Penn State scandal an indictment on a generation? Not quite.

  1. Great post; an angle that has not been delved into yet.
    I am so happy I never had children.
    Proud Baby Boomer

  2. I am glad that this student had the courage to finally say what many of us are thinking. We are waiting to a certain degree…your generations handling of the economy, focus on foreign and unnecessary wars, obsession with materialism, and focusing entirely on drugs to keep you alive instead of living healthy, overseen the change from family farms to factory farms destroying an entire culture…and the list goes on. We are waiting for you to retire, as budgets get slashed from the gaming of the system that you have overseen…Ike warned you, but you didn’t listen cause there was too much money in it…for you, which means less teaching jobs, construction jobs, consulting jobs, administration jobs, etc.
    I think your reaction is a knee jerk one and comes from a naive at best and ignorant at worst point of view. I hope that your generation will make an effort to clean up the mess they’ve made…watching them in DC doesn’t give me much hope.

    1. Dear AJP: Thanks for reading and writing, but again, you’re working in generalities. I, for instance, raised my family on food I grew in my backyard. Do you live sustainably? I buy from local farms. Yes, there are times I had to buy at Safeway, and thus, factory farms, but I was consciously (constantly) trying to buy local. Waiting is silly – please, step up. Take your place. There are plenty in the younger generation trying to make their way and, as I tell the students I advise at the university: the creme always rises to the top. If you wait for your elders to retire, you’ll be waiting too long. And please, there is no one generation that made this mess. The people who made the mess are investment bankers and hedge fundge managers and they are not, believe it or not, baby boomers. If you don’t like what you see happening in D.C., FIX IT. Do you vote? Do you campaign for candidates? Have you considered running for office? You can’t sit around and complain if you aren’t willing to get busy and get your hands dirty. You know the old saying – if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Please explain more specifically how you think my post is naive and/or ignorant – I’m interested. Thanks!

      1. Yes, I do do all of those things and am glad to hear you do too. I am not waiting for anything to move my career forward, nevertheless, the people in power are in the older generation, they’ve had more time to accumulate wealth, expertise, connections, etc. The boom in local farmer’s markets is a great example of the changes occurring as my generation (genX) begin to move in. We don’t have access to the corporate or washington elite, so we make positive change in our own backyard.
        The reason I think you are being naive is because the prosperity that you have lived through was the result of cheap oil and cheap labor. It has left a trail of pollution from Nigeria to Venezuela to the Gulf Coast, it has left a population with so much hatred of the west from propping up their dictators they are willing to die, it has suffocated a nation in China where the air is not fit to breath…all so we can shop at Walmart. All of these changes have happened in the past 50 years! They didn’t happen on their own….people made them happen, people here in the US…mostly by folks over the age of about 60.
        I don’t think it was malicious, it was naive….or maybe ignorant…like smoking wasn’t bad for you. The reality is we can’t clean up your mess….we need to start over. WE will remake washington to get the money out of politics, WE will remake a transportation system that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels, WE will create a new economy that doesn’t depend on promoting endless wars.

      2. This is a little funny in that you think farmers markets came with your generation. I was involved in the Dallas Farmers Market (still going strong!) 25 years ago. Baby Boomers (of which I am a very late one; some demographics have me on the margin of BB and GenX) were talking sustainability before it was “cool.” We didn’t bring WalMart in – Sam Walton did, planting it where there were many working poor and doing what Walmart does. The prosperity I have lived through? What about you? Did you grow up poor? (I did). Do you have a new car? Do you drive? (I take the bus). The reality is that you can’t clean up OUR mess? It is not an us vs them; we are in this together. The average person wants to work for solutions, it is the government leaders who are having problems. YOu say that you (WE WILL …) will remake this, and that, and create this. I ask you: When? What are your ideas and why aren’t you running for office? And for the record … so many of us are on thesame side against the wars and always have been.

      3. Well, I’m sorry to say you are missing my point…I’ll try 1 more time. First, of all you are obviously not a typical person and an outlier when measuring the cultural mean. Obviously farmer’s markets have been happening forever. My point is that the growth in their numbers over the past 5 to 10 years is unprecedented. With regards to Walmart…S.W. didn’t bring make Walmart…america made it…if folks didn’t shop there it wouldn’t be. Regardless, my point is the past 50 years has seen a general trend toward the homogenization of everything from processed foods to housing and neighborhoods to how we shop. How do you think this change occurred? Who facilitated this change? Who turned the other cheek when they knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. Ask the younger generation about climate change…there is no doubt about it. Ask the younger generation about  black people or homosexuals…whatever. My point is that sometimes, only the next generation can change the culture, the elders hold on tightly to what they know.
        There is no doubt in my mind that GenXrs will step up to run for office…many already have…see Gabby Giffords. Many of us are trying to build our careers and I don’t appreciate the condescension in your questions as though you have done so much and why aren’t I doing anything. You have no idea what I have done and doing.
        The thing you are missing is that there is no true poverty in the US. I was in the Peace Corps in central america…were you? just kidding. We live in the richest and most powerful country the world has ever known. This was especially true after WW2 up until…today. My feeling is that power and influence has been squandered and the general populace made a pact to ignore the fact that the 1% has been screwing us for decades, so long as they were able to live fat and happy. Those days are gone…all of the sudden folks can’t live fat and happy. I don’t like to make it an us vs. them issue and I will do whatever it takes to care for my parents. But it stings a little that the BBs lived well and left our country a mess and are now retiring. For more…

Comments are closed.