AGE OF CONSENT

Posted in Rants on July 13th, 2017 by Ed

Although I catch myself in writing, my friends can confirm that in casual conversation I refer to my students as kids. "How was your day?" "Oh, the kids were really dead this morning, there must have been parties last night" or whatever. Technically this is a thing I should not say, because every single student I've ever encountered in my career has been, legally, an adult. Most are 19. The bare minimum for some overachievers is 18. The upperclassmen are like, SUPER adults. They're almost 22.

The reason I and so many other academics I interact with say "kids" is twofold. One is the recognition that even though we teach in universities, we are still teachers; there is a common thread to what I do and what a kindergarten teacher does, as it sometimes becomes all to clear. The other is that a veteran college professor can usually count on two hands the number of students he or she has had who truly carried themselves as adults. It's very easy to lapse into calling them Kids because they are, in all but the legal and physical-medical sense, children.

That is not a way of saying they're Bad. They are often a real joy to deal with. But on the whole they display distinctly kid-like behaviors. They pout. They eye-roll. They throw tantrums when they don't get what they want. They need to be told (begged, cajoled, threatened, etc) a thousand times to do things. They are readily distracted. Their interests tend toward the juvenile.

Again, that's not intended as a string of insults. It's just what they are, with some exceptions. Occasionally I lose time pondering what it says about me, about us, about higher education, and about American students that we call them "kids" when they are properly adults. In the long run it's likely a harmless reaction to forces beyond our control. Society encourages over-parenting and over-protection (Scary threats are everywhere!!) so colleges receive Men and Women who are in many important ways still Boys and Girls. So they mature a little later, socially and personally. No big deal in the grand scheme.

Last year during the Olympics, several famous American athletes embarrassed themselves and the country with drunken loutishness. It was widely noted that the IOC and many apologists for the men, notably Ryan Lochte, concluded that they were just kids having some fun and making some mistakes. Ryan Lochte is 32. This stands in contrast, of course, to black males who are adults – big, terrifying, scary Adults – the minute they graduate from diapers to underwear. The comments about Lochte and other famous "Boys will be boys" white adult men were widely contrasted, for example, with descriptions of 18 year old Michael Brown or 14 year old Tamir Rice. A 14 year old black male must bear the full brunt of the consequences of his actions, while white males of sufficient social class and fame get to play the Boys Will Be Boys card for half of their lives or more.

I bring this up now as I read this comment about Donald Trump Jr., here in WaPo but quoted widely this week:

"The kid is an honest kid," said one friend of Trump Jr. "The White House should’ve never let that story go out on the president’s son"

Donald Trump Jr. is thirty-nine years old. Perhaps the speaker is an older person and to him, everyone under 50 is "kid." But it seems more likely, given his behavior, demeanor, and absolute absence of contact with anything that could be described as Real Life, that people who know him think of him as a kid because he is not an adult in any meaningful way. And because nobody and nothing has ever forced him to accept responsibility for his decisions as an adult might be expected to, here we are talking about the 39 year-old son of a billionaire President of the United States like a teenager who egged the principal's house. Look at his innocent little face; how was he to know?

No one, it goes without saying, will synthesize this view of Donald Jr. as a helpless little puppy-child and his father's decision to give him a great deal of power and authority over a multinational corporation and the affairs of the state. "He's just a kid" and "I'm gonna let him and Jared handle China" blend together seamlessly in a country that's a half step away from just giving up altogether.