Cultural Revolutions

Raising a Ruckus

I remember sitting in an airport bar with a few bemused travelers listening to the ads on TV. "America's ignored crisis," Tom Brokaw blared at us. "Children in poverty. Most people below the poverty line are children." First one of us and then the rest broke into gufFaws. "What this country needs is a national allowance policy," one voice suggested.

The ersatz crisis plays the role in the institutional life of official America that drugs play in its private life. It needs them for the highs and spurts of energy that keep it going. The official Journal of Approved Crises, alias The New York Times, has discovered two crises in education and blazoned them on its front page. On June 6, 1989, we were told that people take longer to finish doctorates in the humanities than in the physical sciences (the averages are 8.4 years in the humanities as opposed to 6 years in the sciences) and longer than people did in the 1960's, when the average was 5.4 years. "Thousands of Americans spend year after year mired in dissertations, demoralized and unable to start their careers. Campuses brim with legends about scholars who spent years toiling in libraries and at typewriters creating a definitive masterpiece, or worse, simply going through bouts of angst while resisting libraries and typewriters." This is the rhetoric that 60 Minutes uses about the homeless: "mired in,"...

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