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International Socialism, Autumn 1965


Julie Lynch

Revolting Youth


From International Socialism, No.22, Autumn 1965, p.29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Youth and the Social Order
F. Musgrove
Routledge, 21s

In his consideration of the ‘Youth problem’ Dr Musgrove raises several important issues as widely separate as the category ‘adolescence’ which he feels to be artificially created and sustained, and the selective nature of the grammar school/university hierarchy. This hierarchy trains for leadership those who in fact lack the qualities of leadership, one of which he sees as a facility in social relationships quite antipathetic to the personality type chosen.

The grammar school, he argues ‘systematically humiliates its pupils, reduces their self-esteem, promotes uncertainties, ambiguities and conflicts in social relationships, a negative – even a despairing – outlook on life and society’.

Those whom the system chooses and retains belong to the type which ‘can be made to feel guilt and self-reproach and to drive itself without overmuch steering’. This type of neurotic introvert is again favoured by university selection, thus denying to the stable extrovert positions of responsibility and importance in our society.

Whilst in this field Dr Musgrove is working upon propositions of questionable relevance and of doubtful validity, yet his other main theme – that of the existence of a separate status which can be termed ‘adolescence’ and the possibilities of discovering and analysing its social roots – is a vitally important one, upon which Dr Musgrove gives us some new, if imperfectly proven, ideas.

He has attempted a genuinely theoretical discussion of the status and role of youth in our society, and concludes that the young enjoy a fairly high actual, if informal, status. Hostility to this status, which is shown for instance in high earning power, independence, and early marriage, is manifested by adults who attempt by various means to keep the young in their place, creating a mythical stage ‘adolescence’ between childhood and adulthood, denoted by segregation of the young by a prolonged period of formal education. This argument, plus the damage to personality which grammar school and university seem often to achieve, brings seriously into question the proposed massive extension of higher education.

Indeed the concept of formal education and training as a means of disabling rather than enabling the young is one which deserves further consideration in terms of the real functions of youth clubs, university halls of residence and other segregated age-grade institutions in creating ‘adolescents’ where none would otherwise exist.

This concept, together with already existing theories of adolescence, plus a more exhaustive and sceptical analysis of evidence and conjecture than Dr Musgrove provides would indeed be a valuable contribution. The workings of the labour market and capitalist society create both the kind of educational environment and the kind of social processes that initiate a child into adulthood. Therefore a real understanding of the ‘youth problem’ would be a great help in understanding the social/psychological effects of capitalism. This book is one in which the problem is raised in an illuminating way, though "one must not look for satsfactory answers.

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