AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS. Tonight, a doubleheader. Book Reviews No. 37 and No. 38 focus on the lives of young people in the positional arms races, or not. Alexandra Robbins, who we last saw hanging out on Sorority Row, spent a year among the senior class in Bethesda, Maryland, with road trips to Winnetka, Illinois and other poverty pockets, to produce The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. It's a relatively small sample, and its generality isn't guaranteed. The picture it paints of stressed-out teens whose college choices are generally limited, whether by internal standards or neighborhood effects, to the Usual Suspects. And yes, a few of them come apart when they don't get their first choices, and a few of them come apart when they do. It's all baffling to somebody who has been gainfully employed from the age of seventeen (Coastie, sophomore year: "Why are you self-supporting?" Grosse Pointe Dukie, more recently: "What about your student loans?" Not applicable.) to see young people whose greatest blessing might be the opportunity to be introspective so concerned with ticking off the next Must-Do on the checklist. Ms Robbins notes that a lot of those Must-Dos Don't. Impress. and she concludes with some suggestions for young people and their parents.

In the meantime, ambitious young people of more modest means might be able to find gainful and challenging work filling in where the trustafarians break down or burn out.

That is, if they don't fall into the traps detailed in Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30.) We'd believe you if you didn't shout so much. There are multiple causes: internet technologies that allow anyone to publish without benefit of peer review, social networking that allows people to hang out with friends at any time, including when they might be working or studying, inclusive education that poses little challenge and does little preparation for the life of the mind, or the responsibilities of business. There are two salient facts a reader ought understand. First, Professor Bauerlein is on the Emory faculty. That's a wannabe private institution that Ms Robbins's Bethesdans view as a safety school, if at all. Indulged, disappointed trustafarians do not world-beaters make. Second, he finished the book just before the fall 2008 reckoning in the financial markets. The parallels between the indulged, disengaged, not-challenged collegians of the early Oh-Ohs and the indulgent, tripping, do-your-own-thing collegians of the early Sixties who become the enablers of the current crop must include the belief shared by both cohorts that there would be good jobs for anyone with a semblance of decent credentials. The over-reach of the Great Society and its aftermath taught a few of us differently. The lessons of the Great Recession will be written down in another forty years.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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