Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3



The Rise of the Youth Class





Historical reflection may well reveal a significant relationship between

the unrest of the 1960's and the birth of a new social class. Even from this

limited vantage point it is increasingly apparent that young people for the

first time have identified themselves as a separate class in society. Congre-

gated in large numbers on college and university campuses, young people

have come to the self-realization that they have common needs, grievances,

and ideals. And, following the pattern of emerging classes of the past, the

youth class is beginning to assert the rights to which it feels it is heir,

especially within the democratic tradition.

The mass media, the emphasis upon near-universal higher education, and

the Vietnam War have been chief contributing factors in the solidification

of youth as a definable class. Radio and television since World War II have

directed an increasing amount of programming to this group. While adver-

tising has influenced children from the tenderest years to think of them-

selves as an important sector of the buying public, programs from Howdy

Doody to Captain Kangaroo have given them a common framework for

thought and conversation. Teenagers have found the essence of their de-

veloping subculture broadcast to them in the sounds and images of folk-

rock singing groups replete with the latest youth class symbols--mod cloth-

ing, bearded faces, and psychedelic effects. The success of the Beatles by the

mid-sixties was a belleweather of the unification of youth about a distinct

cultural pattern in the arts. By the end of the decade, the Broadway musical

"Hair" became the international art expression of the frustrations of young

people with the morality of middle class society and the enunciation of the

youth class ideals regarding war, sex, and race.

It was the emphasis upon higher education, however, which brought the

youth together in great enough numbers on university campuses to bring

its subculture, ideals, and grievances into sharp enough focus to weld its

members into a self-conscious social class. Just as the Industrial Revolution

brought the working masses of Europe together in the cities where they

gradually saw themselves as the oppressed proletariat which could act col-

lectively to win economic and, ultimately, political concessions from the

bourgeoisie and nobility, so the Education Revolution since 1945 has

brought nearly seven million students together in American institutions of

advanced learning where many viewed themselves as an aggrieved class and

united to achieve the democratic ideals with which their education had fa-

miliarized them. If society called for college degrees as requisites to oppor-

tunity and success, youth progressively looked upon higher education more

as a right than a privilege and demanded a voice in forming the policy in

the schools it had to attend. As the unity of the youth class grew by