Few eulogies are more fulsome than those in which a university president praises students when their parents are in earshot. The imaginary students of his panegyrics are, of course, an abstraction drawn from his brief and infrequent interviews with the student body president and memories of his own college years, the latter ripened and heavily redacted by the amiable hand of time. Since those days of “generous ideals and keen passion,” the man’s actual policy has been to step on his colleagues’ faces in the general scramble to get away from students, and although he is often lyrical in his praise of “the merry music of stimulated minds,” he is pleased to spend his days in one of the few building on campus where students are not cluttering the corridors or chattering outside his door.
As for the parents, they have paid enormous sums to kick their teenagers out of the house without appearing to have done so. Their sweet little darlings grew into lazy and quarrelsome louts, and in a middle-class household, enrollment in some college or university has long been the gentle method of lout removal. If you have ever heard a parent explain that their “Jennifer has gone away to study symbology,” you will have noticed the exultant gleam that comes to their eye when they said gone away.
I do not wish to defame the American college student. It is true that many of them are shifty and shiftless (curious how those traits go together but those words do not), that many of them recoil with disgust when they sip from the Pierian Spring, and that many of them exhibit a philistine indifference to their professors’ wit and winning ways. But they are at the same time, and on the whole, no worse than the adults they aspire to become.
*) William Henry Davies, “School’s Out” (1908)