The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER In an era of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and an unprecedented election, the country's youth are in crisis. Senator Ben Sasse warns the nation about the existential threat to America's future. Raised by well-meaning but overprotective parents and coddled by well-meaning but misbegotten government programs, America's youth are ill-e...

Title:The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance
Author:
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Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:320 pages

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance Reviews

  • Joe Lynn

    The basic message I got from this book is that it is a parent's responsibility to raise their children with a strong work ethic and the background knowledge and skills to be able to think critically and to be self-reliant. I agree that these are essential skills and that is a laudable message. I found myself agreeing with most of what Senator Sasse espoused and I am giving fours stars based on that message.

    I did find it troubling that he is painting an entire generation with the same brush, and

    The basic message I got from this book is that it is a parent's responsibility to raise their children with a strong work ethic and the background knowledge and skills to be able to think critically and to be self-reliant. I agree that these are essential skills and that is a laudable message. I found myself agreeing with most of what Senator Sasse espoused and I am giving fours stars based on that message.

    I did find it troubling that he is painting an entire generation with the same brush, and he blames the public school system for most of the problems. I don't doubt that he saw many students admitted to his college who needed remedial help before starting college. But did all students require it, or even the majority? If so, I wonder how low their admission standards are. As the father of four millenials who went through the public school system, I know that my children were well prepared for college: none needed any remedial work, they were all accepted to their top choice schools, and all graduated on time with good grades. None of them are "living in my basement playing video games all day", as Senator Sasse seems to imply about that generation. Two of my children are working at full-time professional careers, and the other two are pursuing advanced degrees. As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data, and so I think his description of the malaise of the millennial generation needs statistics to give it perspective. I understand that there are many school districts that are doing poorly, but there are many doing an excellent job too. My children's circle of friends from high school are almost unanimously working at career-oriented jobs.

    Senator Sasse is justifiably proud of the home-school education that he and his wife are providing for their children. But With two-earner families being the norm for so many Americans today, home schooling is not an option for everyone. I also question whether every parent is cut out to teach. . Most people don't have a job that permits them to bring their children along on business trips, etc. The Sasse family situation for home schooling is far from ubiquitous, and so the public school system is still critically important.

    Senator Sasse says in his conclusion that he deliberately stayed away from public policy in this book. But I think that the undercurrent of "public schools bad/home schooling good" that permeates the book tends to obscure his message. He emphasized the grand opportunities he has been able to afford his children. But one does not need to send a 14-year-old to a cattle ranch for a month to teach them work ethics. There are plenty of opportunities (baby sitting, mother's helper, yard work, snow shoveling, laundry, cleaning, etc) that a young teen can do inside and outside of the family to learn this. I also thought he could have put more emphasis on how parents can drive this even if their child is in public education. Instead of bemoaning the fact that the school schedule constrains the possibilities of giving your children life experiences, he could have put more thought into how they can coexist.

  • Jonny

    If you don't like this book because you think it's too preachy, you're the problem.

  • Steven Kaminski

    Ben Sasse is one of those Senators who looks like a career politician from a movie or central casting. But actually he was running a college before he came to the Senate. And in his book here he puts his finger on something very unique happening in society today that I have been guilty of (a little also) and that is the disengagement of people within society. And in particular for millennials (now that graduation is upon us) they are supposed to becoming adults...but they are doing nothing to ac

    Ben Sasse is one of those Senators who looks like a career politician from a movie or central casting. But actually he was running a college before he came to the Senate. And in his book here he puts his finger on something very unique happening in society today that I have been guilty of (a little also) and that is the disengagement of people within society. And in particular for millennials (now that graduation is upon us) they are supposed to becoming adults...but they are doing nothing to actively act like it. I'm seeing more about this kind of cultural drift where kids are graduating from school, have no idea what they want to do, no ambition, no motivation. And because they can live through a screen bringing them all of life that they want to engage in...endless books (my vice), binge watching Netflix, staring into their phones & tablets with social media (A LOT of people) they think they are engaging with people but really they're just engaging with a screen. Almost as if they were zombies. How do you combat that?

    - From Goodreads: The statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.

    - Only 18% of 8th graders are proficient at history. Only 16% of those graduating could explain coherently what socialism is (as for adults who watch Hannity that is closer to zero...OK I made that up...joke)

    - Softer Parenting. The parents want to dump the kids in the schools and on the teachers and then turn around to treat those same people with disdain when they point of problems. They are taking the very real issues as a challenge to how they are parenting and not using the tools that these systems are for.

    - We are spending more on education per pupil than most nations yet our results are getting worse year after year. The student's life at home has nothing to do with those results?

    - We have become more shallow with rituals of coming of age: graduations (horray! you attended school!) to bar mitzmah (Yay! you made it to 16 alive!). There is now very little connection or meaning to the events. That's a little scary.

    This isn't a political book. Sasse tries to at the end of every chapter lay out steps and solutions he has taken or gathered and there is some wisdom there. But this is a long term problem which even I'm not sure has an answer...

  • Adam

    Senator Sasse is a gem. Intelligent and eloquent, funny and social-media-savvy, he differs from your average Republican officeholder in that he doesn't constantly spout the same conservative talking points. Instead, he offers something deeper than that in his normal discussion of policy. This book continues on in this same vein.

    Sasse's book, The Vanishing American Adult, discussing the social conditions plaguing many young people in America today, stuck in perpetual adolescence, or "Neverland."

    Senator Sasse is a gem. Intelligent and eloquent, funny and social-media-savvy, he differs from your average Republican officeholder in that he doesn't constantly spout the same conservative talking points. Instead, he offers something deeper than that in his normal discussion of policy. This book continues on in this same vein.

    Sasse's book, The Vanishing American Adult, discussing the social conditions plaguing many young people in America today, stuck in perpetual adolescence, or "Neverland." Sasse, a historian by training, offers a discussion of the history and potential direction of this wandering generation. The lack of "adulthood" is not only dangerous to the individual but to society, as the virtues and characteristics which the Founders saw as necessary to a successful Republic are fastly abating.

    Along the way, Sasse weaves in the history of American education and civic ideals, along with suggestions on how to create adults who live a full life. One, Sasse frequently discusses the lost value of work, as younger generations see work as a burden more than an opportunity. Discussing the overbearing consumer culture, youngsters have become "consumers" rather than producers. (I don't think there's anything wrong with being a consumer as long as you're a producer at the same time) People want to add value to society, and the shift in the past few decades have lessened opportunities for young people to develop a thriving work ethic. Along these lines, Sasse also mentions the growing technological culture and how this plays in. In my personal opinion, this discussion of meaningful work is important after this last election, where a large population of people, who feel that they no longer contribute to their society in meaningful ways, expressed their dissatisfaction with the world as it is. Largely, though, Sasse points out a seeming apathy (despite economic conditions) toward the same kind of work - that we rather enjoy the freedom from work or pain or discomfort than the freedom to work or worship or produce (the distinction between freedom to vs. freedom from is important).

    Additionally, he discusses at length the "peer-guidance" method parroted by Benjamin Spock and deeply ingrained in the modern educational system. Instead of looking toward adults and older generations for examples, young people often looked toward themselves to look for answers. Spending time with older people, or people not of your generation, is an essential element of creating successful adults. While reading this as a millennial, I could hear the snarky voices of some of my peers trying to "rebut" everything he says by offering the same critiques of the economy. I've discovered in my life, though, that some folks are often convinced that they work harder than they actually do. But the intergenerational divide speaks to me, as I've always had a deathly fear of old people, usually those who weren't relatives. The older I got, my ability to communicate with those a few generations ahead of me hadn't improved - because I was steeped in this peer culture and I hadn't spent as much time looking above for guidance, even though I spent a good deal of time with my parents growing up!

    Finally, Sasse offers a few suggestions of making tougher, deeper adults - like cultivating good travel and reading habits and re-instilling an idea of America as an idea. This last section felt hokier than the rest of the book, which is an odd reflection of myself. I generally agree with Sasse, and I generally agree with the idea of America as an exceptional nation, but when we talk of American greatness and ideas, it's hard not to hear your crazy conservative uncle talking. I don't know how we can discuss this is in a way that doesn't sound that way, but it did come off in an over-the-top way. Perhaps the "Fox News" characterization of America has made it difficult to talk about America in a beautiful, literary way, to speak of its foundational exceptionalism in a way that touches people and doesn't turn them off.

    Ultimately, Sasse's discussion of issues facing of the future American "adult" is a good diagnosis. He offers a firm prescription on how to combat this disturbing trend and perhaps instill a more "virtuous" society, one filled with competent, hardworking, deep-thinking adults. As a student of American cultural history, I found the book comprehensive and weaved in many strands of American ideas and identity. I would recommend it.

  • Ken Zimmerman

    This book is not worth the time or energy required to read it. It's a hodge-podge of this and that. Mostly incorrect and missing the real points of the lives it supposedly describes. Self-reliance is not as Sasse assures his readers being on one's own and making one's own way. Among all the nations of the Earth the USA is the least likely of these to exhibit such ways of life. Sasse's supposedly an historian. He should know better. The history of the USA is one of neighbors, cities, towns, and s

    This book is not worth the time or energy required to read it. It's a hodge-podge of this and that. Mostly incorrect and missing the real points of the lives it supposedly describes. Self-reliance is not as Sasse assures his readers being on one's own and making one's own way. Among all the nations of the Earth the USA is the least likely of these to exhibit such ways of life. Sasse's supposedly an historian. He should know better. The history of the USA is one of neighbors, cities, towns, and states helping one another. Of banding-together to face both everyday life and the many crises that come to Americans. Sasse seems more focused on changing rather than describing American history. Changing it first to be Christian. Then to be mostly European. And then to be religiously based conservative. The less ideological history of the USA is multi-religion, European-African-Asian, and pragmatically middle-of-the-road politically and morally. If you agree with his ideology then read this book. It will confirm all you think you know. If you rather take an evidence-based view of the USA and its history, the book will attack everything you believe and you personally. I'm an historian. It offends me to see history abused as Sasse does in this book.

  • Christina

    How can Americans parent well in the 21st century? Dr. Sasse suggests we consider the perspectives of the past. This is a book written by a person with a phD in history who also clearly teaches very well. The reader probably won't be thinking of the author as a United States Senator while reading. You will be reflecting upon the thoughts of Aristotle and Lincoln among many others. This is a call to direct our children toward wide reading and meaningful travel...even if only blocks away. A call t

    How can Americans parent well in the 21st century? Dr. Sasse suggests we consider the perspectives of the past. This is a book written by a person with a phD in history who also clearly teaches very well. The reader probably won't be thinking of the author as a United States Senator while reading. You will be reflecting upon the thoughts of Aristotle and Lincoln among many others. This is a call to direct our children toward wide reading and meaningful travel...even if only blocks away. A call to reject mere consumption and age segregation for teens. A call to love hard work. We will be blessed if our children can become what we see in these pages.

  • Tom

    I'm glad to have read this while my boys are 5 and under. When my oldest resists doing something he could do for himself, I have been saying with a smile, "Ezra, we are building a culture of self-reliance." He has no idea what this means, but he thinks reliance has something to do with lions. So, he likes to respond with things like, "we are building a culture of monkeys" or "we are building a culture of dads who don't say things."

  • Joe

    Ben Sasse is sharp, witty, and highly educated. He also harbors a reservoir of dangerous and frighteningly bad ideas. The first time I realized this, I was listening to a debate between him and Dave Domina who was his opponent running for the U.S. Senate in 2014. I clearly remember the moment when Sasse started talking about his desire to dismantle Social Security — but unfortunately the moderator cut him off and switched topics before voters could hear more about this position.

    Many more of Sen

    Ben Sasse is sharp, witty, and highly educated. He also harbors a reservoir of dangerous and frighteningly bad ideas. The first time I realized this, I was listening to a debate between him and Dave Domina who was his opponent running for the U.S. Senate in 2014. I clearly remember the moment when Sasse started talking about his desire to dismantle Social Security — but unfortunately the moderator cut him off and switched topics before voters could hear more about this position.

    

Many more of Senator Sasse’s bad ideas, and (I’ll admit) some good ones, are brought to light in his new book. Given Sasse’s smug attitudes and dripping disdain for urban Nebraskans, I tried to keep an open mind even knowing that Sasse is essentially in lockstep with Trump and Mitch McConnell mandates (his voting record displays none of the independence he projects in his book, his tweets, or on Sunday morning talk shows). This book identifies and addresses a wide variety of modern problems as well as imaginary “micro-problems” which most sensible people would agree are not problems at all. His mindset is the puritanical, “We were created to be worshipping and working.” In other words, mindless busywork is better than idle (leisure) hours. 



    Far be it from me not to give credit where credit is due, though. Moments of agreement and great interest for me in Sasse’s book included:

    
-Stats on video game use & increasing screentime in kids/young adults
-Notable increases in adults living at home

    -“In the 1800s, parents assumed that children needed less supervision and direction than we now assume.”

    -p. 60: “Why can’t we use our wealth to ask big questions about social justice for those who have been shamefully left out?”

    -“Against ‘Grade 13’”: Sasse points out the increase in remedial classes students need at the beginning of college, and how extending/expanding unsuccessful lessons from high school does a disservice to young adults.

    -Limited consumption — a surprisingly appealing sentiment coming from a Republican that less truly is more and “Things won’t make you happy” (p. 152)…furthermore, “We are a driving and aimless people — awash in material goods and yet spiritually aching for meaning” (p. 260).

    -Against age segregation — Sasse shrewdly notes how pervasive this problem is in America.
-Some wise tidbits calling for unity rather than divisiveness, however infrequently he actually applies them: “We need a healthy debate that is not pre-determined by us-versus-them tribalism.”
-And perhaps the best thing he has to say? “Young people…are not liabilities to be managed but assets to be developed.”

    There are a couple other topics Sasse touches on which are hardly controversial, but he manages to come across as out of touch or extremely boring: “Thoughtful travel is an obligatory part of education,” Sasse smartly observes, but you could drive a truck through the man’s privilege. Sasse seems blissfully unaware, even as he advocates for travelling “on the cheap,” that such opportunities as backpacking across Europe are not givens for many people in his constituency or across the country. Furthermore, no one could argue with his position that a nation of readers is desirable and important, but his chapters retelling his favorite fun facts from human history and subsequent construction of a required (“but not really required” because he hates schools) reading list is so dry you could quench your thirst with dust (not so much the list itself, just the painstakingly dull process he takes his reader through to construct it).



    This brings me to my biggest concern with this book: it is a thinly veiled attack on public schools. Sasse launches into vilifying schools early and never lets up (but at one point he says he’s “not anti-teacher” so it’s ok?!). He stridently argues for defunding public schools, and in a series not-so-subtle reminders, offers anecdotes of the fabulous homeschooling disciples he and his wife are.


    Page 26: “Schools undermine how Americans once turned children into adults.”


    Page 34: “CHILDREN AS LITTLE WORKERS: in the late 1890s, less than 10% of 14-17 year olds attended school…extensive laws against child labor insulated (kids) from work.”

    Chapter 3: “More school is not enough” 


    Page 59: -an ironic observation: “Why does (X School) drift ‘forward’ on autopilot year after year when any institution failing this spectacularly in other professions — from grocers and cabdrivers to dry cleaners and driving school operators — would obviously face real consequences?” - Sasse totally misses the point that in America, most industries INCLUDING education require people to work together with coworkers, unlike Congress which chugs along in its dysfunction year after year.
Even though Sasse claims this book is nonpolitical, he states and restates his position that “mass schooling” has done more harm than good, and inelegantly suggests kids should be working in fields and factories, child labor laws be damned. By viewing “mass schooling” to mass incarceration, Sasse offers a dangerous and nonsensical equivalency.



    Sasse manages to scold his readers in a few other ways as he moves along. Shaming his readership in equal turns for religious nonparticipation and a subsection on the imaginary problem of “LESS MARRIAGE” (a.k.a people who choose to remain single, p. 59), Sasse then cowers behind a shield of smugness: “Before we rush to our partisan corners…” — do you EVER leave yours, sir? Many of Sasse’s supporters and Twitter followers are fooled by his wit and “aw-shucks” homespun tales, but this man has no one’s interests at heart but his own.

    Finally, Sasse makes two rather shocking assertions early on in his book.


    -“This generation is inheriting a world free of the totalitarian specters that cast big shadows over the 20th century and free of racist legal barriers that held back many Americans.” -there’s a lot packed into that statement that many Americans would currently disagree with, both in terms of this country and our global community.

    -“Contemplating the evils of totalitarianism necessarily reorients you,” Sasse admonishes while apparently ignoring the drift this country and others are taking in that direction.

    Last but not least, you will get sick of Ben Sasse’s favorite and most overused word of all time: INCULCATE. He just wants you to know he knows how to use it.

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