More Americans are in school than ever before. Better yet, more Americans from more diverse backgrounds are in school than ever before. Good news for the good guys. Here is why.
Between 1999 and 2000, the record set by the Boomer crest in 1970 was finally broken.  There are now roughly thirty million people (a substantial portion of the young-adult and adult populations) institutionalized in our nation’s high schools, colleges, and universities.  Nearly half are from households with an annual income that is below $40,000, with a significant number bringing in less than $20,000. More than one-third of all students are minorities; 20% have at least one foreign-born parent.
In other words, the collective student body has the makings of a powerful vehicle of dissent. Given its ethnic and class composition, there is good reason why students have a vested interest in the subversion of established socio-economic structures. The fact that they are forced to be part of a system sustained by coercion and openly hostile to creativity does not help much. That students are an ideal vanguard is a matter of proximity: they are close enough to the machine to detect just how odious it is, but do not yet have any real stake in its lasting success.
With today’s political goings-on -- Iraq, immigration backlash, domestic intelligence programs, the War on Drugs, etc. -- there is real impetus for a renewed, broad based student-youth movement. During the 1960s, the United States was splintered by an unpopular war without conceivable end, an administration abandoned by the people, and heightened racial tensions. The parallels between today’s situation and the one that existed forty plus years ago is hard to deny. With Bush’s warrantless wiretaps raising the specter of COINTELPRO and kids becoming increasingly agitated with the aftermath of counter-counterculture’s Reagan-era victories, the spirit of resistance is beginning to burn anew.
In France, fewer than thirteen million young folks -- not excluding those children who are enrolled in primary schools -- are tied up in the academic system.  They are largely white and social welfare provides a healthy safety net in case of job market failures. Even so, one demonstration at a time, they are gaining control over their nation and their livelihoods. In solidarity with the unemployed, the union members, and other groups which have long suffered under the weight of conservative hierarchy and stagnant “order,” they have set about doing something that was once considered intrinsically American: seizing, not asking. For better or for worse, the United States has a rich legacy of unapologetically taking what we think is rightfully ours. It is high time for the giant which slumbers in classroom and corridor to awaken from the spell of The O.C. and start doing just that.
I can already sense change. Kids are talking, talking and watching. We have seen the walk outs in California and Arizona; even the most apolitical are tuning into those demonstrating in simmering Texas cities and defiantly waving the Mexican colors. A filigree of resistance is emerging with each 9th grader who spray paints “WAR SUCKS” on the side of his school and every college student who takes fifteen minutes out of her day to attend a GSA meeting or read the progressive listserves. Many of us now have friends fighting in the wars. Trickling in from Iraq and Afghanistan, the casualty lists are hitting home. Once resigned to the back pages of USA Today, the names of the dead have begun appearing with awful regularity in small town newspapers. Local stations broadcast the slow fallout of Bush’s presidency: educational declines, corporate profiteering, nasty words from Venezuela, Cindy Sheehan’s arrest, internal (eternal?) surveillance . . .
My generation is prepped and ready. All we need now is a kick in the ass, maybe some fuel to run on. I predict that the political consciousness that has already revealed itself through the campus anti-war movement and the high school immigration protests will continue to emerge -- first faintly, then violently -- in the coming years. Eventually, a chassis of opposition must be constructed in order to support large-scale resistance, lest momentum fizzle out (see: the SDS collapse) or become woefully misdirected (a la the mutation of Panther cells into street gangs). But that is a discussion for another time.
With the school year coming to an end, keep in mind the revolutionary zeal which can spring from a warm sun and a fucked up world. This steamy summer, remember the words of a French student in May of 1968: “Barricades close the streets, but open the way.” Do not let all the coming free time go to waste.
is a high school student. He operates an underground press and is
involved with local politics and youth advocacy. Contact him via e-mail
US Census Bureau: School Enrollment in the United States -- Social
and Economic Characteristics of Students.