Adultism: A Well-Kept Secret

Adultism is the term used to describe the oppression of young people by adults. An article by John Bell included this definition: “…adultism refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.”

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

When Students Were Killed

My sister-in-law sent me the link to this article about the Kent State killings; May 4th marked the 39th anniversary. I received my BS in 2003 and my MA in 2005 at Kent State, but when the shootings occurred I was 19 and living in Columbus, OH. My life at that moment in time had just taken an unanticipated turn, so I don’t recall thinking about the tragedy that much. As I scan back in my memory, my sense is that I wasn’t surprised that the governor of my state called out the National Guard and students were shot. Now I’m appalled, but back then I wasn’t. I knew most adults didn’t like young people. We were on opposing teams. Adults were people one had to appease, tolerate, and basically stay away from as much as possible.

Killing college students for protesting the war in Viet Nam belongs on the extreme side of adultism, along with incest, child molestation, child pornography. It sent a strong, clear message to young people in the U.S. and around the globe: we don’t care what you think and we’ll shut you up with force if need be…butt out, you’re not wanted, you don’t count. The fervor and fever of protest died down after that…I don’t think we’ve seen it matched since on college campuses.

I didn’t know much about the Kent State killings until I attended school there several years ago. There is a commemorative event each year and I walked with one of the survivors to each of the sites where events occurred and heard his story. I also read a number of articles to gain a better understanding of what had happened. Yesterday, when I read the article about Mary Ann Vecchio, the young woman in the oh-so-famous photograph just after four students died, I learned for the first time that she was a 14-year-old runaway from Florida. Now I realize that her reaction to the death of Jeffrey Miller spoke the horror and anguish of many of us. An adult would have been less likely to show their full feelings…more likely to have gotten right to the business of ambulances and taking control of an out-of-control situation. Mary Ann gave us her unedited reaction…it’s written all over her face: “How could you let this happen?!”


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Anonymous Melanie Mulhall said...


I was a young adult, married for less than two years, when Kent State happened. My then husband was in Viet Nam at the time, I think. We'd thought about running off to Canada to avoid it, but didin't. There had been so much that was shocking before Kent State (the killings of two Kennedys, as well as Martin Luther King), that I recall seeing it as another example of the horror that was, indeed, driving our protests against the war.

There is still horror in the world but it feels lightyears since Kent State. Would we rise up and bring down our own government if it happened again? Would we, instead, just watch it on television and find some way to distance ourselves? I wonder what we would do.


May 24, 2009 at 6:06 AM  
Blogger Margaret Pevec. MA said...

I appreciate your connection of the Kent State killings to the events of 1968 (the Kennedy and King killings). Add to that the suicide of my brother, Bill, in March 1968, and I have a fuller perspective on why my reaction to Kent State was less than horrified. So much, both national and personal, had been horrifying in the previous few years...Kent State was just one in a string of horrors. It was a phenomenal period of U.S. history.

Death teaches us so much. My current perspective is that death is what shakes up our complacency and moves us to action. If one takes the perspective that death for the individual that dies is a truly beautiful, expanding and awesomely wonderful experience; while death to those who are left behind often brings lessons usually not available in any other way, there is great comfort. However, that's another blog, isn't it?

This one is about extreme adultism; adults killings youth. And the amazing things that we, as young people, witnessed as citizens of the United States. And wondering if we would rise up against our government if Kent State happened in 2009. I don't know. I only know, whatever we did as a collective or as individuals would cause more learning and more growth, both as individuals and as a community. That growth is what has been happening in the 39 years since, and we ARE in a different place yet still have so much to learn.

Thanks for your comment, Melanie.

May 26, 2009 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Rosemary Carstens said...

Another example of what you call extreme adultism, Margaret, was the sending of so many terribly young men off to fight a useless war at the behest of those who would never have to go or send their own children. At the time we finally pulled out of Vietnam, my son was 16 years old and I'd already decided if it went on, we'd be moving to Canada.

June 14, 2009 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Jerrie Hurd said...

I have also been thinking about Kent State lately because I realized some of the students in my neighborhood had never heard of it. Not their fault, but did give me pause to think how quickly we move on.

May 22, 2010 at 7:49 PM  

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