For most of my student and professional life I considered myself a young turk–someone who thought of himself as trying to improve and modernize the structure and function of the university. As an undergraduate I had been a member of SDS, although at Washington and Lee University our politics more nearly resembled the left wing of the Young Democrats than those of Tom Hayden. As a young faculty member I was a member of the New University Conference, a group dubbed the SDS’s faculty auxiliary. It was the 60’s and the issues were civil rights and the Vietnam war. The 70’s added gender politics to the list.
As I reached middle age and tenure, I found myself both part of the establishment and a critic of it. Many in my generation of academics found themselves in this predicament. There were several standard responses. One was to pretend one was still young and cultivate a following of politically active students. The conservatism of the 80″s and 90’s made this difficult, but not impossible. A second option was increased careerism–publish and ignore. The third, which is the one I followed, was to involve oneself in university governance and work to make changes from the inside. This choice makes enemies in each of the other two camps.
During this time I was comfortable calling myself a radical, which I defined as one who went to the root of the issue. During my youth, I was proud of the title “radical;” more recently I have been aware of the irony inherent in such a title. However, one consistency I see in my life is a desire to actively influence both individuals and the larger social structure. That desire is one of the reasons I left the university for my current position at the Family Foundation School.
Those readers who have followed the school blogs know that we are in struggle with a group called The Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY). I described the group as radical or rather that their agenda represented “a radical take on children’s rights.” Many of my colleagues both co-workers and others in the wider profession have objected to the characterization as radical as being too insulting.
I suppose I should acknowledge that I live in an age where radical gets most often paired with jihadist and not be surprised at this reaction. But I see CAFETY’s agenda striking at the root of the relationship of the family to the state and in that sense it is radical. The irony has not escaped me. I am now the target of the kind of group I would have considered joining when I was twenty-five. My twenty-five year old self would say, “well, you are old and have an ecnomic stake in the outcome. Just what did you expect?” In my next post I will discuss their agenda and my response directly. I wrote this post first so my readers can see where I am coming from and how personally I take these issues.