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The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis-and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance Hardcover – May 16, 2017
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“Sasse has published a book of political philosophy in the form of a guide to parenting.” ―George Will, The Washington Post
“The Vanishing American Adult is written as a reflection on the purpose and nature of education… At its core, the book also pleads for something greater: the rehabilitation of shared values in a time of intense difference; a focus on culture as the deepest challenge of politics; and the ability to imagine virtue as part of who we are as citizens.” ―The Atlantic
“Sasse write well and entertainingly, with wit and erudition, but never pedantic in advancing his ideas. And those ideas have great merit.” ―The Washington Times
“Sasse doesn’t pretend to offer a silver bullet, but he offers clear steps for nudging our kids out of their comfort zones and toward curiosity and that elusive compulsion… fantastic advice and chock-full of it.” ―Chicago Tribune
"If you want to raise a healthy and happy family in a rapidly changing world, [The Vanishing American Adult] will provide you with copious notes and ideas...Ultimately, this book has the potential to do what so few books can promise: make you a better person." ?The Daily Beast
“Heartfelt advice… an earnest critique of American youth.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Deeply thoughtful, delightfully personal, and bravely ecumenical in scope, Sasse’s guide for stemming the tide of delayed responsibility showcases what is both practical and possible.” ―Booklist
“Sasse’s belief that meaningful work gives life purpose, grounded as it is in ancient philosophy and lived experience, is hard to argue with.” ―The Weekly Standard
"The Vanishing American Adult offers a worthwhile reminder that our families are far more important than politics, and developing the next generation needs to be addressed without the help of Washington D.C." ―Lincoln Journal Star
"Why do you do what you do? For many American parents, caught up in a swirl of activity and competition, it might be difficult, if we're really honest with ourselves, to find an immediate and satisfying answer. The Vanishing American Adult offers a grand opportunity to stop, slow down, and think." ―National Review
"I know Ben Sasse as one of the most important emerging voices in our national dialogue―plain-spoken, brilliant, and unafraid to speak his mind. Whether we agree or disagree, when he speaks―I'm listening. And when he writes, I'm definitely reading." ―U.S. Senator Cory Booker
"Ben Sasse is a thoughtful father, historian and Senator. And he has written a non-political book about one of the most important policy topics of the day―how to raise self-reliant and adventurous children. Any parent will read this alternating between "damn right" and guilt pangs. The book is practical, helpful and conversational. I wish it had been written 20 years ago!" ―U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
"Historian, dad, and former college president Ben Sasse has nailed it: we're failing our kids. Each generation must mold the next into solid citizens at home, at work, and in the city square. This book is a well-timed rebuke and a time-tested recipe―just what America needs." ―U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
"Couple years ago, somebody told me a senator from Nebraska was tweeting about the essential business of castrating bulls. I didn't know who Ben Sasse was, but I was intrigued his use of social media. I've since met him, and I like him. If you read this book, you will too. It's excellent. In particular, the "Lessons from the Ranch" section should be required reading for every parent, every child, and every elected official in America. This really is a book for everyone―well, except the bulls." ―Mike Rowe, Creator and Host of Dirty Jobs
"Being an adolescent myself, this book shed some light on my situation and I'm glad my wife was kind enough to read it to me. In all seriousness, even though my alter ego doesn't read, I'm a dad and I do. Ben is dead on point on every page and this book should become required reading for every parent. Bravo Ben!! (P.S. Please send another copy because I've got pudding on this one.)" ―Dan Whitney, A.K.A., Larry the Cable Guy
"Y'all, a senator wrote an interesting book! That's basically a miracle. Somewhere between "the kids are all right" and "get off my lawn" exists Ben Sasse's The Vanishing American Adult, and it's a fascinating place to be. At a time when adolescence has become a destination, rather than a journey, Sasse asks us to wrestle with remaking it. Let’s get kids moving again through the hard work of becoming grown-ups. Avoiding the process could be especially perilous for a nation founded by a bunch of young people with an audacious idea and the will to fight for it, in the hopes that generations to come would be gritty enough do the same." ―Mary Katharine Ham, CNN
"As we struggle to overcome the spiritual decay of the digital age, it's incredibly heartening that at least one man in Washington gets it and wants to help." ―Mollie Z. Hemingway, Senior Editor, The Federalist
“Ben Sasse is a good Senator, a great thinker and an even better writer. His book tells the truth about what truly ails America. It’s not partisan politics. It’s us – our families, and our loss of confidence in the future. He argues effectively that our national destiny depends less on what happens in Washington and more on what we do at home. But take heart – Sasse offers powerful solutions, both personal and universal, that will restore our faith in the future and our responsibilities to each other as parents, neighbors, and citizens of the greatest country on earth.” ―Dr. Frank Luntz, CBS News & Fox News Analyst
“Ben Sasse’s book is not an angry diatribe against the younger generation. Nor is it a call to return to an idyllic vision of days gone by. Rather, it’s a practical, insightful call to all Americans to reject passivity, embrace initiative, and boldly approach the future with purpose and vision.” ―Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family
About the Author
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse is a fifth-generation Nebraskan. The son of a football and wrestling coach, he attended public school in Fremont, Neb., and spent his summers working soybean and corn fields. He was recruited to wrestle at Harvard before attending Oxford and later earning a Ph.D. in American history from Yale. Prior to the Senate, Sasse spent five years as president of Midland University back in his hometown. As perhaps the only commuting family in the U.S. Senate, Ben and his wife, Melissa, live in Nebraska but are homeschooling their three children as they commute weekly back and forth to Washington, DC.
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This book consists of his observations on how to raise successful children. He cites other authors who have given the issue some thought. These include Rousseau and John Dewey, with whom he often disagrees, and Diane Ravitch and John Gatto writing about public schools. He is an educated man who wants the best for his children.
Sasse is a US Senator. He envisions that the problems he identifies must be resolved within the polity that is the United States. Hirschmann wrote in 1970 that there are three choices when one is confronted with a difficult problem: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Sasse addresses the second of them – he assumes the problems are fixable. Unlike most politicians, he sees that the people must be an active part of the solution. It cannot be imposed from above.
Sociologists identify many markers associated with becoming an adult. Eight big ones are:
1. Moving from parents’ home
2. Leaving school for the final time
3. Getting a full-time job
4. Reaching economic self-sufficiency
5. Loss of virginity
6. Getting married
7. Having children
8. Establishing an independent household
These passages provide structure to life. They used to happen systematically, and in a somewhat predictable order. For millennials (1980-95, per Sasse) and Gen Z this is no longer the case. As President of Midland University Sasse noted an unwillingness to engage in and to finish jobs, an unwillingness to think things through, and an unwillingness to grapple with things as an adult.
Unless we can turn these trends around, there is nothing that can be done at a policy level to restore the country. Sasse's book is primarily addressed to parents: how to raise children to become real adults.
His book (outline below) is divided into two parts: identifying the problem and suggesting things that individuals can do to address it within their own families.
Introduction: My Kids “Need” Air Conditioning
Part I Our Passivity Problem
----One: Stranded in Neverland
----Two: From Little Citizens to Baby Einsteins
----Three: More School Isn’t Enough
Part II An Active Program
----Four: Flee Age Segregation
----Five: Embrace Work Pain
----Six: Consume Less
----Seven: Travel to See
----Eight: Build a Bookshelf
----Nine: Make America an Idea Again
Postscript: Why This Wasn’t a Policy Book
Sasse is uniquely well prepared to write on these themes. Son of a churchgoing high school wrestling coach, fourth generation in the small town of Fremont, Nebraska, he worked on farms as a kid. His drive and intellect powered him through five academic degrees, including Harvard and Yale, a career in consulting and (at age 37) a university presidency. He married a fellow Christian and has two teenage daughters and a kindergarten aged son.
This is an outstanding book. My extensive reading notes appear as comments.
The argument is simple: Various cultural forces have altered our institutions so that we no longer educate our young. The phase of adolescence which had been a transitional phase is now the permanent goal, and most do not escape. Most high school grads have not worked a job at all. The norm is for college grads to go back and live with their parents. Video games occupy the attention of most young adults. Marriage and family is put off until one’s thirties if ever.
Sasse doesn't spend much time discussing the origins of this epidemic. He jumps right into the solution, which amounts to character building. There are five main pillars to this character building, based on the Sasses’ own parental program:
1. Overcome peer culture
2. Work hard
3. Resist consumption
4. Travel to experience the difference between need and want
5. Become truly literate
It's astonishing that these principles even have to be mentioned. But they do. Thankfully they do not read like tired cliches, but rather clarion calls to a more virtuous life and education.
In addition to Juggernaut, I would recommend Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture as well as The Road to Character as complementary reads.
Ben Sasse is one of a few new politicians who have offered a fresh perspective on our longstanding problems. We can only hope that the muck and mire of Washington doesn't defeat him the way it has so many other bright stars to arrive there of late.