Nebraska Senator (and Historian) Ben Sasse Authors Book

Historians in the News
tags: Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult

Ben Sasse (@BenSasse), Republican of Nebraska, is a United States senator and the author of “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.”

FREMONT, Neb. — Summer break 1985 was defined by my 4:30 a.m. alarm. The bus rolled up at 5, and my friends and I stumbled on, fighting off sleep until we arrived at the fields. Detasseling corn was a rite of passage in this Nebraska town: In order to cross-pollinate top-notch seed corn in those days, you needed people, lots of them, to walk through the fields to pull corn tassels manually from individual rows.

The job stank. It’s wet and chilly in the field that early. Giant sprinklers called center pivots often got stuck and flooded acres with ankle-deep cold water. We’d start out wearing sweatshirts underneath trash bag ponchos, but by 10, as temperatures approached triple digits, we’d shed layers. For the rest of the day, our bare skin would brush against sharp corn leaves until it was marked with innumerable paper cuts.

We would get home covered in nasty rashes, caked in mud and bone-tired. I’d go to bed in the late afternoon and sleep straight through till the alarm sounded again, for weeks on end.

That was our summer vacation. What do our kids do today?

It’s not an idle question. Nearly a quarter-century on, when I became the president of Midland University back in this same Nebraska town, one of the first things I noticed was how few of our students had done any hard physical work before college. Detasseling corn, like a lot of agricultural work, is now done mostly by machine.

And parents, on the whole, had fewer household labor needs and could afford to spare their kids the less pleasant experiences of their own childhoods, while providing them with things they wish they’d had, as well as opportunities to cultivate new skills. The time our students didn’t spend in school was mostly spent consuming: products, media and entertainment, especially entertainment. ...

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