Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Generational Change and the 1970s a postscript

Just a postscript on Generational Change and the 1970s.

To start with an apology, there are two ts in Matthew, not one. The relevance of this will appear in a moment.

I used one of Neil Whitfield's posts as a stimulus for the post. In fact, Neil has three posts that are relevant to the topic:

Neil drew my attention to a comment from Marilyn on his second post. Here a comment from Lynne drew the following exchange:

Neil: A joke doing the rounds at the time at CHS was that if the Boss found two students screwing in the bushes he would check that the girl had her gloves and correct stockings and go on his way…

Marilyn: That joke is spot on ! As Homer says, it’s funny ‘cos it’s true – well, almost. Who can forget the gloves, mandatory brown socks (white were a hanging offence), brown shoes, moulded beret, panama hat, those PE bloomers and stockings with SUSPENDERS! No wonder we were such outstanding students. It must have been the uniform code.

I had to laugh.

In another comment, Winton Bates wrote:

That post brought back some memories, Jim.

I also learned something. I had never previously thought of the UNE as the holiest campus in Australia. I had always suspected that it might hold the record for average consumption of alcohol per student. But, I suppose those two observations are not necessarily in conflict.

When I think back to the time when I was at UNE as an undergraduate I am amazed that we wore gowns to lectures - and I don't think we complained much about it either. Things certainly have changed.

In responding, I mentioned to Winton that one Winston Bates featured heavily in Matthew Jordon's section on student rebellion and changing student attitudes at UNE. Now this links to my apology. Just as Matthew added an s to Winston, I dropped a t from Matthew's name. Dear it's hard to get things right!

Winton hadn't seen it, and I said that I would run the excerpt. Winton and I were co-editors of Neucleus, the student newspaper. A quiet and somewhat serious bloke with an unexpected laugh, Winton was the more radical of the two of us. More precisely, perhaps, my interests lay in other directions.

Matthew quotes Winton and Neucleus at length. I quote just one bit:

The truth of the matter, argued Bates, was that 'a dog-eat-dog atmosphere' prevailed at New England. The University authorities did not give 'a damn about the students', he thundered, and were mainly concerned with 'wheedling more money' out of the government and 'having in authority men who did not care for people as people'.

I will do a full post on the UNE room visiting dispute for its an interesting case study and one that is relevant to the broader history of New England. For the moment, I would simply note that the whole discussion continues to emphasise the nature of the change process.

For those who experienced the change, there is now a degree of nostalgia for the period. As I read the exchange between Neil and Marilyn I was reminded of a somewhat equivalent line from the period in I think the Armidale Teachers' College (or was it Mary White College?): "Girls, don't wear red. It inflames male passions." I was also reminded of the New England custom of fronting. Jordon suggests that this was equivalent to dating, but it was a little more than that because to some degree it carried the connotation of illicit.

Beyond the nostalgia, however, are more serious issues that are still relevant today over and beyond the social and cultural history of the second half of the twentieth century.

Council and some senior staff at UNE saw themselves as in loco parentis for the students. This attitude developed in part because of the student's age, many then started university at sixteen, in part because most students came from families who had had little contact with university education and were suspicious of it. Students rebelled on part because they saw themselves as young adults and wanted greater freedom.

Today, the concept of loco parentis has been replaced by that of due care. While the two concepts are very different, the practical effects can be the same. Further, in recent years we have seen the process of childification, the extension of the age of childhood.

If I had told a nineteen year or twenty year old third year student at the University of New England in 1964 or 1965 that he/she was still a teenager, a child, I would have been greeted with anger or raucous laughter or a combination of the two. Again, if I had told the students of, say, Wright or Robb College from the same period that they had to wear a wrist band at a function to determine whether or not they could drink, there would have been fury not just at the drinking restriction, but at the very idea of wrist bands.

My point is that in criticising particular features of attitudes and approaches in what is still the recent past, we need to be aware of the problem of beams and motes.

If you look at the pattern of what is now banned, regulated or controlled, at the language of public debate, Australian society is just if not more conservative than it was in the sixties. It's just that the composition has changed.   


Noric Dilanchian said...

Jim, your last sentence has long echoed in my experience. I've been surprised by how conservative people are today. But I should not be, everyone arrives at "today" from different paths, backgrounds and if you like, "baggage".

A week ago another sentence jumped up at me. Richard Susskind, a UK academic in law, said that the most conservative people he knows are his students. So a 50-something academic finds 20-something UK students conservative.

History does not travel in a line, let alone a straight line. In the West we see in the 1960s the emergence of some swing away from conservative positions in social mores, politics and economics. And maybe some of these moves followed through, in at least some respects, into later decades.

Yet running parallel (think forces, not lines) are various forces pushing to conservative positions on many fronts.

If threatening and major change is a breeding ground for conservatism (think Germany 1930s or Howard's Australia 1990s) then given my view on the frentic present rate of change my prediction for the current decade is that we are in a very strong current towards conservatism.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting comment Noric and a very useful one from my perspective.

I like the idea that everyone arrives at today from different paths, backgrounds and with different baggage. With so many Australians not in fact in the country during the 1970s, it is interesting to speculate on their attudes as compared to the broader community.

Susskind's comment is an interesting one. I suppose that it depends upon his starting point. I know only one slice of the generation that he is talking about - my girls and their friends.

Oops. I have just looked at the time. I have to cook an early tea. Will continue later.

Winton Bates said...

Hi Jim
I'm still laughing - but I think it would be difficult to defend the words I apparently used in that quote.
If this was about the room visiting issue, I do recall having the impression that the University Council was more concerned with possible legal liability than with student welfare. As well as the government funding question, I think the Council might have feared being sued by angry parents.
As I recall, the bans on room visiting had the predictable effect that a substantial proportion of students moved out of college into flats in town. That meant that there were often good parties to go to at weekends, but I think social activity on campus might have suffered.
Regarding generational change, I recall that one argument used by the university Council was that parents would generally not permit students to entertain members of the opposite sex in their rooms at home. I think that was view was probably out of touch with social norms even in the 1960s.
By the early 1970s I think (I'm not too sure about timing) young men and women were living in the same colleges at UNE and even sharing bathroom facilities.
In retrospect, I think room visiting became an issue at UNE because the colleges were governed by the same rules. I don't think there was a similar problem in other universities in which a wider variety of student accomodation was available in close proximity to the university. In that situation, if students or their parents didn't like the rules of one college there were other options more readily available.

I think you may be right about extension of childhood. You mention childification. A closely related concept is parentalism - which is about the kids who are reluctant to leave home and who want governments to be paternalistic.

Jim Belshaw said...

Noric, briefly continuing my comments.

Your point about history not proceeding in line, let alone a straight line, is a good one. To a degree, the historian seeks for patterns that can only be seen (or imposed) in retrospect.

One of the things that I find most interesting is the way in which once radical views, if accepted, then becomes the view of the status quo. Yesterday's succesful radical is today's conservative!

All very interesting!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. I knew that you would enjoy that quote and the image of Winton the Thunderer!

You should buy the book. It's always ego pleasing if a bit strange to find that you have become the historical figure used to illustrate a change process!

I will do a post on Matthew's interpretation so that you can compare it with your recollections.

Winton Bates said...

I have just ordered the book, Jim. I should have bought it when it was first published.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. Will be interested in your comments on it in due course.