09/12/2014 06:53 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

To Let Kids Go Ahead, Let Them Go

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Many high-school seniors are trapped in their childhood by parents who refuse to let them grow up. Not all parents, to be sure, but many who simply will not let go, keeping them imprisoned within a parental image.

The tragedy is that so many of these 17-year-olds have fallen in love with this blissful ease of captivity, becoming too comfortable with having everything done for them and choose to remain children with their spirit broken.

Yet there was a time when the young couldn't wait to set sail upon life's wine-dark seas, where beyond the horizon their destiny beckoned. Only by forsaking sight of the shore and steering into the rage of the storm could they create their own purpose and meaning from the heartache and uncertainties of a deeply-lived life. Parents once understood and encouraged this perilous voyage as the only true way to adulthood, but sadly, today, many do not.

The effects of this mutual refusal to sever the umbilical cord are only too apparent in classrooms today. Many show little curiosity about what they are learning, seldom think for themselves, or display a healthy disdain toward Western tradition, unaware that a tradition even exists.

Rarely does one encounter among them a reader, a ruminator, an anchorite in the wilderness of the soul's darkest night, a solitary wayfarer on that most hazardous of thoroughfares, "The Road Not Taken." Instead, they keep to the official stay-on-the-path-keep-off-the-grass-theme-park-vision of life.

They have few opinions about anything, or rarely ponder the eternal questions, which, until a few decades ago, signaled a rite-of-passage to a world of larger concerns. There is only the sepulchral silence of not even comprehending the questions, let alone venturing answers. Teachers tremble for these students upon entering college, and wonder how long they'll survive.

Questions seem pointless to many students today, since only the immediate matters. If they feel something deeply, and it makes them happy, that is enough. What does it matter if it's really not true, as long as one is transfixed with the wondrous intensity of inner beatitude?

Meaning is pale afterthought, ephemeral will-o'-the-wisp, and if there is no meaning, well, so much the better! They are the eternal innocents in the Garden of Eden, lotus eaters, languorous and lost, luxuriating revelers at the banquet of life.

They have no understanding that an education is not something casually purchased over the counter, but the Pearl of Great Price, the Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, and only those will attain it who take it by storm, selling all they possess, even their heart's-blood, to make it their own.

Only the few Faust-like figures among them, transfixed with a glorious delirium that burns like a fever, understand what's entailed with this quest of being lost in the wilderness. They know that their "truths" may simply be the echoes of their need for comfort, security, happiness, or self-justification; creations of their hopes, fears and regrets; biases of their nationality, religion, century, race, youth, gender, peer group, or parents -- factors which might be doing more of their thinking than they might care to admit.

They cannot accept something as true merely because they wish it were true, or because a favorite teacher or book tells them it is. They must think it through for themselves, having it plead its case before the only tribunal that matters, their own mind.

They want teachers who teach them how, not what, to think, for once this occurs, it is no longer a classroom, but a gulag of the mind. They pay their teachers the highest compliment if they reject everything they teach if they've thought things through for themselves, which is precisely what their teachers desire.

They know that an education is not goose-stepping group think, or believing in the myths of one's tribe, but daring to think for oneself. It is knowing not only the arguments why something is true, but also the counterarguments why that something is false.

However, the problem today is that so few students know how to think for themselves, cannot tell if a statement is true, but simply one of a dozen garden-variety fallacies decked out as truth.

They cannot distinguish between an objective fact, and an explanatory theory posing as fact, a value judgment, or a metaphysical claim, which can neither be proven nor disproven.

They stand helpless before the difference between these kinds of statements, or about how they would go about proving or refuting them. They think that appealing to authority, the past, or subjective conviction is proof, or that ridicule, name-calling, or insult is refutation.

Committed only to their non-commitment, believing in nothing that might take them out of themselves and give them perspective, they live in a perpetual Nirvana of Now amidst the seething, exploding vortex of their protean, quicksilver selves.

This intellectual aimlessness is hardly the stuff of heroic sagas or scintillating class discussions when no beliefs anchor their lives, but only a drowsy numbness induced by the hemlock of self-satisfaction. It's the age-old story of how too much ease can sap all conviction and lack of purpose can snuff out the soul.

The wisdom literature of the past is replete with admonitions about what ails many students today: "A useless life is an early death." "It is not good to obtain all one's desires." "I am the richer for the things I can do without." "Things are in the saddle and ride us." "Misfortune brings fools to their senses." "To live is to do battle."

There are still old-fashioned parents who do a wonderful job in raising their children. Would there were more, who realized that parents must not be vampires, feeding upon the lives of their children, draining them of their souls by doing for them what they must learn to do for themselves lest they remain children forever, even after their parents are gone.

Who realized that they do not own their children's lives, but must let them grow and be who they are, be free to make their own mistakes and learn from them, and to face the world alone -- because the surest way to destroy one's children is always to be protecting them.