Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Generation Q

By Shawn Healy
Thomas Friedman's label for the current crop of college students, "Q" as in the "Quiet Americans." Accompanying the nickname is a backhanded complement. He writes, "I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be."

He cites the tendency of current students to study abroad despite the threat of global terrorism, not to mention building homes for the poor in El Salvador and volunteering at AIDS clinics. ROTC service is not frowned upon; in fact, members wear their uniforms on campus with pride. "Teach for America" has become the Baby Boomers' equivalent of the Peace Corps.

These admirable strides toward service considered, Friedman contends that this generation is "...too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country's own good." Despite a ballooning budget deficit, a Social Security plan threatened in terms of long-term solvency, and global climate change encroaching from all corners, the "sound of silence" echoes from Generation Q. Such threats demand activism, but this generation is wont to send an email, sign an online petition, or "click for carbon neutrality." Instead, "they will have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them."

Facebook groups and MySpace postings do little more than occupy time and fill screen space. I know that there are exceptions, like the Facebook group that organized a DC rally for Senator Obama at which he appeared, but most are more of the surface variety, such as "Bear Fans for Brian Griese." Christine Rosen of the Christian Science Monitor said it best when she wrote, "...users (of social networking sites) are committed to self-exposure. The creation and conspicuous consumption of intimate details and images of one's own and others' lives is the main activity in the online social networking world."

All in good humor, of course, but these times call for a seriousness wanting amongst our youth, and these technologies can serve a greater purpose. The hope is that they inspire and coordinate "boots on the ground" action to make this country a better place, similar to the civil rights revolution of the 1960's. To date, their impact has been quite the opposite. According to Rob Nyland of BYU, users of social networking sites "feel less socially involved with the community around them." Moreover, those who use these sites for entertainment purposes tend to be less socially involved.

Time to turn off the computer and take to the streets. The very fabric of our democratic republic demands more as we "amus(e)...ourselves to death."


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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