Disposable Youth

Youth in America are no longer seen as a social investment but a liability. A soft war ensures they are carpet-bombed with consumer culture. A hard war of zero tolerance in schools creates "punishment creep" in the courts. Drawing on his book, Disposable Youth, scholar Henry Giroux speaks at the Spur lecture in Toronto about how America is abandoning its youth.
A demonstrator is arrested in Los Angeles during demonstrations against a decision by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury to not indict a white police officer in the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. (RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)

Youth in America are no longer seen as a social investment but a liability.  A soft war ensures they are carpet-bombed with consumer culture. A hard war of zero tolerance in schools creates "punishment creep" in the courts.  Drawing on his book, Disposable Youth, scholar Henry Giroux speaks at the Spur lecture in Toronto about how America is abandoning its youth. 

**This episode originally aired April 17, 2015

Some believe a culture of cruelty pervades America these days.  The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life in prison without parole.  In his March 2015 report, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez wrote: 

"There is widespread agreement among experts that the institutionalization of children contributes to physical underdevelopment, abnormalities in brain development, reduced intellectual abilities and development, delays in speech and language development, and diminished social skills." 

Paul Kennedy with Henry Giroux at the SPUR Festival in Toronto (Michael Stevens)
The Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University,  Henry Giroux, says this punitive attitude is one component of a "hard war" that disproportionately affects poor white and minority youth. 

His research tells us that over a three-year period in America, 200 children were hit with stun guns, or tasers. Five of them died.  Zero tolerance policies have encouraged police harassment, school suspensions and arrests.  Professor Giroux calls this development "punishment creep". 

In his books, Disposable Youth and The Violence of Organized Forgetting, Henry Giroux also explores what he calls the "soft war" on youth -- a campaign where digital space is so corporatized that it de-politicizes the young. Massive student debt has financially incarcerated them while their unemployment rate surges.  What's to be done?  This episode of Ideas explores that question using excerpts from a talk he gave as part of the Spur series, and from an interview with host, Paul Kennedy.

Reading List: 

Disposable Youth, by Henry Giroux, Routledge, New York, 2012.   

Youth in a Suspect Society, by Henry Giroux, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2009.

The Violence of Organized Forgetting, by Henry Giroux, City Lights, San Francisco, 2014

Youth in Revolt:  Reclaiming a Democratic Future, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, Colorado, 2013. 

Related Websites:

Alternet: Technologically Challenged Cops Assault Teen and Try to Delete Video

Huffington Post: Teen Bryce Masters In Critical Condition After Police Use Taser On Him

KOMO News: Tacoma Teen Claims Off-Duty Officer Abused Power

Alex Jones' Infowars: FBI Investigates: Teen In A Coma After Cop Deploys Taser During Routine Traffic Stop


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?