WASHINGTON — Comparing the 1960s generation of peace, love, and activism with the 1980s generation of razor-cut Reagan fast-trackers could be an exercise in easy and predictable stereotyping. But in ``Letter to the Next Generation'' documentary filmmaker Jim Klein escapes the sometimes nostalgic self-righteousness of his 1960s generation to probe how and why young people today are different.
The hour-long documentary -appearing now in theaters nationwide and scheduled on the ``Points of View'' series on many PBS television stations (check local listings - focuses on Kent State University today and as it was 20 years ago, when four students were shot dead by the National Guard during a Vietnam war protest. The incident became an icon for that generation - a news image that helped cement values, goals, and outlooks.
By contrast, Mr. Klein finds in his interviews with today's Kent State students who were born after the shootings, the icon of this generation - the news event they first remember beyond their own neighborhood - was Americans held hostage overseas by Iran and at home by the oil crisis.
It is the filmmaker's theory that these images of America under siege fanned the fire of Reaganism and the national yearning to be No. 1 again.
Klein's interviews give voices and faces to the alienation, apathy, racism, and poor study habits of students documented in a recent national study on the deterioration of college life by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The unashamed admissions of some of the students are startling.
When asked if he ever wanted to change something, to make a difference in the world, one young student said, ``...Philanthropic, you mean? I never thought about helping my fellow man, if that's what you're getting at.''
One young woman, asked about the problems of blacks, opined that they create their own isolation.
If we are shaped by the images we see, Klein asks in the film, what is happening now to the next generation? He offers his ``Letter to the Next Generation'' to that budding group, saying his intended image is that ``if we don't like what we see, we can do something about it.''