"Class of '72 May Have Just the Know-How for the 21st Century"

Published, NY Times: August 13, 1989

To the Editor:

As a member of the class of 1972, I must respond to some of Clifford Adelman's interpretations and ''insights'' into the effect on America of the choices made by me and those of my graduating class who went to college (''On the Paper Trail of the Class of '72,'' Op-Ed, July 22).

I am one of the many he mentions who opted for a degree in the human services (a master's in social work), and took few courses ''necessary to maintaining a technological economy.'' According to Mr. Adelman, my generation and I will not be able to ''participate in the knowledge work force of the 21st century.'' About Mr. Adelman I know that his extrapolation of history is narrow and single-mindedly focused on technology and international competition, and he is not from the graduating class of 1972.

My peers and I were in grammar school in the hard days of the civil rights movement (fourth grade when John F. Kennedy was killed), in junior high and high school during the Vietnam War, the assassinations of 1968 and the Kent State shootings of 1970. We began undergraduate school during the Watergate scandal.

Is it surprising then that we took more courses ''in ethics than in real estate''? That we were more concerned with the study of human relationships than with building a better oil rig? Mr. Adelman predicts that because we chose to focus on personal health and development, instead of higher mathematics, we will ''be around longer to witness our own diminishing standards of living.'' There is, however, more than one way to measure the quality of life, and to many of us growing up in the 60's and 70's, the personal, interpersonal and environmental stresses of a competitive, industrialized, high-tech world represented a lower standard of living than we wanted for our future.

Mr. Adelman seems to discount that the valued skills in the 21st century work force will be speaking a foreign language or providing health care and general, not technical education. We will be ''fortysomething'' as the new century begins. Does Mr. Adelman think us incapable of setting our own agenda as we assume the reins of power? With the atmosphere, the land and the waters of the earth becoming more and more ravaged and toxic, why would we follow a path of obsessive and excessive production of the very things that have brought us to the brink of environmental cataclysm? Wouldn't we want and need to focus on how best to cooperate with one another politically and economically, rather than how best to compete with one another?

In the next century, the torch will be passed to the generation born after World War II, and those years will belong to us, just as the 20th century belonged to those born after the Civil War. We have always known television and always flown on jets, and perhaps it is ironic that the technology we shun has brought us closer, physically, to our fellow beings, and indeed we know one another better. It is my hope that we will use that knowledge to become closer in greater ways, and that will be the legacy of the class of '72. PETER V. LOFFREDO New York, July 22, 1989