Children of Privilege: Student Revolt in the Sixties: A Case Study of Student Movements in Canada, the United States, and West Germany


266 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-5636-9





Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and


Cyril Levitt argues the thesis that the student revolt of the ‘60s was a reaction by privileged youth (i.e., that group which had traditionally gone to university) against a major loss of privilege. This loss resulted from, to use Levitt’s term, the massification of education. As universities grew rapidly, the economic and social security of a degree became more unsure. Massification also took other less obvious, but no less alarming, directions. Education had, for example, become an industry. University funding was often tied to a simple head count of students. Thus, overall institutional growth became important, resulting in even greater massification.

As a result of their displacement, this relatively secure and isolated middle-class group discovered injustice in the world. This took many forms: in the early years it was the civil rights movement, then it became the move to democratize universities and, by extension, society. These concerns were, however, overshadowed by the issue of issues, the Viet Nam War. Once students became disillusioned by their own lot, they became sceptical of much of the society in which they lived. The issues were, no doubt, real, in that racial discord and Viet Nam did exist and had existed for a long time. But it was the threat to the students’ own status by massification that caused them to take active notice.

Levitt, to develop his case, traces student protest movements through their stages, ranging from the peace and love flower children to left-wing groups, to the violence-prone extreme left.

Ultimately, as everyone knows, the student protest movement collapsed and the world was launched into what some have labelled “the bland and time-serving seventies.” The student movement failed, maintains Levitt, because it both won and lost its causes. Radical students won, for example, by democratizing universities, in form at least. The movement lost a much bigger battle by failing to alter society in any substantial way. When the economic difficulties of the ‘70s and ‘80s became apparent, students quickly assumed a new set of priorities — more concerned with survival than with protesting lost privilege.

Levitt’s thesis is an interesting one, particularly when most people saw the student protest movement as being anything but pro-privilege. His arguments are convincing and well presented. Levitt does not, however, succeed in capturing the feel of the decade. The student movement was largely a media movement based on extremes and theatrics. These elements may not, strictly, be necessary for his case, but they are essential for an understanding of the decade.

Levitt’s use of national examples (Canada, Germany, and the United States) is somewhat confusing. Canada and Germany were not, for the most part, in the vanguard of student protest. Very often the use of national material appears to be superfluous and detracts from an otherwise thoughtful and very readable work.


Levitt, Cyril, “Children of Privilege: Student Revolt in the Sixties: A Case Study of Student Movements in Canada, the United States, and West Germany,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,