Not Everyone Can…

Over the past few years, there have been endless commentaries about the younger generations, and those have ranged from praising them as the most capable, most intelligent and most promising generation yet to total condemnation as spoiled brats who believe that they’re entitled to whatever they want by virtue of their mere existence. One problem with such assessments is that they all tend to be blanket judgments, and each generation is made up of a range of individuals with differing abilities and capabilities. Another difficulty with such judgments is that each up-and-coming “generation” reacts to the societal environment in which they grow up.

I see a certain amount of truth in the observation that at least a significant portion of the young people who are entering the work force or who will do so in the next few years do in fact feel “entitled” to privileges, income, and position for which they are not yet equipped. But I don’t see too many of those who are already in the work force asking, “Why do they feel this way?”

The answer, to me, at least, is that a large number of parents, and, unfortunately, also a large number of teachers who have felt forced by parental pressure, all have conveyed the message that these young people are “special,” not by dint of achievement, academic superiority, or sheer perseverance, but simply because they exist. With this has also come the totally erroneous idea that self-esteem must precede competence. Coupled with these messages is another insidious idea — that each of them can be anything he or she wants to be. Then, the third leg of this proposition is the underlying assumption that “my” child isn’t like all the others. My child is special; the others aren’t. This leads to the assumption and incredible legal pressures to bend, break, or discard the rules.

My wife is a college professor, and she has been threatened with legal action on several occasions, all of which occurred when she insisted on applying exactly the same standards to one student as those applied to others. These were not extreme standards, but the issues of attending classes and rehearsals, of turning in work on time, of being in class and taking tests. In all cases, the students involved, and/or their families, were incensed that she did not see that family picture-taking sessions took priority over dress rehearsals or tests, whose dates are were announced in writing months before, or that students who illegally used university copying equipment to print defamatory material with sexual implications against other innocent students should face disciplinary actions, or that dropping a class three-quarters of the way through the semester without doing the work resulted in failing the class. More and more often, parents are insisting that “special” circumstances apply to their children, and they’re threatening teachers and schools who don’t grant such exceptions, so much so that a number of universities have begun to hold sessions for professors, briefing them on such possibilities.

In a functioning society, there are limits. If you can’t pay the mortgage, sooner or later, you will lose the house. If you commit violent acts repeatedly, eventually you will get caught and punished. If you don’t do you job the way it needs to be done, before long you’ll be working somewhere else… or not working.

Yet many of these very same parents fret about the “entitlement generation.” And just who raised that generation?