Friday, February 19, 2010

Who Dimmed the Lights?

Who Dimmed the Lights?

I looked in the mirror today and saw that the number of gray hairs are now in the hundreds. Impossible to ignore any longer. I won't cover them with color, I've earned them and I'll wear the gray proudly. It is like the trophy you receive when crossing the finish line, you don't hide it, you display it proudly. That three letter question did enter my mind: WHY? Are genetics turning me gray or is it the fact that I've taught feisty teen-agers for nearly thirty years. I'm putting my money on the latter.

I have taught through a group of students we refer to as the Millenium Generation, those born between 1985 and 2000. I took the easier path seven years ago and deserted the public classroom for the private setting because I truly believed that those best equipped to face the challenges of the future would be those home-schooled or private-schooled. I want to say up front that I have loved teaching and I have certainly taught some of the best students a teacher could ever hope to teach. So, what I am about to say is not born in a bitter heart but a concerned heart. Please note that I am making broad generalizations about a generation of youth to make a point. There are many, many exceptions in which I base my hope for our future.

This group began to define themselves when their parents plunked them down in front of the electronic baby sitter to watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. They were told daily just how 'special' they were and subsequently they grew up with no lack in self-esteem. In fact, the problem they have is facing the reality that they aren't so special after all. I coached basketball in the public schools for over fifteen years and nearly every one of those players was convinced that one day they would earn millions playing for the Chicago Bulls. There is nothing wrong with feeling you are special if you've done something to deserve feeling that way. But, our major companies now have 25 year olds walking around in their flip-flops and flashing their i-pods expecting any moment to be invited to become CEO of the company. There is an unfounded sense of entitlement. It's not about working harder than the guy in the next cubicle, its about having it handed to you on a silver platter.

Call me "old-school" if you like but I see nothing wrong with a young student experiencing failure. Isn't all success really built on a succession of failures? Do we not actually learn to succeed first by experiencing the pain of failure? When my four year old forms a really good letter with his pencil I commend him. When he writes his name all "scribble-scrabble", I reprimand him and admonish him to do better. This doesn't hurt his self-esteem, this helps him to get in touch with the reality that performance matters.

I have had Millennials approach my desk constantly because of low grades. "What can I do to fix my grade?" They wanted a favor. They wanted a miracle. What they didn't want was the truth. "You need to study longer. You need to be persistent in completing your homework. You need to work harder." What did it mean when they looked at me with vacant eyes? This generation doesn't define success by how hard you work or how much you invest. Success is defined by how well you can manipulate the system, whose paper you can 'borrow' before class or how skilled you are in convincing your teacher that your failure is not 'your fault'.

'Smart' is now defined by how well you can master electronic devices or how many 'cool' people you can identify in the culture. I listened recently to one more boring, non-creative redo; "We Are The World". This generation is not lacking in musical talent, they can strum strings and bang drums, but there seems to be a great lack in creativity. When you can't come up with anything original you just redo the stuff of the past. Many Millennials are avoiding flat lining their brain waves by plugging into some electronic game device but beware, on the other side of the world there are some Asian youth who live in the reality of self-awareness, they have a sense of urgency to learn from their superiors because they realize someday they will be rulers of a world of techno-morons.

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