Virtual Voices

The Entitlement Generation

Education

High schools and colleges are flooded with students who confuse busyness with performance. They have been misled to believe that they deserve A's for turning in anything, and that the burden of proof is on the professor to defend why a student has not been "given" an A.

This group of teens and 20-somethings is known as the Entitlement Generation, "who believe they are owed certain rights and benefits without further justification," according to Dictionary.com. Unfortunately for teachers, this entitlement includes the expectation of A's without having to prove that one's work warrants it, which introduces interesting frustrations in education today.

First, students assume that if, for example, they do not receive an "A" on a paper, then points must have been "taken off" for something done incorrectly. I've had to explain to students repeatedly, ad nauseam, at every level in my teaching career-high school, seminary, and now college-that they did not earn an A because their papers were not impressive. I would tell them, "You did nothing wrong; the paper simply wasn't stellar." What kind of world do we live in where students are nurtured to believe that if they did not receive an A it was only because of an error? Why would students expect an A in the first place unless it was warranted? Staying up late and working hard, at the last minute, does not mean you are owed anything.

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Second, students confuse memorizing with understanding. Many students have been nurtured to memorize and regurgitate data as a demonstration of acumen. Therefore, when I ask students to explain and apply what they've memorized I often see white space on paper or hear crickets. Memorization is neither knowledge nor understanding. Memorization does not translate into application.

Third, students assume that if they easily can find information on the internet, or from some other readily available source, they don't need to know it. The objection goes something like this, "Why are you making us learn this stuff when we can just Google it?" I wish I was kidding when I tell you that the Entitlement Generation balks at the idea of being made to learn things that are available online, but it's true. It is similar logic that asks, "Why do I have to learn math when I can perform those functions on my cell phone?"

Fourth, if the going gets tough, quit. One could also name this group the "Quitter Generation." Virtues like patience and perseverance are absent from many in this age bracket. Coddled by affluence and sinfully flattered by parents and nice-guy teachers using speech meant not to hurt a child's "feelings" or damage "self-esteem," coupled with parents that refuse to let their children fail at anything, this generation bails quickly when the going gets tough or if there's no guarantee for success. I had a student drop one of my classes once because he realized that he wasn't going to receive an A. I've known students to give up and fail a class after receiving a series of bad grades instead of buckling down and working harder to raise their grades. It's pathetic.

I particularly feel bad for businesses that employ young workers who believe that they are entitled to non-performance-based high salaries and will quit when things get tough. I don't know what could change this attitude but, in the meantime, I'll have to continue to serve as the reality check that "you're not as awesome as you were told" and that you'll never succeed in life, or in my class, with a poor work ethic and a quitter's attitude.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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