||Volume 22, Number 5, March 2010
By Sean Douglas
The suggestion has been made that the only constant is change. This much is a given, but when do we take responsibility for the changes that occur, and to what extent do we allow change to transpire before being accountable for its results?
As society evolves, so do the ways in which we as individuals perceive the world. With our changing perception, however, has come this uncanny notion that what once was earned is now something that is entitled. Entitlement is the belief that one deserves to receive something regardless of the quality of effort, and academic entitlement exemplifies this notion.
Over the past decade, the computer age has offered an incomprehensible quantity of information that is available to us at any given moment and which continues to increase at an exponential rate; what we retain and our ability to use this information, however, has lessened dramatically. We live in an era where our expectations far exceed the reality of what may necessarily be anticipated. This idea is evident to those who live in urban settings; studies have shown that those living in urban regions become agitated after approximately three minutes of waiting. This is obvious to anyone who has had to stand in line at the grocery store, or anyone who has hit every red light on route to a destination, or to those of us who have been forced to sit in traffic on a sweltering day. While it is no surprise that as we continually find methods of making our lives convenient and our expectations for convenience grow, we must ask the question, what is the sacrifice to all this convenience?
The answers are many, however, one sacrifice of this convenience is that over the past number of years, students have gradually begun to feel that they are able to achieve more by doing less; this myth, however, is beginning to take its toll in post-secondary school and, consequently, in the workplace. In defence of students, however, being brought up in a culture that caters to their every need at the push of a button hardly builds the necessary skills needed to instil the values of respectful habits, strong work ethics, and an ability to appreciate what it means to truly earn something. According to a recent article and survey conducted by CTV between February and March of 2009 titled “Profs say students lack maturity, feel entitled,” the general consensus of professors is that there is a “definite decline in student preparedness.” The article outlines a growing concern that students entering university today “are less prepared and have poorer research skills than students from three years ago,” according to faculty and librarians from 22 Canadian universities. They go on to suggest that there is “a belief that good grades are an entitlement.”
So who is to blame for this feeling of entitlement that has become an epidemic problem? Is it fair to hold the conveniences of society at fault? Or perhaps we have been pushed into this false sense of security by the same culture that offers credit to those with no money, excuses for those who are unsure how to be accountable, and greater conveniences to those who are too indolent to appreciate the value of a process. Then again, looking for a scapegoat for every issue is in itself part of the greater problem, as entitlement is merely a symptom resulting from a lack of effort. According to a 2008 article published in the National Post titled “Student Entitlement or the Usual Whining?,” students maintain the attitude that minimal effort and attendance is enough to earn high grades. The article suggests that “the mentality of students enrolling in post-secondary education is akin to shopping in a store where the customer is always right;” there is no longer a sense of accountability, but rather an expectation that they are entitled to receive without putting in the required effort.
A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected Bs just for attending lectures, while 40% said they deserved a B just for completing the required reading. One secondary school English teacher was asked his opinion on the trends of students and stated that “many students are in for a shock when they realize that while secondary schools often fall into substantiating the feeling of entitlement that students feel, university professors will not tolerate it… The false impression that students have of receiving credit with no merit is often the greatest lesson that post-secondary students are obligated to learn.”
There was a time when education was the most significant issue in a student’s life; now, however, there is this growing trend that school is to be designed around everything else. There is a feeling of being overwhelmed by the pressures of what students face on a day-to-day basis. Professor Greenberger, the lead author of the study called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” suggests that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members, and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.
This said, the question must be asked, that with all of the conveniences of the present day, how is it that the baby-boomers—those born in the middle part of the 20th century—were not only able to sustain themselves with fewer conveniences, but in fact thrive? While there have been many thoughts on the subject, one suggestion made by Jean M. Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable than Ever Before—is that the era of entitlement is a direct result of an overly narcissistic generation of students, which is the result of a socialization process that begins from birth.
In other words, our culture has overcompensated the importance of self-value to such a degree that many individuals have created a false complex of the self that has become unrealistically self-centred. According to Twenge, our culture has become so inundated with the idea of “generation me” that “we are all winners,” when the reality is that there is a great deal of difference between the effort that a winner makes and that of someone who falls short.
It is no surprise that with trends being a constantly evolving characteristic of our society, many students have a preconceived notion of what they are expected to be, what they think they are, and how they want to be seen. Unfortunately, however, this plays on the concept of narcissism as addressed by Twenge. If these ideas are indeed true, then it is no wonder so many students feel entitled to that which they have not effectively earned.
Whether or not the feeling of entitlement is growing, or whether we are simply more aware of the issue, the research does allow us to suggest that academic entitlement is a serious issue. What remains to be seen is how educators and society at large will deal with the task at hand, for as we know, the only constant is change, but with change still comes the responsibility of being accountable for our past and tomorrow. If nothing else, we must ask ourselves, do we want the doctors and lawyers and pilots of tomorrow merely working hard, or do we want to know that they truly know what they are doing?
Sean Douglas teaches at Keswick High School, Keswick, Ontario.