The foundation that once made this country great is eroding…
I saw on the History Channel the other day that immediately following World War II, the United States was producing 80% of the goods in the world. At that time, our population was motivated, hard-working, and just downright productive. When our veterans returned home, they either got a job or took advantage of the GI Bill to further their knowledge. During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, technology flourished as seemingly every able-bodied man, woman, and child focused on beating our Red enemies in the east in the Space Race. There were social upheavals, but in the midst of all that, Americans were industrious and patriotic.
The legacy of the Baby Boomers and their heightened productivity is gone. The youth today, for whom I have the responsibility of educating, have no dreams and no vision: They see only what they can easily attain today. Even if they do consider greatness, they do not consider the dedication it takes to achieve lofty goals. They don’t even realize what awesome things their grandparents (or at least their grandparents’ generation) achieved. The spirit of my personal heroes of technology, the kind of people who worked in dimly lit rooms at BB&N or Xerox PARC, is gone. The Greatest Generation embraced the tedium and hard work required to do something great, while the youth today hump up and quit if they aren’t greeted with instant satisfaction. NASA put men on the moon with slide rules, but the average student that walks through my classroom can’t even subtract two 4-digit numbers confidently without a calculator. What’s worse, when I try to teach them how, they say, “This is too hard” or “You are so mean!” So, their ineptitude, according to them, is my fault.
God forbid that today’s youth get a taste of defeat. Competition, complete with legitimate reward and failure, has been abolished in the name of self-esteem. Now, every kid that plays gets a trophy. Why? Because we don’t want them to feel bad about themselves. Most elementary schools I know of don’t cut anybody from sports teams. Instead, they create multiple teams if there are enough kids that want to play a certain sport. Kids today have no concept of training hard and trying to make the team next year. It seems like every parent tries to convince their kid that they are worthy for sports or advanced placement, when in reality, majority of them are average (roughly 69%, if you assume that talent is normally distributed). Instead of assuring their kids that they are good at something, the youth today have been convinced their entire lives that they are good at everything! Self-esteem is great, but only if it is deserved. An overly-confident fool can wreck anything!
No Child Left Behind actually measures part of a high school’s success by graduation rates. On the surface, this seems good. In reality, though, it’s only serving to dilute an already watered down curriculum. There are only two ways to increase graduation rates: a) convince students they must work hard and do as the teachers ask them to, regardless of how difficult the task may seem or b) lower the bar so more students can jump over it. Educational administrators are choosing the latter because it’s impossible to achieve the former until parents and students are forced to accept the consequences of mediocrity. That’s hard to do when one of the consequence of failure to graduate has been removed from the equation.
I’m not saying that there aren’t brilliant young people today that are striving to do something great, however, the number of people who are pushing the envelope to make America the leader again is horribly on the decline. There is no sense of duty. The rally call today is “Give it to me easy or don’t bother.”
And so, with no vision, no tolerance for tedium, no competition, and no consequences, the foundation of greatness has turned to mush. Most of the youth today reap the rewards of an entire generation’s hard work and contribute nothing.