As we all head back to school it won't be long before faculty, students, and parents start to see Facebook posts, media articles, and other memes about how much our students suck. We will hear the typical rants about the student that doesn't read the syllabus, buy books, or remember to sign up for classes. In fact, some faculty have already bought "It's in the Syllabus" T-shirts to proudly wear on their first days.
Now, I'm the first to say that students should avoid asking questions that ARE indeed answered in the syllabus and I confess to my own ability to feel generally exhausted by some of the challenges we face with students that seem to have difficulty taking responsibility for their college education, but I have to ask us all to question the assumption that college students are lazy, stupid, and coddled.
While it's a truism that older generations think that youngsters have it easy, the current character assaults on millennials (kids born in the early '80s-2000s) represent some of the worst attacks on young people in our nation's history. We hear again and again about how useless and entitled this generation is. Labeled the "The Me Me Me Generation," by Time magazine and "stoned slackers" by Bill O'Reilly, this generation has been constantly denigrated in public discourse. So it's no surprise that as we head back to school we are hearing an ongoing barrage of anti-millennial chatter.
We need to stop that dialogue. Stop sharing those memes, liking those pages, listening to those news reports, and buying those t-shirts. We need to stop and--and here are two reasons why:
First, it's not true. Millennials may, in fact, be one of the best generations our nation has seen in decades. They vote at a higher percentage of their demographic than either Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, they do more community service than their elders, and they are the most politically progressive age group in modern history. And, apart from the fact that almost all college students today have far more complex degree requirements than anyone in my era did, they have inherited inflating tuition costs, a tough economy, and a brutal job market. They have more college debt and more of them are holding jobs while in college than ever before.
So if these kids are having trouble juggling responsibilities it may well be because they are rushing to class from work or from a meeting with financial aid or from a meeting with an adviser who just told them that if they don't take an upper level lit class this term they won't graduate. It is time to admit that this generation has inherited a lot of real challenges and that, by and large, they have met those challenges with resilience and social commitment.
But, even if there is some truth to the millennial bashing, we shouldn't do it, which leads me to my second reason. If these students need guidance, if these students need life training, if these students need to learn how to be better, then we should do our jobs and teach them rather than complain about it. Again, I'll confess to my own frustrations. We all feel them. But we do need to stop and recognize that the constant bashing of college-age kids serves to create a negative picture of an entire generation. And that picture just doesn't square with the idea of teaching. If we have students that need coaching and mentoring, we should do that. Rather than insult them, we should work with them. That is, after all, our job.
And if you aren't a professor, you still shouldn't participate in the negative millennial rhetoric. What exact benefit derives from trashing an entire generation of young people? Those messages circulate constantly in the media and on-line and they have real effects on student confidence. Again and again, I see students that have internalized these messages and that self-describe as "slactivists" or worse.
It's time to turn that rhetoric around. And I can think of no better way to start than by watching this millennial made video, "We Suck and We're Sorry."
Because one thing we all know is that millennials may have inherited a lot of challenges, but they have learned how to respond with humor and irony. This may also be the most satire-savvy generation our nation has known. So, even though they can spend mindless time on social media, they also know how to churn out some pretty effective critical comedy. And that is something to be proud of. So please join me in welcoming our students back! Let's look forward to a great semester.
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