Up hill both ways in a snowstorm

Yesterday, I read yet another article on “The Entitlement Generation” published in the Globe and Mail.  It was a scathing account of the younger generation of today, written by some writer who cited a few disenfranchised university professors and all-knowing adults as experts for her piece.

A few quotes…

“Many students openly admit their goal is to succeed with the least amount of effort.”

“Students strenuously object if they don’t get the marks they feel entitled to. “They got 80 per cent in high school and, when they get 62 per cent, they’re mad,” says Prof. Coates. “They bring assignments in late and think we’ll mark them without penalty.”

“Ms. Godmere, the student spokesperson… believes course reading lists need to be more relevant. “These works that we are expected to read are from a different time. More people need to cater to the younger audience.” To which Prof. Coates responds, “If you want to tackle the most difficult, interesting, challenging thinkers in the world, you have to read very thick books with lots of words.”

“Ken Coates believes we should bring back streaming and make vocational education far more important than it is now. University should be for students who are interested in, and capable of, high-level work. Colleges and tech schools can offer more practical, job-oriented education for everyone else.”

“There is no easy route to great success,” says Prof. Coates. “A generation has lost touch with that.”

Let’s pretend that all of these things are true (they are not).  My question with these sorts of posts or articles is this: what good are they doing?  Do the authors feel that they are actually helping anything by railing against the ‘entitlement generation’?  Do they believe that somehow, our high school and university students are going to read these articles and have some sort of life-altering epiphany?  That they will run to classes?  Be ‘less lazy’?  Feel ‘less entitled’?  Read ‘thick books with lots of words’?  Or my favorite, ‘try to succeed with more effort’ (as opposed to less)?

This morning on the way to work, I made a call in my car (Bluetooth–obeying the law) to my wife to see what time an appointment was for my daughter. I went through a drive through ATM to get some cash, and then rerouted my car through another drive through to get a Starbucks coffee.  While I was waiting in line for the staff at Starbucks to prepare my coffee, I sent a text message to a friend about an upcoming golf tournament.  I came to school to find a report on my desk that one of my outstanding staff members had prepared for me, and then got on to Tweetdeck looking to ‘steal’ some ideas from people on integrating Personal Learning Devices into classrooms at our school.  I found three articles on #mlearning and a blog by Chris Kennedy in the span of a few minutes, and will modify parts of them and use them at our school over the next few days.

According to the first hour of my day, I am easily distracted and focused on technology (phone call in the car), I am lazy (going through a couple of drive-thrus), entitled (grabbed a coffee at Starbucks), have lost my communication skills (sent a text rather than speaking to my pal about golf in person), am expectant (had someone provide me with some information in a report), and plagiarize the work of others (with my brief scan on Twitter).  Apparently, I am a poster boy for the ‘entitlement generation’.

In my opinion, our students of today are as intelligent and motivated as students at this age have ever been.  I would also say that students are much more well-rounded than I ever was–they are more socially responsible, more globally aware, and more tolerant than any generation before them.  When graduates cross our stage at commencements, I absolutely marvel at how involved they are in their academics, the arts, athletics, the school, and community issues.  I wish I went through high school with the same verve and alacrity that our students do.


But regardless of my opinions, the so-called ‘entitlement generation’ is THE generation that is going to lead us over the next several decades in technology, innovation, research, and global issues.  So the question that we must ask authors and those who continue to deride the generations younger than their own is this:  when you malign the ‘entitlement generation’ with condescending comments and cliches such as ‘there are no easy roads to success’, are you really helping anything?  I don’t believe so.  Quite the contrary for me, I am cheering for them.

In conclusion, enough already.  The ‘uphill both ways in a snowstorm’ analogy got old a long time ago.

Cross posted at The Learning Nation.


  1. As educators, it is our privilege to support our students to find their own way in making a positive difference in the world. It won’t be our way; they’ll make mistakes (as we certainly have as well) and they’ll also have great triumphs. We owe it to them to set high expectations, have faith in them, and offer acceptance, appreciation, and support. We owe it to them to value the ways they differ from us. We must seek not only to guide them, but also to allow them to guide us. Our students deserve to be cheered on and I’m right there with you cheering! Thanks so much for this very thoughtful post.

    September 21, 2011
  2. Scott McLeod said:

    Awesome post. I’m tired of all of the generation-bashing. The irony, of course, is that some previous generation thought THIS generation of generation-bashing critics was going to ruin the world too. Funny how they don’t realize that…

    September 22, 2011
  3. Rex Jones said:

    Well said! I couldn’t agree with you more.

    September 22, 2011
  4. Dave said:

    I have to disagree with you guys a little here. Cbirk brings up some valid points with his posts, but, mainly, his comparison to his hour long morning and the quotes cited from the frustrating article he read are comparing apples and bananas.

    Your morning tasks showed you as the type of person Coates wants his students to be. You were proactively getting things done, not waiting for them to happen, just as was your employee who turned in the report without being asked. You seemed to prove his point about the generation difference more than anything.

    As for the criticism of older generations to younger generations, I agree it can sometimes be overly harsh or unwarranted, but it can also be merited and necessary. We cannot continue on a course toward letting everyone know how great they are and only what they did well. These are important aspects, but so is criticism. It helps you know where you can and need to grow. Competition and struggle have lead to some of the greatest inventions and accomplishments.

    As educators we need to be the first to read Coates’s words and take them to heart. Many of us (school systems) are guilty of sending students to college unprepared and seeing them return to the safety of their tiny community or home where everything is okay as they move back into their parents house to play video games and learn less and less responsibility.

    I find it hard to believe that no one on this posting or reading this posting ever benefited from the “uphill both ways in a snowstorm” approach to learning. Those lessons often taught me the value of hard work. The importance of perseverance and dedication to your cause in the face of doubtful onlookers. Criticism most certainly has its time and place, as does appreciation, praise, and support, as Shira noted above.

    People like yourselves and Coates both need to exist and voice their opinions. A world of constant coddling and support is no better than a world of hypercritical no it all’s. Every generation needs exposure to everything the world has to offer. Asking Coates to silence his opinions is like asking you to do the same. Both would hurt the character of our future leaders.

    September 22, 2011
  5. Cale Birk said:

    Hi Dave:

    Thanks for your comment. Respectfully, I have never found value in denigrating anyone with (or being denigrated by people in) articles filled with broad, sweeping generalizations that are often based in singular and extreme examples. I would never call messages such as these ‘necessary’. When we appear to be pontificating from the top of the mountain in articles such as the one referred to in my post, it is my opinion that we do little more than create a forum for people to take sides in a discussion that invariably polarizes the generations involved.

    An article that would be more interesting and useful would be one that highlights the skills that each generation brings to the table, and thoughts on how we might enable bridges to close those gaps. I am absolutely certain that I have as much to learn from students as they do from me, and perhaps more. I do have things to offer a different generation, but I am quite certain that members of the so-called ‘entitlement generation’ would tune me out immediately if I offered them the thoughts on the heels of a piece such as this.

    While you indicate that schools do not adequately prepare students for post secondary (a message that has seemingly been around forever), I struggle with the idea that messages like the one in the Globe and Mail DO prepare students. Condescending and negative articles do not solve problems, they exacerbate them. We solve problems by bringing parties together, not slinging mud in solution-less articles and pushing them apart.

    Thanks again for reading the post and your comment.

    September 23, 2011
  6. THIS is a terrific post. Thanks for sharing it. Bashing teachers is pretty en vogue lately. But is it going to spread into student bashing, too? I hope not because there’s nothing worse than blaming students. Whether it’s their “entitled attitude” or “laziness” or…the list continues. I abhor it and I’ve heard it way too often from teachers.

    Thanks again for speaking up about this.

    September 24, 2011
  7. Dave Bell said:

    I sometimes wonder if people are being taught the right things.

    Does it matter that people are cutting and pasting from Wikipedia, rather than copying out an entry from the encyclopedia in the school library? Not obviously, I think, but the not-obvious part is what we need to be careful about. How do we know we can trust what’s out there on the web?

    When we apply the shiny to our lives, we have some of the knowledge and experience to avoid some of the traps. We don’t fall for all the lies out there. How do we teach that?

    October 16, 2011

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