A few years ago when I was in graduate school at the University of Tennessee getting my master's in education, my roommate and long-time best friend introduced to me to a book called Generation Me by Jean Twenge while he was working on his degree in public administration. I glanced over it and thought it looked interesting but never sat down and read through it. So when I saw it at the MLK library the other day on one of my random let's-go-see-what-looks-interesting-at-the-library-because-I-have-nothing-better-to-do-except-grade-and-plan outings, I decided to check it out and delve a little deeper into it.
The argument of the book is essentially what many of my generation's parents and grandparents have been complaining about since I was born. The author claims that people born between 1971 and the late 1990s have ushered in an unprecedented focus on the self. She also argues that education has done a lot to advance that reality. We tell our children that they should do whatever it takes to be happy, that life is all about them, that they're special, and that we will love them no matter what they do or who they are. Although she never comes out and says it, the author's tone is such that you can tell she's disgusted by a lot of this, but accepting of some of it (she is, after all, a part of our generation). She says students are made to feel much more open and okay with anything and everything that they feel or wish to say. Behaviors like unprotected sex, cussing around/at adults, and denying responsibility are much more rampant today than in the 1950s as a result.
As I was reading the book last night, it made me wonder if this was truly one of the main causes of the disrespect I sometimes get in the classroom. They do have unprotected sex, they do cuss around/at adults, and they do deny their responsibility. I also notice that many of them say their future involves fame and luxury. Many of them dream of having the easy life. When I ask what they'll do with their luxury and exorbitant amount of money, many of them say they'll buy their favorite cars or other ridiculous products to waste money on. A few of them pause (as if they've never considered the question) and make some vague statement about helping others (although if pushed, they can't say how or who).
It's obviously there - my kids are super self-absorbed, but how much of that is a result of their generation? Isn't being a kid inherently about being self-absorbed, whether you're allowed to talk about it or not? Maybe our generation's parents are just less likely to beat you when you admit your self-absorption. Or - maybe it has to do more with socio-economic levels. I've read a few studies that suggest the way the poor tend to dream is very different from the way the rich tend to dream, and it makes sense. If you've never had a lot of money, it would seem logical that when you got it (for many poor people - in their dreams), you would spend on things that you might never have a chance to spend it on again.
And what about the whole cussing around/at adults? Is that a generational thing? or is that coming from an environment that lacks the social capital to teach you that that's completely inappropriate? I suspect, as with most questions like this, the answer is a little bit of both with some other factors I haven't considered. I suspect the generational factor plays less of an influence on inner-city kids than it might on suburban kids though. The rich kids are the ones who have parents who have the time to shower their kids love and attention (in fact, the author of the book argues that one of the reasons for this rise in self-absorption has been the increase in affluence, education levels, and decrease in fertility rates - more people have kids who want them, which leads to more loving parents who want their kids to know how special they are). But a lot of my kids come from families that probably didn't plan for/want them. I suspect a lot of my kids act like they do not because society has taught them how special they are, but because nobody has taught them generally accepted norms for social interaction amongst peers and adults.
Last weekend I went back to visit Seattle and talked with a teacher I worked with last year who now works in the richer school in my former district. She related that she has had so much more trouble working with the rich white kids than she had with the underprivileged minority kids at the school we both used to work at last year. The kids she's working with now: THOSE are the kids I suspect are being negatively affected by this whole generation me thing, or at least more so than the kids I've worked with.
I could be TOTALLY wrong though. I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts.