Coddle Eggs, not Kids

There's been a lot of ink spilt about how annoying Millennials can be. You'll get none of that from me. In my decades in education I've come to believe that young folks have always annoyed their elders and that the only difference is that each new crop of youngsters comes up with new ways to do so. I like to remind colleagues and friends that our elders thought we were creeps back in the days when we were the whelps loping across social norms and whizzing on The Establishment.

Are there things Millennials do that annoy me? Of course! That's the point of growing up, isn't it? How else are kids supposed to forge their own identities? There are, however, several things I want to air because it's their parents and teachers who are fault, not the kids.

We hear much about the Millennials' sense of entitlement. I blame a lot of that on parental helicoptering and teacher timidity. The default position for a lot of my college students is to ask­­––about everything. I certainly prefer that to kids of a previous generation who simply did their own thing and assumed instructions for chumps, not them. But it is annoying to write detailed instructions about every assignment and have students ask, "What do you expect in this assignment?" It would be nice if they looked before they asked. I've asked some of my students about this and their answers are remarkably similar­­––they are used to having parents and teachers tell them what to do and check to make sure they've done it properly. I guess teachers are running scared in the current climate that values test scores above trivial things like independence. At some point, though, some adult needs to tell young folks that in the world beyond high school, one is simply supposed to go get what is needed to complete a task. That's especially the case when a professor, boss, colleague, or leader has already provided the tools necessary for the job. I'm happy to clarify any and all things a student finds unclear, but when I'm looking at 120 students per semester, I simply don't have the time to spoon-feed things I've already prepared for them or hold their hands while they do tasks they can do on their own.

Here's another thing I can't do on the college level: teach them to read. I can (and do) help them read more efficiently. I also write prompts to guide their reading and hold book discussion sessions, but another thing I hear far too often these days is this: "This book is too long and I'm afraid I won't be able to get through it." Long book, mind, is anything over 125 pages, and quite a few students tell me they never read anything that long in high school. Whose fault is that? Not theirs. If a high school English teacher lets them watch The Great Gatsby instead of reading it, that teacher hasn't done his/her job. Ditto if the teacher merely assigns the book and creates tests that can be passed by watching a video instead of reading the text. I am aware, of course, that some students game the system, but after hearing the phrase "We never read much in high school" enough times, I have to think there's some merit to it.

Soft teachers are practically prison guards compared to helicopter parents. I actually find it touching that so many of today's kids have warm relations with their parents. My generation generally had what could charitably call "strained" relations with theirs and I don't wish that on anyone. But can we shoot an Aristotelian Gold Mean here? Do parents still believe in "empowering" their kids? Do they ever tell them to "toughen up?" Do they still use old-fashioned terms like "responsibility" and "problem ownership?" Are they doing too much for their kids?

Here's a small example from my neighborhood. If you think it bugs me, you're right. Every morning one mother drives her high-school-aged daughter to the bus stop, which is at the intersection of where my street T-junctions with another road. She pulls up to the stop sign and sits there until the bus comes, at which time the daughter gets out of the car and walks onto the bus. Anyone who actually wishes to turn onto the other street before the bus arrives must pull into the left lane and go around her. I'll put aside the mother's appalling and selfish driving to raise a more troubling issue: the student lives all about 300 yards from the bus stop. Good grief! Do you think it might be just a teeny bit excessive to drive her to the bus stop?

Could there be other factors? From what I see, her peers greet the girl warmly, so I'm not seeing any bullying issues. It's certainly not the case that this is a dangerous neighborhood, unless you call the occasional smashed pumpkin a crime wave. There are no physical mobility issues and the kid is always carrying a stack of books, so I also doubt she's hooky-prone. She does strike me as bit stuck-up, though, as coddled kids can be.

So here's my message to teachers and parents alike: coddle eggs, not kids. The Millennials are all right and they'll be even better if we let them grow up.

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