Empowered or Entitled?

Empowered or Entitled?
What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

Let me begin by asking a simple question…

What the HECK is going on??????

Whew…that felt good. I’ve wanted to scream that question (and dozens like it) ever since I began teaching in public education several years ago. Honestly, I almost feel like I fell into a coma over the past fifteen years, only to awaken to an educational system and to a society that gives adolescents the idea that they are entitled to everything whether they have earned it or not.
Where was I when this shift occurred? It’s not as if I spent the last dozen years in isolation, living alone in a cave somewhere. Truthfully, I have never stopped working with adults and teenagers alike as a pastor, coach, and counselor. I don’t think I fell asleep at the wheel and yet I feel like the driver who opens his sleepy eyes to find that he has drifted onto the wrong side of the highway, in oncoming traffic. I am seriously concerned about what our educational system is teaching our adolescents. I’m equally concerned that many parents are buying into the theory that their teens are entitled to so much, whether they earn it or not.
Perhaps you think I’m crazy. What am I babbling about anyway?
Well, let me ask a couple of rhetorical questions with purpose:

When did we start blaming teachers for the failure of students?

I’m not saying that all teachers are flawless (or any, for that matter). I’m not so nave to think that there aren’t instructors out there who are lazy or who don’t like kids or who shouldn’t be in the field at all. Of course there are weak links in the field of education, just as there are in any field or career. Believe me, as a therapist, I have seen my share of counselors who do more harm than good with their clients. That being said, I have found this to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the teachers I have known and worked with. I have found most teachers to be conscientious, hard-working people who genuinely care about kids. Yet, I hear so much being said about how it is the fault of teachers that public education and, therefore, our students are in the state they’re in.

Let me risk sounding clich by writing that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

What I see is that many students…maybe even a majority of students…couldn’t care less about working for an education. I cannot tell you how many teens I see, both as a therapist and as an educator, who simply refuse to do their work, some out of defiance and some out of laziness. Only a small percentage is truly incapable of doing the work (although some certainly fit into this category). Most, however, just don’t want to make the effort and believe they shouldn’t HAVE to anyway.

But, of course, this is mainly the fault of the teachers and their inability to divinely reach down into the souls of each child and inspire them to greatness (sarcasm intended).
Perhaps this paradigm started with good intentions. Maybe there was a time when students were working their tails off but the teachers just weren’t competent or didn’t care. Maybe there came a time when the pendulum had swung too far away from teacher responsibility. I don’t know…maybe this was the case at some point and maybe this shift from student to teacher responsibility was needed in order to help students learn.
I just don’t buy it.

I do know that many of the students I have seen in public schools are fully aware that the onus is OFF of them. They know that they don’t have to do much of the work and yet still have a good chance to be moved on when the year ends, whether they failed or not. Savvy students know that, even if their true grade is a 20%, that teachers are pressured (in fact, ordered) to give them a 50% and no lower. This knowledge alone gives them the sense that they can do nothing for most of the year and yet pull out a passing grade. After all, when one can’t score below a 50%, one only has to raise that grade by 10 points in order to pass. Some administrators claim that this allows the student to gain self-esteem and “hope” to finish the year strong. As a counselor, I view this idea as nave at best and, at the worst, harmful to everyone involved. Giving a student a 50%, when that student knows they haven’t earned it, does not build self-worth; it develops a sense of entitlement and plants the seed for narcissism. At his core, a narcissist is someone who feels entitled to everything they want but, deep down, has a strong sense of inadequacy and insecurity. Giving students a grade doesn’t build self-esteem; encouraging a student to work hard even when they don’t want to so they experience the success that brings….this is what builds true confidence. Yet, teachers are forced to lie about a student’s grade, explain why they haven’t coaxed a higher grade out of that student, or worry about their job security if they don’t comply.

I’m sorry…where is the student’s role in their own success?

Next question…

When did we, as parents and educational leaders, allow the inmates to run the asylum?

I’m amazed at how much disrespect and poor behavior student are allowed to exhibit with little or no consequences. Recently, a bus driver told me that two boys refused to hurry to get to the bus, even though they were the ones who were late. Students are increasingly tardy to class, knowing that the consequences (if there are any) are nothing to fear. Students know that the repercussions for things like fighting or cursing out a teacher might sting but aren’t earth-shattering. Somehow, the pendulum we spoke about earlier has swung so far that students are appalled that a teacher or principal would have the AUDACITY to confront them on poor behavior (GASP). Who do the teachers think they are, anyway??? Often, parents reinforce this attitude in their teens, claiming that teachers bear a personal grudge or that their child is being singled out.

So…what ARE we teaching our kids?

What I see is that we are giving our teens a sense that they deserve special treatment, no matter how they act. Isn’t this a horrible disservice to our kids? I mean, life isn’t like that, is it? How surprised our teens will be when they are not permitted to curse out their employer without being reprimanded or fired or when they are not allowed to dress just any old way at work. They are going to be flabbergasted when they are “let go” because they didn’t complete their work on a consistent basis as they were required to do. Why can’t they find a job with a big starting salary? Don’t they deserve it?

Honestly, if we don’t reverse this trend, we are going to produce an entire generation of young adults who expect to have the best of everything, work very little, and who cannot handle authority. Of course, none of these issues would be THEIR fault, but obviously the fact that their employers are just all jerks who are out to get them.

Can we get real here?

In an effort to make things look better than they really are, aren’t we turning a blind eye to ethical shortcuts and tying the hands of our teachers? Aren’t we letting the tail wag the dog?
Instead of entitlement, shouldn’t we focus on empowering our teenagers? I say we should. I say we should put the responsibility of learning back where it belongs—in the hands of the learner…and then we should teach them how to carry that burden….give them the strength to do so. Teachers should be held accountable for being a guide on the road to maturity and growth, as well as an encourager to the student. The only way a student can truly be empowered is if THEY are the ones taking ownership of their work. When the teachers are doing the majority of the work it only leads to burnout for the teacher and boredom for the student. We, as parents, must also lay the responsibility in the laps of our children. Teachers must empower the students and administrators must empower the teachers. When this happens, the results are happier parents, invigorated educators, and teenagers with a foundation of genuine self-esteem and the power to make a difference.

Empowerment or Entitlement? What’s it going to be?

About the Author: Aaron Welch is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people to grow and mature through difficult life situations. Whether it has been through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, youth camps and conventions, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, athletic coaching or small group ministry, Aaron has over twenty years of experience in assisting people through life struggles and personal growth. His genuine love for people and his outgoing personality combine to create a safe and caring environment for putting the pieces of life back together. For more information, please visit Aaron at www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org

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