What are we teaching?

I was born in 1978.  Depending on whose research you’re looking at, the only thing that’s consistent about my generation is that its definition is fluid and constantly in flux.  Sometimes I’m Generation X.  Sometimes I’m Generation Y.  I’ve also been told that I’m part of the MTV Generation, Boomerang Generation, a Millennial or First Digitals. This list can go on and on and Wikipedia can provide a quick overview of the what’s what.

The year I graduated from undergrad – which was 2001 – I was asked to participate in a job fair to speak as a communications student with prospective students and their parents about the department and its program.  High school students didn’t really ask me all that much.  Parents, on the other hand, were keen to know what kind of job a communications degree would help their kids land.

I was quickly shepherded out of the spokesperson role when I responded that you don’t send a kid to university to get a job. If you want a job with a better salary right after graduation, go to college.  University will give you a piece of paper that will open doors in a career further down a road.  A university degree is the new entry level requirement, or rather, has the same relevancy that a high school diploma did 20 years ago only with a cost that usually will leave your kid $24,000 in debt.

Universities aren’t in the business of giving practical, hands-on, skills training. At least in the realm of liberal arts.  They’re in the business of thought.  They can help build the critical thinking capacities that are crucial for a knowledge-based economy.  This won’t translate into a notable salary for most kids until many, many, many years post-graduation, if at all.  If your kid chooses the university route, make sure they volunteer and land part-time jobs that will help them acquire the relevant employable skills.

Oh, and parents, don’t tell your kids that hard work, a good education and decent grades will hand them a brilliant middle to upper class future. You’re just creating a generation that has expectations, and no amount of hope will ever align those with the reality we face.

Take these kids for example.  Er, um, my (sorta) peers.  This has been happening to us for years and isn’t just a result of the recent economic disaster.

See I’m part of this generation that feels entitled.  I did well in school, hold undergraduate and graduate degrees, and was told my entire life that I could do whatever I want.   I’m ambitious and driven.  I’m not wired to accept failure or anything less as an acceptable outcome.  I’m supposed to have a fantastic future and I’m not going to settle for less.

Right now there is a debate raging across the province. There are many dimensions to what is being dubbed the “Why Johnny Can’t Fail” policy, but of most interest to me is this recognition of the kinds of dangerous attitudes we’re cultivating through our school system and the idealized future we’re helping our kids to create for themselves.  Even in extracurricular activities we design fail-safe programs so that everyone can be a winner as a vehicle to improving a much needed self-esteem to succeed in a rosy bright future.

I’m part of this generation that is realizing with shock and horror that we can’t have it all. There is more than just who we are as individual beings that plays into the equation that determines our fate.  There’s only so much control we can exert.  No matter how hard we work.

The mantra my generation lives goes something like this.  Forget about a good job, just be thankful that you have one that will hopefully pay the bills.  Your very expensive education may only ever be a ticket to a meal and may never fully pay for itself.  A house and family may happen, just don’t count on it till you’re in your 30s.

My children are part of the next generation.  What kind of legacy am I going to hand to them.  As a parent, what ideologies should I be teaching my children to prepare for their future?  How are you going to prepare your kids for their financial future?