This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor and engaged Millennial, Natasha Derezinski-Choo
A great debate has arisen over the character of the next generation. People born after 1980 are defined as the “Millennial” generation because these young people, now in their teens and twenties, will be the first to come to the age of maturity in the new millennium. This generation is also sometimes called Generation Y in reference to its succession of Generation X (1965-1980). Analysts of this new generation are divided. Skeptics have deemed it lazy, narcissistic, and in an article by Tom Jacobs, downright delusional. However, research also points to the fact that the average twenty-first century “youngster” is also more educated and accepting than his or her predecessor Generation X or parents, the Baby Boomer Generation. The sweeping generalizations looking down upon Millennials are often one-sided and fail to account for the progressive nature and potential of young people.
The article “Are millennials delusional?” by Tom Jacobs portrays Millennials in an unjustly negative manner. Jacobs focuses on the consumptive and material expectations of young people to argue that they are unrealistic and, as the title suggests, delusional. Work ethic and entitlement are two of the primary criticisms. He quotes that teens are increasingly more expectant of material gain without having to put in the proper amount of effort. Jacobs continues to analyze materialism as a “disturbing trend” among youth, supported by a study by psychologist and researchers Jean Twenge and Tim Kasser which found a rise in material concern through a survey that asked about the importance of owning possessions such as a new car or a house. The article has some hypocritical implications. It begins by gauging a generation’s personality based on its willingness to earn money, and then goes on to criticize it for its materialism. In fact, the article does not address the other positive impacts that young people are making each day and only takes into account consumptive tendencies, while other negative portrayals also seek to criticize youngsters’ personalities.
In the cover article for Time magazine, Joel Stein attacks the narcissistic nature of “The Me Me Me Generation”. Stein opens with “the cold, hard data” stating that “the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health.” However, further studies contradict this idea: In “It Is Developmental Me, Not Generation Me" Brent W. Roberts. Grant Edmonds, and Emily Grijalva say that “that age changes in narcissism are both replicable and comparatively large in comparison to generational changes in narcissism. This leads to the conclusion that every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of younger people are more narcissistic than their elders”. In Elspeth Reeve’s rebuttal of Stein’s article, she explains, in layman’s terms, that this means, “Basically, it's not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it's that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older.” Like people, every generation of youth has its flaws and naiveties, but it would be highly inaccurate to deem any generation faulty without considering its revolutionary and progressive nature during its reign as “the next generation”.
Millennials should be praised for their innovative and forward-thinking demeanor. Pew Research Center’s report entitled “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change” found that Millennials are more educated than their predecessors. In 2009, males aged 18-28 reported 34% attained some college education and 15% had four-year degrees or higher. This is a dramatic increase from the 25% the Baby Boomer males who received some college education and a significant increase from the 13% with four-year degrees or higher. Female education saw an even greater increase. In 1978, Boomers reported that 11% had four-year degrees. In 1995, Generation X reported 15%, and in 2009 Millennials reported 20%, almost double the percentage of their parents. Millennials are certainly not lazy or oblivious. They are beginning to experience and change the world. This generation is the most educated generation in American history, and will go on to becoming active and innovative problem-solvers in the new millennium.
Despite economic hardships and difficulty finding employment in entering the workforce, young people are more likely to engage in volunteerism than previous generations. The Pew Research Center found that 52% of Millennials reported volunteering in the past twelve months, more than the older generations surveyed. Young people are innovative and impactful within the greater community. Forbes’ article “How The Next Generation Of Wealth Is Revolutionizing Philanthropy As We Know It” asserts that “philanthropy extends far beyond just writing a check or lending your name to a charity. These individuals [millennials] have dedicated their lives to harnessing the venture capital mindset in order to ensure the success of their charitable giving.” Millennials are revolutionizing the nonprofit sector by not only donating funds, but also employing their time and energy to supporting charitable causes.
Millennials’ progressive social and political outlooks will change the face of policy-making and adapt it to twenty-first century realities. Millennials were reported to be more tolerant towards gay-rights, supportive of equal opportunities for minorities, and accepting of diversity of family structure, such as single-mother families or divorced parents. Pew reported that youth were just as likely to take political action on these issues as their older counterparts. Millennials are challenging the stereotype of laziness and apathy by making a Noble Impact through volunteerism and civic engagement.
The next generation possesses some of the greatest tools to solve the great social, political, and economic crises being handed to them. In this globalized world, the evolution of the Internet and improved communication will no doubt be an incredible tool in the Millennials' success. Every generation is handed problems of the past. In the last century, new generations faced, in brief terms, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Cold War. Today it is terrorism, human rights, global warming, and the recessions of a post-industrial economy. When faced with such conflicts, young people cannot help but be optimistic toward their potential. Rather than putting them down, older generations should also begin to accept and cultivate the future because, regardless, it looks like you’re stuck with us.
Reflections by NobleHour Special Contributor, Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.
What gives life meaning and purpose? Family? Friendships? Grades? Family and friends, of course. However, when it comes to academics, many students find emphasis on grades and scores to be a necessary evil, something they must achieve. Yet the question of personal fulfillment may be fleeting.
While traveling globally and meeting students at all levels whether pre-collegiate or in higher education, I often ask the question, “How many of you look out the window and wonder Why am I learning this?” By posing a similar question to teachers and faculty, “How many of you wonder, Why am I teaching this?” hands fly up. What a response! Would all participants benefit more deeply from the education process if a purpose was driving the learning? A larger purpose? How about this one: Applying what we are learning to the common good. When the academic and service connection is deliberate and includes student initiative, authenticated needs, reciprocal collaborations with community partners, and meaningful reflection, we call this service learning.
The pairing of education with the purpose of meeting verified community needs has likely been going on as long as education itself. There have always been teachers who recognize this imperative. Personally, my first teaching position erupted into service as students observed the onslaught of Dutch elm disease threatening the trees in their backyards. Their insistence on taking action convinced all the teachers to frame what we had on our academic agendas around this situation. High level science research with university students as partners gave these high school youth an incentive to work harder with a sense of urgency, true intrinsic motivation. Their university counterparts willingly assumed the role of mentors that kept them more committed to their course work. Everyone cared about outcomes that went well beyond grades. They were saving trees.
Plant trees. They give us the two most crucial elements for our survival: oxygen and books.
– A. Whitney Brown
Now we are experiencing a global groundswell of service. The issues we face as a planet have risen to a level that calls more of us to action. We can all be engaged in learning about and addressing critical issues—hunger, climate change, population migration, loss of habitat, illiteracy, and more—while contributing to the betterment of themselves and others. Students at all levels who are cognizant of the issues and have problem-solving abilities to address them, matter. When students lack the skills then all educators need to take notice and provide what is needed to transform youth into advocates for the social well-being of our environment, our communities, and indeed this planet we share. Providing the requisite skills and knowledge to do this vital work in local communities and larger world adds relevance to the process of education.
With academic-rich service learning experiences, students are doing astounding work as they prepare food for people in crises, repair coral reefs, protect animals, and spend time with otherwise lonely elders. When they care about the subject matter and have authenticated a need, students discover intrinsic motivation. This is key.
Words fill classrooms and books and computer screens. We can dialogue, write papers, and make suppositions about what is possible. Yet, when we take words and transform them into ideas, and these ideas then transform into action---what are we capable of?
Psychologist Robert Sternberg wrote an exceptional article called What is an Expert Student? In this article he commits to the idea that to reach intelligence, students need to engage in analytical, creative, and practical thinking. One or two of these alone will not be sufficient. He then adds, “When schools teach for wisdom, they teach students it is important not just what you know, but how you use what you know . . .” He then adds a statement that has been a personal mantra of mine since first hearing these words: “Wisdom, the opposite of foolishness, is the use of successful intelligence and experience toward the attainment of a common good.”
How many of you think we need more wisdom in the world right now? If you are nodding, then making the endpoint of our education manifest with tests and grades will likely be terribly insufficient. Bringing learning to life through using what we study in class to assist struggling students gain skills and confidence, or writing informative brochures about local history, or creating healthy food options in locales where scant vegetables are available only at corner stores—could this be what education is really about?
Why does service matter? With service learning ideas becomes a reality, the excitement becomes palpable. The contributions made—significant. What I see most is students discover who they are as their interests, talents and skills connect with the academic content and skills and learning comes to life. Service creates purpose for learning. And students and the exceptional educators who engage them prove to be valued contributors for our collective well-being, now and in the future.
Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., president of CBK Associates, International Education Consultants, provides program development, and highly engaging workshops and keynote addresses on service learning, literacy, engaged teaching, and school culture. Cathryn is the author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010), and Going Blue: A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans and Waterways, with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International. Visit her Website at www.abcdbooks.org and contact her in Los Angeles at email@example.com.