One of the educational leaders of his day had this to say about the students who came into his classroom: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” This educator, however, was not speaking last year at a conference at Harvard, or even back in the 1970’s; instead, it was the Greek philosopher Socrates. There appears to be a reflex in popular culture that assumes that the newest generation has a feeling of entitlement that eclipses that in the generations before them. This reflex could be part of the reaction that rising generations have when they reach adulthood and then turn to encounter the generations behind them. It could also be a correct reaction to changes in behavior from one generation to the next; it could even be a combination of the two. In the sources under consideration for this paper, it appears that there is a sense that the rising generations (Y and Z) show greater signs of selfishness and feelings of entitlement than the generations before them. The jury is still out, according to the consensus of these writers, as to whether the result of that entitlement is positive or negative.
The most dangerous element of a sense of entitlement is an unsubstantiated sense of ability. If you walk into a class of kindergarten students and ask them how many of them are incredible artists, you will see the whole class’ hands shoot up. However, not all of them have that ability. Research has shown the importance of self-esteem for this generation. Much of this has to do with the habits teachers have developed of beginning every interaction with positive feedback (Crappell). Unfortunately, this can lead to a situation in which students view knowledge as a right that “should be delivered with little effort or discomfort on the student’s part” (Sparks). While this might seem like something that is fairly innocuous, it can lead to the cutting of corners later in life, as students fail to prepare adequately for their career paths after academic studies have ended. The proliferation of companies that produce academic papers on demand for students ranging from high school through doctoral studies shows that students view their diplomas less as something that they earned, over time, with hard work, as opposed to an entitlement that comes with paying tuition and fees. Ultimately, this will result in adults that step out into the world, expecting to step right into highly specialized professional roles, but woefully unprepared for the positions they expect to fill.
Another corrosive element of this sense of entitlement is the idea that students should be rewarded with top marks, simply because they put in what they considered to be a lot of work for a course. They are mistaking quantity of time for quality of work, and when their professors deliver a corrective to this mistake, in the form of low grades, students often become highly upset. Research at the University of California (Irvine) showed that as many as 33 percent of students surveyed thought they should receive at least a B in a class just for showing up for the lectures, while 40 percent thought that simply completing all of the assigned readings should qualify them for that same B (Roosevelt). Unfortunately, when the feedback from the professor does not match what the student thinks that feedback should be, conflict can result. The individuals who “equate effort with mastery” (Woodell) are missing out entirely on the point of hard work. The end result may be people who “experience a high level of anxiety at even the thought of not being perfect” (Woodell). From the very beginning of the K-12 continuum, students are told that they are doing well and even excelling, when the quality of work they are putting out does not uphold that conclusion. This can lead to high levels of stress and low levels of self-esteem for students who run into professors, and other supervisors, who evaluate them on the quantity, rather than the amount, of the work they have turned in. These students view a “B” or, certainly, a “C,” as a slap in the face – not as a sign that they have areas in which they can improve. Rather than raise their level of work, they simply complain and wonder why they did not receive better results.
Ironically, though, there may be an unintended benefit to communicating to students that they should have high self-esteem from a young age. This sense of entitlement actually brings professional benefits to those who manage to extricate some excellence from their education as they work their way on through the school system. Yael Maguire, a graduate student at MIT, decided to see whether certain proteins and receptors were binding, using technology that was normally associated with wi-fi connections. The protein biologist with whom he discussed this idea was highly skeptical about its success; however, the device ended up working well. This success led Maguire to found his own upstart, and he wants to hire free thinkers who look outside the box as fervently as he did (Halpern). While there may be a sense of entitlement within younger workers, those who combine that sense of high expectations with a high work ethic are often rewarded, because their excellence demands it (Irvine). Given the lack of assurances that modern employers provide to their workers, a sense of entitlement may even be inevitable. The chief of the Air Force Reserve, Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, reports that he is “more impressed with this generation of young people than any in a long time, including [his] own, the Vietnam generation” (Manning). Clearly, for those who do have the skills to bring excellence to the workplace, the sense of entitlement brings an additional confidence that prior generations may have lacked. The fact that “people with positive illusions about themselves enjoyed a greater degree of mental health” (Crappell) can be dangerous; it can work extremely well for those about whom the illusions turn out to be true.
The sense of entitlement in Generation Y and Z may turn out to be nothing more than a reaction of those who had come before to a changing of the guard; it may turn out to be something authentic. In any event, though, what appears to be true that excellence always turns out to be its own reward.
Crappell, C. (2012). Members of generation me can do anything! Or can they? American Music
Halpern, J. ( 2007, September 30). The new me generation. Boston Globe. Retrieved from
Irvine, M. (2005, June 26). They young labeled “Entitlement Generation.” Associated Press. Retrieved from Freerepublic.com.
Lessard, J., Greenberger, E., Chen, C., & Farruggia, S. (2011). Are youths’ feelings of entitlement always “bad”?: Evidence for a distinction between exploitive and non- exploitive dimensions of entitlement.” Journal of Adolescence 34(3), 521-529. Retrieved from Science Direct.
Manning, E. H. (2007). It's Y time. Officer 83(6), 37-41. Retrieved from Proquest.
Roosevelt, M. (2009, February 17). Student expectations seen as causing grade disputes. New York Times. Retrieved from New York Times Online.
Singleton-Jackson, J.A. , Jackson, D. L., & Reinhardt, J. (2011). Academic entitlement: Exploring definitions and dimensions of entitled students. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 5(9), 229-236. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.
Sparks, S. D. (2012, May 27). Are you enabling ‘Academic Entitlement’ in students? Education Week. Retrieved from Editorial Projects in Education.
Woodell, A. (2008, April 28). Thoughts on the “Entitlement Generation.” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from E2%80%9Centitlementgeneration%E2%80%9D/