“Think and grow rich? Michigan school offers cash for grades.”
So reads the headline of a USA Today article I stumbled across recently.
My first thought: Seriously?
Perhaps I’m old-fashioned (in fact, I know I’m old-fashioned), but whatever happened to trying simply for the sake of trying?
Growing up, I did well in school, mainly because I liked to learn. My classmates seemed to think that my parents were strict micro-managers, demanding perfection on every grade card. They weren’t – at all. My parents’ only requirement: Do your best.
It’s a nice sentiment, but I’m not exactly sure it remains today. Instead, the philosophy seems to be: Do your best for a reward.
Gone, it seems, are the days when the reward was a sense of accomplishment. Now, young people seem to be guided by two constant questions: “Do I have to?” and “If I do, what’s in it for me?”
Now, before I go any farther I want to say – as I have in other columns – that I know these traits don’t apply to every young person, to every “Millennial” as they have been dubbed in the media. Many teens and young adults are thoughtful, engaged individuals who are constructive members of society. I cannot stress that enough: Many are thoughtful, engaged and constructive.
Yet that number seems to be shrinking, or at least getting less attention. And maybe I’m wrong – in fact, I hope that I am – but my observations have led me to one disheartening conclusion: My generation seems to be plagued with an entitlement to laziness.
To put it simply, so many young people seem to have Robert De Niro Syndrome. Upon being asked to do something – chores, paying attention in class, etc. – they seem to think: “You talkin’ to me?”
And OK, perhaps I’m being a little harsh. But as someone right in the middle of the Millennial generation, I feel like I can be a little critical.
And the more I consider this rash of “entitled laziness,” the more puzzled I become. Because I have no idea what led to it. Was it countless participation ribbons doled out during youth? A society dependent on technology? Parents intent on being friends first and guardians later?
What I do know is how I felt when I read that USA Today article.
It begins: “Brandon Allen is determined to make sure senioritis doesn’t hit during his last year at John Glenn High School in Westland. So he has signed a contract that will pay him $200 per semester if he substantially improves his grades.”
The article goes on to describe the program, funded through local donations. And while it has netted some positive results – 65 percent of students involved did improve their grades, and the school’s composite ACT score rose from 17.2 to 18.8 – one sentence in particular summed up my reaction: “School psychologist Lou Przybylski said paying kids may seem like a dissonant concept to some or a form of bribery to others.”
Przybylski goes on to describe the money as a “carrot that attracts (the students’) interest,” as stated in the article.
And while I like the mentoring and goal-setting that accompanies the program, I can’t help but be appalled by the idea of paying students to do something they should be doing anyway.
And yes, I know, success often brings rewards. Work does, after all, come with a paycheck.
But real accomplishment isn’t contingent on something tangible, on something that can be used for video games and music downloads. And that something, it seems, is becoming an undervalued part of our society.
My brother has a poster on his door which highlights points from a speech by Bill Gates. It lists “11 Things You Did Not and Will Not Learn in School.” A few include:
• The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
• You will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
• Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
• Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.
Because life is infused with hard work, and rewards often don’t come immediately. More often than not, our rewards – and our motivation – must come from within.
Journalist Connie Chung once described such an idea in terms of news media. However, I can’t help but think her revelation applies to so much more. “You can’t sit back and wait for the story to come to you,” she said. “You have to pursue it. Dig, push, and be bold.”
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.