The opinion article in last week’s edition of The Oredigger entitled “…And A Warning” made an argument for the shortcomings of today’s youth. I disagreed with it strongly enough that I feel I need to offer my own counterarguments.
For a start: the writer had the luxury of comparing a generalization, a non-existent hypothetical youth, to their own personal experience. The criticized parties ranged from elementary school students to parents of college students, and concrete examples of problematic behavior were few. The writer described walking alone a mile to school as an elementary schooler, and asserted that children today do not have such responsibilities. However, it is a certain fact that while the writer walked a mile to school, others walked 2 or 3 miles, and still others were driven to school. It is likewise certain that many children walk a mile to school in the present day. It is not as easy to summarize and compare the varied experiences of each generation as the article made it seem.
The article made the claim that today’s youth expect rewards for mediocre effort because they have never faced adversity or competition. This lack of experience was blamed on an idea of false equality – an idea that today’s youth have forgotten, as the article quoted, that “you have to have winners and losers.” This quote misses the point. The participation trophy the writer derogatorily referenced is not an attempt to make everyone a winner, but an acknowledgement that we are not all equal.
The writer mentioned an Olympian medal winner who encouraged them as a child to do their best at whatever they did. Based on this advice, the article exhorted the reader, even when just raking leaves, to aspire to be “a world class leaf raker.” While it is a wonderful sentiment, I believe the descriptor “world class” to be telling. Almost certainly, the writer was not a world-class leaf raker, were they? Almost certainly, someone existed who was better at leaf raking. This is not, however, a failure; it is exactly in line with the advice of the writer’s local olympian, who asked them to do their best. Not the best; their best. That is what the participation trophy is for. The world is too big, and the individual too small, to have everyone be a winner. Instead: we must have participants. Except on rare occasions, there will always be someone better than you at any given thing – perhaps many people who are much better – but you must still strive to achieve your own personal best, and the youth of today know this. If they didn’t – if they all tried to be number 1, and refused to accept any other outcome – if they didn’t know the value of simple participation, instead of “winning” – the still expanding, increasingly global community of the world would fall apart.
The article asserted that that today’s students don’t know how to speak up for themselves, or be responsible. In truth, this latest generation’s level of education is the highest in history for their age group, their political engagement and social involvement is extensive, and many of the well-known activists and public speakers of today are children, certainly more than ever in the past. The article asserted that today’s students don’t know how to communicate with others. The article was published in a student newspaper.
Finally, while they may not be relevant to the article’s topic, I cannot help but include these criticisms of my own. The writer mentioned and took issue with a sign in an employee’s office that read “I can’t adult today.” This sign is a joke in a storied history of jokes about not wanting to come to work. It could have read “I’ve decided to call in sick today” to the same effect. Additionally, the article concluded with “Being nice to people matters. The golden rule still applies. Especially in Golden,” which was written as if it was succinctly and cleverly driving home the writer’s thesis, but was completely unearned, as the preceding article made no arguments to do with kindness or reciprocation whatsoever.
I do not believe that today’s youth are in need of pity. Today’s youth are as mature, responsible, knowledgeable, and engaged as youth have ever been – if not more so.