Thoughts on the “Entitlement Generation”

by Andria Woodell, Social Sciences

generation-me2 There has been a lot of buzz in the academic world about entitlement. Recently, there was an article by Professor Marshall Grossman published in the NY Times titled “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes.” In his article, Grossman discusses some of his experiences with entitled students and explanations behind this “new” trend. Like many other professors, I can identify with Grossman’s discussion. Some of us have encountered these situations more often than we would care to count. While I believe it is not new for students to focus on grades, it is surreal when a student is arguing they deserve an A despite scoring 70-80s on their assignments. It is also frustrating when they refuse to listen to why they have received those scores or suggestions to improve their grades. This becomes even more unsettling when a student turns hostile towards a professor because the professor stands firm. In the end, it is a no-win situation for both the student and professor. The student feels as if they were unfairly treated and the professor walks away a little more pessimistic about their students.

What is interesting is that when I hear people discussing entitlement today, it is directed toward the younger generation. Jean Twenge’s book , Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, supports the assumption that people from their teens to their 20s are plagued with entitlement . However, if you read the article “The New Me Generation,” the entitlement generation consists of everyone born in 1970 and beyond. Doing the math here, this includes people who are 39 years or younger. The average age of retirement in the US is currently 63, so the majority of students and workers (including myself) are now part of this entitlement generation! Therefore, the description of entitlement as a generational shift is not entirely accurate. Instead, it appears to be more of a societal shift. The looming question is whether entitlement is always bad. In the “The Me New Generation,”  the author describes the entitlement generation as “smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement.” They are the “co-workers who drive you nuts.” On the flip-side, he goes on to state these individuals are also free-thinkers who are willing to break the status quo and pursue their dreams. Their confidence is what allows them to accomplish great things and can keep companies progressing. So where is the problem?

From an academic standpoint, I see entitlement hurting work ethic. Others might disagree with me here, but there seems to be a pocket of individuals who equate effort with mastery. When we hear, “there is no A for effort”, this is true. I have yet to see a grading rubric with effort as one of the graded requirements. Bottom line, if you do not complete the main components of an assignment, you will lose points, no matter how much effort you put in. As one professor has described it, “If your doctor works very hard at removing your appendix and it turns out you only needed your tonsils out, you are not likely to say “Hey! It’s ok! You worked very hard!”.  The other problem is that individuals who have never been told no or have yet to overcome significant academic challenges seem to experience a high level of anxiety at even the thought of not being perfect. I have seen students work themselves into a frenzy over this, even when they were passing with strong B’s. This is problematic because according to the frustration-aggression hypothesis in social psychology—the more frustrated a person becomes the more likely they may become aggressive. It of course does not explain ALL aggression, but it can explain why a student may resort to rudeness, harassment, slander, or even indirect or direct violence towards an instructor because they were blocked from a goal and they are not sure how to resolve the issue constructively. 

So what is the solution? Apparently, that is the hot research question right now. Grossman mentions that at his school they are retraining students on the purpose of education. COCC sponsored a speaker to educate faculty on the qualities of the new incoming students and how to resolve problems. There are also new policies in place that protect both students and faculty from harassment. Others (myself included) have resorted to detailed syllabi explaining class policy and how to behave. However, I find it unfortunate that my syllabi grew from 3 pages to 8 over the years because I have to explain how not to be disruptive and why a person should not text message in class. I have no answers at the moment. I personally hope we end up in the middle, with professors who can teach freely without having to invest so much energy defending themselves from unreasonable demands and with students who can be free thinkers, push the envelope and earn their grades rather than simply expect them. I am an optimist, but we will have to wait and see how it all unfolds.


10 Responses to Thoughts on the “Entitlement Generation”

  1. mustangeroo says:

    I would say the entitlement mentality is rooted in the generation that was too young for Vietnam and too old for Iraq and Afghanistan. I’d say if you were born between 1957 to 1976 your a perfect fit. This is a generation that hasn’t accomplished much and has done much to usher in a new American age of entitlement. The first leader this generation has produced is President Obama. Generations born after 1976 are the product of this preceding failure.

  2. Danielle says:

    Entitlement has replaced good etiquette, social graces, and respect for authority. I like the comment above regarding the children running the household instead of the parents. That attitude has translated itself inside the classroom. First and foremost, regardless of who feels entitled, social graces must be retaught and upheld by rules and consequences. My high school students are often clueless when I tell them that the following behaviors are flat out rude: yawning loudly or coughing excessively without excusing themselves to leave the room, hiccuping, opening candy rappers, getting out of their seats and/or sharpening their pencil in the electric pencil sharpener while I’m lecturing, asking a question while I am still talking without raising their hand, talking to me while another student is clearly already talking to me…the list goes on. Again, completely clueless. Why? Because they feel entitled to eat in class, walk around when they feel like it, express bodily functions, and talk whenever they feel like it. And then they wonder why they have no idea what is going on in the lesson sometimes. And let’s not forget the texting and vibrations from cell phones. They feel they have a right to text their friends, even though School Board Policy forbids it.

    I am willing to adjust my teaching methods for better success with my students; but these efforts to change teaching methodology will be pointless if the social etiquette is not enforced at the teacher level and at the administration level. In this day and age, if you want to compete for students’ attention away from their cell phones, candy in their mouth, and chatting with their fellow classmates…you have to literally blow something up… but is that really feasible every day?

    And who said students are entitled to be entertained by their teachers?

    The more inquiry and student-centered my lessons become, the more out-of-control the students are when you have a less-than-wow lesson for them on a particular day.

    I am not saying teachers should stand up and lecture for the entire time in class with a monotone voice. But when I try to interject humor or an interesting side story, they see that as an opportunity to go off topic for the remainder of the class.

    Again….the name of the game is social graces. The symptom of a lack of these is student Entitlement. They need to accept that they will not always have fun learning in the classroom and to exercise good social etiquette…and then they may realize their class discussions will become more interesting, meaningful, and help them succeed in learning the course material.

    This is not directed toward well-mannered students reading this..I do have several of those in class. The not-so-well mannered students overpower the good ones and ruin it for everybody.

  3. Snunsezoodo says:

    Terrific writing, Will definitely come back soon.

  4. Andria says:

    I really like that previous comment! I do have to agree with quite a few aspects. I have run across quite a few professors/graduate student during my education who felt teaching was a burden. Although, I am not sure if this can all be contributed to the tenure process. There are tenured faculty who still go above and beyond because of an internal drive that pushes them to perfection. I think is more in line with “some caring more about personal research than teaching and some who are bored and burned out.” Teaching isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone. Like any job, you need to make sure you are a good fit with your occupation. I know the inital blog was focusing on the entitlement issue from the perspective of a faculty member, so it is nice to be reminded of the student perspective.

    With that said, there are a fair share of students, graduate students, and faculty who fit the entitlement profile. As I mentioned it seems to be more of a societal shift–and somewhat of a slow trickle up effect in terms of who we investigate. I have seen articles on student entitlement and graduate student entitlement, but I haven’t come across many on faculty entitlement. That is interesting. Maybe it is because the faculty are doing the research :-)? If anyone comes across those links please post them here!

    In one of my classes we do discuss how individuals who come across as entitled have this attributional pattern of internal for success and external for failure. What this means is that whenever this person achieves something great, they take personal credit. If they fail, they blame others. We initally discuss how students do this (I passed my exam: “I am brilliant!” vs. I failed my exam: “The teacher hates me!”). We then discuss how faculty can do this as well (My students passed: “I am brilliant!” vs. My students failed: “They were slacking!”). This is frustrating to students when a faculty member is unwilling to recognize that maybe it is not their student, but that they need to change. It makes me cringe when people blame students for shortcomings in the classroom. No one is the perfect student and no one is the perfect faculty member. What is dangerous is when we refuse to listen to constructive criticism and insist we have reached our fullest potential because we are threatened by being told we are not as effective as we think.

    Once again excellent points and thank you again for making this a more well-rounded conversation!

  5. Melissa says:

    What do universities and their faculty expect? Students shell out thousands of dollars each year in tuition and fees that outpace inflation but they shouldn’t consider themselves customers instead of apprentices? Every time a professor calculates in nebulous participation or attendence points or a university tacks on another recreation, building, health or technology fee, they are reinforcing this behavior.

    Part of the problem is with the tenure system itself. Untenured professors and adjuncts are under more pressure to submit to student demands but students often have no understanding of the difference between adjunct and full professor. To them the system looks arbitrary and capricious. Some professors rely on published test banks and give high grades for showing up while others seem to be overly demanding. No wonder students complain.

    I’ve seen entitled students but I have to wonder if academia isn’t a little entitled as well. I had some wonderful professors but I also had some who cared more about personal research than teaching, some who were bored and burned out, and some who couldn’t piece together a coherent lecture if their lives depended on it. The worst offenders hid behind the cloak of tenure. If that’s not entitlement, what is?

  6. Stacey says:

    Interesting and related article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed on advisees who are particularly needy. What is amusing is that the writer is referring to graduate students:

  7. Zelda Ziegler says:

    I love this question. Thanks for the detailed analysis and compassionate views. Personally, I don’t care if a student feels entitled, but I do start to have some concern if they show up in my office and make demands on me based on these feelings of entitlement. My pet peeve is when the student operates on the assumption that the time that is convenient for them must be the best time for everyone. My office hours are posted and I have to spend lots of time in my office. I need to be able to schedule my time and dropping by whenever plays havoc with my concentration, my patience and worst of all my sense of humor.

    I have been down that road of making my syllabus longer and longer to try to head off any contentious power struggles. I find that setting up a system of rules to handle any situation in the name of fairness does not work really, makes for extremely long syllabi and actually makes my life harder. This is the same complaint I have with intricate rules and laws outside the academic setting. If you write your rules (laws) to preclude the need for judgement, you are asking to be replaced by a computer! Nobody wants that–least of all the students.

    We want citizens to have fully functioning frontal lobes, to make decisions that consider how others might feel and to make allowances for particular situations. I think the best way to teach this is to model it. (And as soon as I figure out how to do that I will work at making my syllabi shorter).

    I recently had the pleasure of visiting the course of a colleague who was working with a 3-page syllabus devoid of much policy discussion. His classroom was lively and spirited and many of the students there had taken other courses offered by this professor. That’s who I want to be when I grow up.

  8. Michele Berlant says:

    Thank you Andria for the well spoken concern for the “Generation Entitlement”. There isn’t a day that goes by, that this word doesn’t come from my mouth due to my 10 year old son. I believe that “yes, we have a generation of people with entitlement issues, but I believe the present generation, we are raising now, are going to be worse than ever. I have talked with Psychologists, School Counselors, and other parents, and we have come up with many reasons for entitlement issues, but no solutions. I feel that the direction our society is going in today, we need to stop and say “What is happening here?” “What did we change that our children have no respect for adults?” “Who taught them that they deserve everything they want, whether they work for it or not?” I keep going back to the current parenting techniques we are supposed to follow, like “talking to your children” instead of letting them learn the consequences, or “helicopter parenting” by keeping them on an electronic leash with cell phones etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised with a firm hand and a type of expected respect for my parents and other adults. That was an extreme. But on the other hand, having children run the household shouldn’t be an option either.
    I wish I had answers, but I don’t. I am just grateful that I have grown up without entitlement issues, because I love to see what I can accomplish if I follow directions and work hard. The rewards for effort have been greater than any A I could ever receive.
    Andria, you are an amazing, brilliant and insightful professor and I am so grateful for your syllabus. I enjoyed every class you taught me, and what really matters is that I learned…..It wasn’t about the grades, it was the fact that you taught me about working hard and being satisfied with my efforts. Because of you and a few other Professors, I am graduating in June, and that is proof that you get what you work for, not what you “think you are owed”, and I am proud of every single credit I completed.
    Thank you again for the subject, very entitling, ooops I mean enlightening.

  9. Lauran Torres says:

    Thoughts on the Entitlement Generation.

    As I read this my first thought was, “Ahhh, I am not the only person struggling with a syllabus that must explain and give details on the why and how of every single assignment. Amazing. I had attributed this mostly to community college attendees who are not prepared for college by high school… I appreciate the referral to the article and book mentioned.

  10. Michael Van Meter says:

    Nicely thought out, Andria. As an instructor of developmental composition, I’ve found myself increasingly mired in coping with these issues.

    On the positive side — and completely independent of those utterly positive and inspiring students who eagerly respond to the challenge of improving their reading/writing/thinking skills — I find I have benefited from questioning my own (entirely reasonable and practically perfect in every way) assumptions. For instance: Why IS it important that we behave as if we were taught good manners as children? What good is learning the craft of ___________? How does this matter in the real world? Why assign grades at all? Why might it be helpful to couch a grade appeal in audience-appropriate language?

    My own responses to these questions — even when they wind up reinforcing my existing classroom expectations — are helping me guide (aka “drag kicking and screaming”) students through the necessary preparation for future classes and life, and are helping me cope with the very real anger these struggles have occasionally brought out of me.

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