Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Generation of Entitlement

The Generation of Entitlement We are ready to begin our eighth week at Solomon Charter School though Hurricane Sandy has delayed this until tomorrow, Wednesday, October 31. So, due to the wonders of nature, I, along with everyone else in our area, am now sitting in my home staying busy and productive without the normal rhythm of life and work as distractions. Here I am in my protective bubble, catching up on phone calls to friends, making sure that others are safe and dry. I do not want to lose those contacts which are so much the essence of who I am as a person even though forces of nature and our Governor's declaration of State of Emergency have made it more challenging to stay connected. Yesterday (before we lost our Internet), I wrote what were for me difficult letters to more than a few of our students suggesting strongly that they consider letting go of the community component of our program and just focus on their academic subjects through cyber and distance learning. While this is a perfectly legitimate (and state preferred option, for whatever reasons) for our cyber school, this was difficult because one of my most powerful dreams for our school community was and still is to build an "intentional community of diversity and invested learning." Holding on to this dream, here I am telling students for whom I am responsible to continue working on math, science, history and other academic subjects but to stay away from the wonderful interactive community we create day by day. This action was necessitated by their inappropriate behaviors and lack of ability to think beyond what "I want" and "I need" to do for me from minute to minute. The notion of empathy for others which is so critical in our world eludes them. As Robert Bly eloquently and clearly states in his book, The Sibling Society, this problem is pervasive today as parents are often abdicating their role as teachers and mentors to our young, and all are left to fend for themselves. Left without clear boundaries and requirements, why not decide "I am out for myself and only myself?" I have seen this in the wealthiest communities as well as the least socio-economically endowed. Allow me to be perfectly clear. I am not cutting these students off, I will continue to work on this important aspect of their lives as members of the human family; I just cannot do it at the expense of so many others in our Learning Community. The trick is one has to think of WE more than ME in order to be part of such a community and sadly, about 1/5 of our students cannot do this at this time. One of the things that distressed me so profoundly in the supposedly (but I would argue not so much) privileged world of private Jewish education was the degree of entitlement I often witnessed amongst too many of our students as well as some of their parents. I found the unchecked attitude of "You will do what I want you to because I am entitled to have what I want" to be offensive, repulsive and for whatever it is worth, expressly against every Jewish value I hold near and dear. We teach "Do not separate yourself from the community" and we spout forth that "All of our community is responsible for each other" and yet once you move from these lofty ideals to the harsh reality, they seem pithy at best and irrelevant at worst. This hurt me beyond words given we were in Jewish educational institutions. So, now as I work with an amazing group of professionals for whom I have more respect than I can say, we collectively confront too often the very same dynamic of "ME comes before and at the expense of WE" in our Solomon Charter School community amongst a number of our students. Entitlement is a funny thing -- like so many horrible plagues it apparently knows no boundaries of race, faith, ethnicity, socio-economic level or any other set of identifying features by which we define the groups in our larger society. I have had many conversations with some of our wonderful parents and we share our own stories of growing up, how we learned to accept responsibility, take initiative and care, I mean truly care about others. We are collectively frustrated that too often our new generation has lost this most important and critical set of skills. How does this bode for our future? I remember years ago someone (and unfortunately I forget who) did a farcical précis on a future epoch where each person was in a cubicle by themselves with their computer and all their needs. No one talked to or worked with others and there was no cooperation or collaboration. Each person just withered away and as time went on each individual forgot what they learned about being part of society and eventually lost all skills of communication and cooperation. Jewish teachings and so many other systems of values and beliefs teach us how to balance confidence and respect for self with effectiveness and importance of the group. Yet, amongst too many of our youth, these elements do not seem to be present. This is OUR challenge -- how do we work to offset the inertia of this dangerous dynamic. Our Generation of Entitlement MUST be retaught basic skills and components of what it means to speak with others, think about others, work with others, and learn with others. Otherwise no Hurricane will ever result in the degree of destruction that our own complacence can produce.