In the ’90s, teachers flooded their students with praise, even when it wasn’t deserved. “Good try,” they would console elementary school students after answering a question incorrectly. “A for effort.”
Current college students rode the yellow bus to school during a feel-good period of education where boosting the students’ self-worth was more important than getting the right answer. Imposing an individualist mentality on students may explain why the kids born in the 1980s and 1990s have a sense of complacency that is now taking its toll.
More than 20 years ago, psychologists and educators believed students who held themselves in high regard would be happier and thus succeed. The state of California even created a task force to explore how self-esteem could solve anti-social behavior. Teachers were encouraged to reward students for effort, not outcome. Maybe this is why youth sports teams gave ribbons to all of their players — not just the winners.
But not everyone deserves a trophy. Many college-age people think they’re performing better work than they actually are. College students who received straight As in high school often can’t understand why a professor would give them a C on a college essays. Many students bring this trophy mentality outside the classroom as well to “raise awareness” about issues. But after that’s done, what’s next?
The feel-good education and social movement has no doubt led to a perception among youth that “slacktivism” is actual activism. The Twittersphere blows up with retweets to save this and stop that while Facebook users race to post a compelling video their friends must see. We feel good when we sign an online petition or share a social media campaign. Of course we would: We were conditioned to feel good as long as we put forth a little effort into something.
It’s time to rethink the definition of “doing something.” One complaint about the Kony 2012 campaign was it oversimplified an issue and mainly led to social media advocacy rather than a full understanding of a complex issue. Getting things done includes more than going online. How about writing a ballot initiative, calling senators’ offices or physically traveling to a place and lending a hand? Generation Y needs to step away from the computer and understand that little is accomplished if being aware is the extent of their efforts.