From the back row in a senior English class, Miss I’m Bored asks: “Why did you choose this text? It’s political. We’re not really into politics.” I see red, channel Sister Mary Hardline ... and launch: “Within 12 months you can vote, drive, procreate, drink, gamble and be responsible for the future of my children and grandchildren. So don’t wear your lack of interest in politics as a badge of honour. In a democracy, you must all care enough to engage with the process.”
“Chill, Miss! We just don’t care.” In an advanced co-ed class of great kids that includes most of the school leaders, there is a consensus that they are being asked to examine a political text, The Justice Game by Geoffrey Robertson, against their wishes. Most take the considered view they should have been consulted.
Where did this sense of entitlement come from? Did it start when we asked the two-year-old what she wanted to do or eat, rather than just telling her? Was it when every kid received a prize in pass-the-parcel at the party? Perhaps it began when competition became frowned upon because there should be no winners — and most definitely no losers.
Kids are becoming as adept at expecting and demanding as their parents are practised in acceding to their wants. And kids don’t always know best, yet teachers, it seems, are expected to play along in indulging their preferences.
In preparation for a parent-teacher night I canvass a Year 8 class: “Raise your hand if you get to sleep around 9pm.” None. “10pm?” Seven. “After 11?” Six. “After midnight?” Five. Homework is not keeping these 12 to 14-year-old bunnies awake, of course. They are on Facebook and Instagram and I prefer not to know what else. Only one-third of these students eat regularly with their families and a quarter arrive at school each day without having had breakfast. No wonder they conk out after lunch.
The predictable parent gripes play out at the parent-teacher interviews. He won’t do his homework. I can’t get her off the computer or her phone. He doesn’t like reading. The novel is too hard for her. And what are you doing about it, Miss?
There used to be a natural, if not always fair, pecking order: children knew their place, and family and wider society provided certainty. Now our kids receive mixed messages and are learning to be unaccountable — with the unwitting help of parents.
Parents who discourage part-time work because the teen needs to study (Facebook, most likely). Who do not insist children contribute to family life by doing jobs around the house. Who share a drink with the offspring and encourage the boyfriend to stay over. And who provide the laptop and phone, pay the bills and exercise no control over their usage.
The message is clear: have all the privileges of adulthood without having to earn them.
We used to call it “needs must”: the way kids in often less fortunate households, where favours must be earned and transgressions have consequences, can grow into responsible, thoughtful adults. It is often these people who contribute to the world — and from a teacher’s perspective are “entitled” to a bright future.