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Jefferson-Madison Debates: Reopening the American Mind

Challenges for the Millennial Generation (and Z)

“Miss Amelia prayed as if the Lord were ten million miles away,
and she would be surprised to pieces
if she got anything she wanted.”
—Gene Stratton-Porter, Laddie

 

THE PROBLEM?

Millennials. Or, as they are frequently called by critics, the “Snowflake Generation”. Considered by some the weakest generation in the last hundred years, and criticized, fairly or not, as “the Me Me Me generation…lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents”[1] until age 30 or beyond. Born after 1984, the oldest of them are 30-34, the youngest (born 9/11), sometimes called Generation Z) are still 9-17. Today’s older teens and “twenty-somethings” make up the bulk of this group. The typical introduction to Millennials and Z goes something like this:

“Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that…40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance.”[2]

Large numbers of them are “technology addicted” and struggle at “keeping a job or a relationship”.[3]

On university campuses, the Millennial/Z’s have headlined numerous trends hailed by critics as spreading emotional weakness. For example, though college was once applauded as a place for young people to challenge themselves intellectually and emotionally by learning a diversity of ideas, the opposite is now true. In a report aptly titled “The Coddling of the American Mind”, The Atlantic noted that in “the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give even accidental offense…. [It is] disastrous for education—and likely to worsen mental health on campus.”[4] Learning opposite views, and how to combat them, is increasingly absent in many classrooms and departments.

This has gone so far that some students at Harvard Law School recently called for professors “not to teach rape law…lest it cause students distress.”[5] Even discussing or pointing out the wrong side of bad things is in many cases becoming taboo.[6] The article questioned: “What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection?”[7] Answer: training them to seek a similar cocoon even as adults, typically from the government. This is the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson believed universities should be. As the founder of the University of Virginia, he wrote:

“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”[8]

The Atlantic closed this article with the following words:

“We believe that this is still—and will always be—the best attitude for American universities.”[9]

Today, in contrast, words that are considered offensive are banned from many campuses, as are many ideas or speakers who differ from the politically correct norm. Such schools, and many of their Millennial/Z students do, in fact, appear “afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead”, or even to listen.

Surprisingly, the military is dealing with many of the same issues. On the one hand, as James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic in January 2015: “Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religions, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military…. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress.”[10] In 2018 American confidence in the military is still at 74%.[11] (Confidence in newspapers is 23%, public schools 29%, banks 30%, courts 22%, TV news 20%, organized religion 38%, small business 67%, big business 25%.[12])

On the other hand, a negative term now used in some circles to describe America is “Chickenhawk Nation”, because many Americans are willing for the United States “to go to war, as long as someone else is going.”[13] While three-fourths of Americans admire the military, less than a quarter support their children joining any of the armed services.[14] Moreover, a majority of parents actively discourage or oppose military service by their own children.

Beyond this, only 29% of Millennials now meet the eligibility requirements for military service, causing shortfalls in recruiting needs.[15] And in recent years, “the number of eligible enlistees has been smaller and smaller.”[16] This is largely a matter of physical readiness—or in this case, it’s lack.[17] The snowflake trend has had a significant impact on the fitness levels of American youth.

On the political front, in the post Bernie Sanders era, many Millennial/Z’s support government-mandated free college, free housing, a monthly wage for everyone whether or not they have a job, and the appeal of “socialism.” Many even like the word or label of “socialism”, with over half of Millennials self-identifying as “socialist”.[18] But, ironically, they have little appetite for the “struggle of the working class to create a socialist society.” [19] That’s too much work. And they certainly aren’t looking for “the long revolution” to bring about socialism.[20] They just want socialist programs handed to them by big government, without the struggle, sacrifice, or effort.[21] Many Millennial/Z’s seem to feel they “deserve” such programs, without doing anything to earn them.[22]

Such young people are, in short, on a path toward something far removed from traditional American values or freedoms. They will become the biggest block of eligible voters in the 2018 midterm elections,[23] though most of them didn’t actually vote in 2016 and probably won’t until 2020 or beyond.

Is this generation exhibiting the characteristics we want for America’s future? After all, the word “generation” comes from “gene”, or “genes”. What we choose becomes who we are, and influences what we pass on to posterity.

A more immediate question: Why are many Millennial/Z’s this way? Many analysts blame it mostly on helicopter parenting—a generation over-programmed, over-protected, promised success without sacrifice or hard work by doting parents who sheltered their children from hard things. As one report from England put it: “Millennials are struggling at work because their parents ‘gave them medals for coming last’”.[24]  Of course, there are exceptions to these patterns in the Millennial/Z generation, but the trend is still sobering. A lot of Millennial/Z’s do expect college, promotions, income, work and relationships to be easy, and when they aren’t, they expect the government to intervene and somehow make things easy for them. This will certainly impact our politics and policies—and soon.

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