Education in the Age of Entitlement – part 1.

If you have not read last week’s post, that might help you, dear reader, to understand how we got to here. The arrival of the Age of Reason saw the the beginnings of the explanation of the the universe in which we live. Whether in Ancient Rome or times modern, Reason per se does not necessarily mean things are done for the best. Power has continued to corrupt rational processes, with those in power working by whatever means to keep hold and sway, most notably monarchies and religious doctrines.

The arrival of the age of enlightenment across the eighteenth century saw scientific reason and philosophy undermine such traditional power bases, and saw the birth of what we now understand as modern, western democratic principles. The separation of powers between government, the law, the courts and the emergence of civil liberties including the emancipation of woman, abolition of slavery, sense of fair play and free speech are central tenets of what we teach in our ‘British values’ today in schools.

Anyone picking up the international press and scanning its pages will be well aware that all is not entirely well in 2016. Not only are there vast swathes of the middle east and Africa far from peaceful, but closer to home in both the United States, Europe and here in the UK, the rising clamour of intolerance is very plain to see. Presidential Trump’s campaign seems to be built on invective and lies, with his supporters perfectly happy to agree that the fabric of his policies has no foundation in truth, but a lie ‘rings’ true and they’ll support his right to lie to the death.

President Merkel’s grip on political power seemed to be almost complete earlier this year, but in the wake of mounting majority concern in Germany over her loss of control of the migrant crisis, support for her party has fallen to third in the recent state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania this week, behind the Alternative for Germany (AfG) anti-immigrant ‘volk’.

The visible political and economic uncertainties are now being pitched even further into conflict through the new confusions arriving with ‘The Age of Entitlement’ – probably best seen in the support given to such a notion by those born in the 1980s and 1990s, Gen-Yers, ‘Generation Y’, that age group of adults now in their 20s and 30s. This is not new ‘News’, but said age group is being researched into quite deeply (probably by University grads of the same age!) and being increasingly labelled by the research data that implies that  Gen-Yers have a highly inflated sense of entitlement and self-importance, suffer from serious commitment issues and lack of financial reason, often causing them to ‘bounce back home’ for rehab and parenting.  In short, and in some way, we have developed in our younger adults a belief system that  is giving rise to “unrealistic expectations” and, ultimately, “chronic disappointment”. Ouch. An easy read longer article on this appeared back in 2010 in the Telegraph here – https://goo.gl/8azSbH.

Whilst I am certainly the first one to say “Not so fast, Professors and researchers”,  I think the evidence and our experiences are telling us that whilst not universal across any age cohort, there are certainly emerging trends we need to be wary of. The word Entitlement is a beguiling word, suggesting a universal emancipation for all, irrespective of current location and disposition. Here’s a snapshot from the dictionary:

entitlement-snapshot

In the 3 bullets shown of its meaning, you can see just how readily misconceptions can build if the word is used. For example, if I spend £1 on a chocolate bar, I do feel I am entitled to receive a product that is worthy of consumption. I don’t however feel I should receive chocolate heaven in the first bite. Having worked now for 41 years, I have paid my ‘stamp’ so feel entitled to receive a pension in 3 years time when it comes available. I am prepared to argue with those that feel my entitlement is too costly, and that the nation might not be able to afford it.  I am not prepared to argue that a 29 year old is entitled to my pension now. They’ll have to ‘pay in’ through their labours for 36 more years or whatever society then dictates is the appropriate period and only then become entitled.

Entitlement very clearly comes with the notion of ratio, ration and quota, being rule-based on a variety of constraints, including time, space, human resource and money. Currently in the UK, we believe that children should attend school from the age of 5 to 16, and that ‘school’ word is really quite specific. Everyone in England is entitled to a school place funded by government, and now, from age 16 to 18, all must continue in some form of education and training too. They can’t just down satchel and up labourers’ tools at 16 (in my parents’ time it was 14).

There’s certainly an active battle in terms of entitlement in the Health sector too, currently, where/when the government feels we should have 7 day working in hospitals, and pretty much all those inside are stating ‘we don’t the resources to meet the proposed entitlement’.  At times the argument here, as with the Brexit debate that went before, is almost ‘Trump-esque’, full of gross lies and false-hoods. Imagine for example how we would make our classrooms safer in the UK if we permitted teachers to carry guns therein? I digress.

As I mentioned last week, research from 10 Downing Streets’ own Innovation unit highlights that most government decisions are “based on hunch, gut feel and narrative. …We are effectively flying blind, without much of a clue as to what really works, and what doesn’t. It is actually quite scary.” Our job, those who work in and run schools, as I see it, is to try to ensure we do somewhat better then this approach. Leading Claires Court, I have the very good fortune of being able to set our tuition fees at a level that suggests we can look after rather mote of the whole child’s needs whilst at school, not just those that are educational. And setting out the framework for the curriculum, the co-curricular the pastoral and medical support, it is true I have had to ‘up the ante’ because of my own perceptions that the ‘market’ either expected or needed more that before.

At the Senior school Speech Day yesterday (22/9/16), our principal guest, Professor Andrew Williams spoke to the whole school about the ongoing inevitable march of the robots and computers. Where we like it or not, soon our fridges will be speaking to the delivery trucks, and before we know it the fresh punnet of blueberries will be back on the chill shelf. This has already happened of course; I used to have to religiously check the oil and air pressures on my car prior to any long distance journey, and prepare for the break down that was all too often. Now I don’t, and short of driving itself to the service garage, my little iQ needs nothing from me other than a monthly squirt of petrol. Prof Williams is our expert Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths ambassador, and is seen in school most weeks. In peon to Stig of Top Gear, Andrew has been renamed STEM, and it is really worth heading STEM’s warnings.

You can find Professor Williams’ short presentation here – https://goo.gl/dZ5Oj0 –  and it does need his narrative to make full sense of it. In short, the onward and increasing march of technology is reshaping our entitlements for pretty much everything every year, if not in an even shorter time frame. Technology has almost brought us the cheap, reusable, self-filling water bottle, which can refill even in the most arid conditions from the moisture in the air. Given this, and the challenge that brings us all is this – given that 2/3rds of the humans on the planet do not have access to clean water, might not humanity’s choices about what to do about same be massively influenced by the arrival of such a life saver?

 

See part 2 for the second part of this blog.

 

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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