In yet another bad decision, an education administrator asked me to give a high school commencement speech. The principal must know I write a column but he obviously hasn't read it very often.
When I questioned his wisdom, the principal said, "Just give the kids some sound graduation advice." I asked, "Should I tell them I hear the Monsanto plant is hiring?" "No," said the edu-crat, "encourage them. Tell them they can do anything they want." "So I should lie? Have you seen most of these kids? They can't do anything." "No, we don't see it that way. Give them hope," he said.
That's the problem. Kids are getting pie-in-the-sky advice and, judging by obesity rates, they are also eating the pie.
Should I turn into Maya Angelou and tell entitled kids who graduated because of grade inflation, who think Mao Tse-Tung is the Asian equivalent of French kissing, who don't read newspapers and who can't find Syria on a map, that they can do anything? Or would a healthy dose of reality be preferable?
Guess which one I am going with.
No kid who has been a doped-out, video game-playing slacker his whole adolescence turns it around because the town's poet laureate tells him to "reach for the sky but keep your feet on the ground."
John Maloney is right about the misinformation we get as kids. Growing up, I really thought from watching cartoons that quicksand was going to be a bigger problem than it turned out to be. I was not prepared for real-life problems, like relatives who want to borrow money.
The top 5 percent of students in that class do not need me telling them they can do anything. They get it. The damage comes in pandering to the bottom half of the class who are led to believe "Just be yourselves and the world is your oyster." They then say, "Why trade school? I'm told I'm the best white rapper in Calhoun County."
That sort of coddling, false confidence is why half of American workers are unhappy and disappointed when they have to work hard at something. They inevitably view themselves as "victims" (a.k.a. Democrats). Intuition tempts us to call this "compassion," which is really feel-good lies told to kids that take the onus off them and put the blame on others. It becomes a perpetual excuse.
Boys go to work out of school and are blindsided by reality. They never know what hit them; it's like marrying a Kardashian.
Unrealistic expectations may be the reason suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans, now outnumbering automobile accident deaths. Suicides are up a staggering 40% from 1999 to 2010 among whites. This is the generation of 9th place participation ribbon recipients who post the sandwich they had for lunch on Facebook. They confuse any effort with success. And their parents often don't have the guts to let their kids face consequences.
Students are victims of a giant fraud: the government-run education system that has molded them for 12 gullible years. Public schools are government-run; teachers are government-hired; and government determines standards, pay, curricula and graduation requirements. Government seeks to produce compliant citizens it can someday rule without much pushback. Smart, independent thinkers are not wanted. Blowing smoke up your graduation gown serves government well.
The result is kids who are not prepared for life or for the workforce. 22.6 million young "adults" between the ages of 18 and 34 still live at home with their parents. 26% of parents have taken on debt to support their adult offspring.
These kids drive right by "Help Wanted" signs at Starbucks and play video games all day. They have been conditioned to believe that hard work is for chumps. "Why work? The government or my parents will take care of me." Kids watch reality TV shows like the Deadliest Catch and marvel at men who work hard each day at their job catching fish.
Few lessons in school teach the value of hard work, ingenuity, gumption and entrepreneurship. Those lessons are as rare as Mitt Romney or Ron Paul bumper stickers in the faculty parking lot.
Our system lowers the standards of education and raises students' sense of entitlement. A student in Pennsylvania sued for a C+ she got in a class. She informed the school, "I will be suing whoever is responsible for me getting this low grade!" Her teacher should have responded, "Don't you mean 'whomever'? And I rest my case."