Monday, April 23, 2012

A Lost Generation?

They came out in droves to vote for Barack Obama.

Young people, especially the college-educated, fulfilled the wishes of their teachers and voted for the candidate who most fully embodied the values they had learned in school.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were following a Pied Piper… over a cliff. They are fast becoming a lost generation.

Of course, the situation was just as dire in 2009. Many people, myself included, wrote about it at the time.

Now, more than three years into the Obama administration the situation has not gotten any better. It seems to have gotten worse. Sadly, what we were saying three years ago still feels true.

Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported that around one half of recent college graduates is either unemployed or underemployed... and has been for quite some time now.

As is well known, the longer you stay out of the workforce or work below your qualifications the more dismal your future chances for career success.

It comes as no surprise that humanities graduates lead the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed, while science, technology and engineering graduates have done best in the job market.

Also, many of these young people have accumulated a considerable amount of student loan, debt that will remain with them for decades to come.

Put it all together and you have the makings of a lost generation.

Knowing how we got here might help us to solve the problem, but not necessarily. Unfortunately, the problem is complex.

On one side the economy has not generated job growth at anything approximating the normal post-recession rate.

Some of this has to do with government policy. Some has to do with the migration of jobs overseas.

On the other side young people who major in the humanities are being rendered ergonomically dysfunctional.

Even if there were jobs, many of these young people would not qualify. They have acquired so many bad habits, both mental and behavioral, that very few companies would want to hire them.

By happenstance, yesterday I also came across a fascinating article by Prof. Janice Fiamengo. Writing about her experience teaching English literature in Canada, Fiamengo bemoans her students’ attitude.

In her words:

I was up against it: the attitude of entitlement rampant amongst university students and nurtured by the utopian ideology that permeates modern pedagogy, in which the imposition of rules and identification of errors are thought to limit student creativity and the fostering of a hollow self-esteem takes precedence over the building of skills on which genuine self-respect might be established. In the Humanities subjects in particular — and in English especially, the discipline I know best — such a philosophy has led to a perilous watering down of course content, with self-validation seen as more important than the mastery of specific knowledge.

Forget about whether or not these students will ever learn anything consequential about English literature. You should ask yourself how these students will develop the temperament, the attitude and the work ethic that would make them valuable employees to your company.

More likely, you read her article and start thinking about how you can outsource jobs to nations whose students have a work ethic.

1 comment:

Ares Olympus said...

It's curious, since I may agree with your concerns, I seem to rarely find any commonity in your mode of argument. Don't you ever wonder if you're confused, that your mind may be filtering the facts to fit your needed conclusion? There's a childish retort to trash talking "I know you are, but what am I?" and so if that's true what I might take from this rant is:

(1) Obama is a Pied Piper leading us over a cliff with false rhetoric --> Stuart is a Pied Piper trying to lead us over a cliff with false rhetoric.

(2) Young people who major in humanities are naive and spoiled --> Stuart is from a humanities background and wishing he had done something actually useful like Engineering.

(3) Young people are over their heads in debt, without an honest job --> Stuart is over his head in debt, without an honest job.

Well, this is guess work, and I'm just a amateur bullshitter, but at least its more interesting to wonder about than the abstract masses. There's a greater chance my assertions are true or false than your generalized projections.