0 Items  Total: $0.00

The Jefferson-Madison Debates: What Are We NOT Teaching Today’s Youth?

The Jefferson-Madison Debates: What Are We NOT Teaching Today’s Youth?

February 27th, 2019 // 8:04 am @

THE MISSING TOPIC IN MODERN EDUCATION

What Was Lost

I thought he was convinced, but then he leaned forward in his chair and shook his head. He wasn’t officially my student, but we’d had a number of mentoring discussions in recent months, and I knew from experience that he was about to say something deep.

“It’s frustrating that so many people in my generation like socialism,” he said. “But I don’t think they really understand it. They just dislike all the political division and fighting, and Bernie Sanders seemed like a third alternative.”

I nodded.

“Besides,” he continued, “I’m not actually a Millennial.”

“You’re not?” I asked…

“I’m Gen Z,” he said before I could finish. “Born after 9/11.”

I pondered that.

“We’re different from Millennials.” He paused. “A lot different.”

I could see this was really important to him. “In what ways?” I asked.

He could tell I wasn’t really buying it, and he grinned. “Well, we’re similar in a lot of ways too, I guess…” He pursed his bottom lip and cocked his head slightly to one side. “But I don’t think that’s our fault. I think the bad traits that are blamed on Millennials and Gen Z aren’t really caused by us.”

I was shaking my head at this point, so he raised his voice a bit.

“No. Seriously. This is real. You guys just don’t get it…”

“Get what?”

He sighed. “Okay, you’re not wrong. But you’re not right, either. It goes deeper than pointing out the weaknesses of Millennials. We’ve bought into some things we shouldn’t, but I blame most of it on Boomers and Gen X, on our parents and the other adults in our lives. Your generation trained us to be this way.”

My skepticism must have showed.

“Look…” he said. He was getting a bit frustrated, but he calmed himself and smiled. I could tell he had given this a lot of thought.

“Here’s the deal,” he looked at me intently. “Your generation cared a lot about raising kids. Maybe too much. They don’t call you ‘Helicopter Parents’ for nothing. But in all your hovering as parents, your generation missed something. Something big.”

I waited, not sure what to expect.

“Your generation of parents taught my generation to be good people. And you taught us to aim for success in our schooling and careers. But you didn’t teach us to be strong.”

He said the last sentence slowly, with emphasis on the words “didn’t” and “strong.” I was surprised by his words. After considering them for a moment, I realized I was hearing something important.

Making Snow

“Huh…. You might be right,” I said slowly.

“In fact, you actually avoided teaching us to be strong—in a lot of ways. If we had a chance to face a problem or struggle on our own, you jumped in and offered help. Or just told us what to do. Or told us not to worry about it, and then you took care of it.” He kept talking, without pausing: “If something seemed hard for us, you told us to drop it or avoid it. If you didn’t think we could handle it, you didn’t even let us try…

“Of course, there are exceptions. Rare parents who did it differently. Unique teachers, coaches or others who pushed us. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. “And for every demanding coach or hard teacher who pushed us there are twenty parents protecting us from those same people, telling us we don’t have listen to them or do what they say. Every time I had a demanding youth leader or coach, almost all the other adults in my life undermined them. Most kids in my generation have a habit of just ignoring anything hard—they know their parents will back them and help them get out of hard things. So they hardly ever push themselves. Why should they—when the adults are always telling them the easy way is better?”

He stopped to take a breath, but I didn’t have anything to say. I was nodding by this point, surprised at his intensity, and also the wisdom of his observations.

“You know how many adults act worried when I tell them I like martial arts, and football? And try to talk me into quitting? Also, I’ve learned never to mention that I might want to serve in the military when I’m older. That gets most adults really angry at me—like serving your country is the stupidest choice anyone could ever make…”

He cocked his head again. “Which is strange, because those same people act super patriotic when the flag is mentioned, or in church meetings around the Fourth of July. I’ve noticed that a lot of them fly flags in front of their yard. It’s weird.”

I sighed, a bit overwhelmed by his onslaught. Important thoughts, these.

“What did you say my generation teaches well, versus poorly?” I asked. I wanted to make sure I remembered it correctly.

“You’ve taught us to be good, and to seek career success. But you don’t teach us to be strong. In fact, most of the time you teach us to be weak.”

“Wow…”

He frowned. “And your generation has the audacity to point out how weak my generation is, and mock us for things like participation trophies. I mean, most of us want real trophies, at least at first. It’s the adults who told us that participation trophies are better. You teach us to be weak, you refuse to let us do hard things that build strength, and you warn us against doing anything really hard or risky in life, then you call us Snowflakes!” His shook his head in disgust.

“Okay,” I responded. “I get it. You’re making a lot of sense.” I laughed: “But calling your generation ‘Phone Zombies’, or ‘Selfie Addicts’, like some people do, is pretty accurate, right?”

He laughed with me. Then he said: “But you guys aren’t the best with phones either. Like, why does your generation answer the phone by saying ‘hello’ and acting like you don’t know who’s calling? You have the name of the caller right on your screen!”

I laughed. I had never noticed that before.

He knit his brow. “It’s basically the same thing, really. It’s pretending. Why do Boomers and Gen X pretend so much? You pretend you don’t know who is calling on the phone, but it gets worse. You pretend to know the answers, and you pretend you know so much better than us. But you don’t, not really. We didn’t elect Clinton, Obama, or Trump or Bush. You guys did that. Why?

Opposite Lessons

I laughed again. “Good question. I don’t know if I have a good answer though. But…you don’t like any of them? I thought a lot of Millennials liked Obama?”

“Not me. But then Gen Z is different politically than most Millennials, and I’m unique even for Gen Z.”

“How are you different?”

“Easy—my parents taught me to be strong, not weak. That makes me different from a lot of people my age.”

“How did they do it?” I asked.

“My parents? Well, they did it with little things, mostly. Like…the time a sixth grader was picking on my little sister, and shoving her, and I told him to stop. He told me no, and kept shoving her. I was only in the third grade, and my sister was a first grader, but when the bigger kid didn’t stop I hit him right in the nose. Hard. He was twice my size, but I couldn’t just stand there and watch him hurt my sister.”

“What happened?”“I got in trouble, and got lectured about how nobody should ever hit anyone no matter what. I asked the principal if that applied to U.S. soldiers fighting Hitler, and he didn’t like it. He called my mom and she promised she’d read me the riot act. When I got home, my mom asked what happened. I told her everything, and when I was done she told me I did the right thing. My dad said he’d never been prouder of me in my whole life.”

“Wow,” I said. “What did the principal think of that?” “Nothing. They told me to tell him I was sorry and wouldn’t do it again. But to stop the big kid anyway if he kept picking on my sister. I asked about the principal’s threat to kick me out of school, and my parents laughed. ‘You don’t need school to learn,’ my mom said. So I kept a close eye on that kid.”

“Did he pick on your little sister again?”

“No. The boy got in big trouble. Not for picking on my sister, but for getting in a fight with me.”

“Oh, he hit you back?”

“No. He just got hit, and fell down. That’s all he did. But his parents called that a fight and grounded him.”

“Maybe the parents didn’t like that he was shoving a little first grader, and that’s why they grounded him.”

He thought about that. “Maybe. That’s not what he said, though. He said it was for fighting with me, even though all he did was fall down and cry. Either way, the boy learned the lesson to never get in a fight cause you’ll get grounded, and I learned the lesson to stand up for what’s right. We learned opposite lessons.”

“You think that made the bigger boy weaker in life?”

“No idea. We moved away a year later. But he was bullying a little kid, so maybe he needed to learn to be smarter and nicer, not stronger. But what I realized from that event is that most adults don’t want us to be strong. Some do, but most don’t. I’ve seen a lot of other examples of this through the years.”

“Like what?”

Rules and Exceptions

“Well, the biggest example is found just by comparing the way people online talk about Millennials with what my generation is taught almost every day in school. Almost every criticism of Millennials comes from following the exact same lessons we’re taught to obey in school. If we act the way our teachers tell us we’re called “good students” when we’re in school, but if we act that same way once we’re out in the workforce we’re called ‘Snowflakes,’ ‘flaky,’ ‘uncommitted,’ and things like that. It’s annoying.”

“Yeah,” I nodded again. “Makes sense. You’re told over and over not to rock the boat, so you learn to be…I’m not sure what the right word is…”

“Mediocre?” he asked, “Passive? Weak? Unfocused.”

“Okay. Is that what you think?”

“We’re the Mediocre Generation,” he nodded. “But hey, how could we be anything else? We’re told over and over that you aren’t a good person if you go after the achievement trophy by beating the other team. We’re supposed to make sure everyone does just as well as we do, even if that means losing or not trying very hard.”

“But in sports…”

“Like I said before,” he interrupted, “there are exceptions, like sports, the military, or…well, I can’t think of anything else. But only a few people get to be in competitive sports. Most of us just play sports in gym class, and it’s never about winning, always about trying less so nobody looks bad. We’re taught to relax and never try hard in anything. Never show up anyone else. Just stay in the middle of the group. Then, when we get in the workforce we’re called slackers, lacking ambition, not leaders. It’s trash. The double standard is trash.”

“Is that why you like martial arts, because you get to really do your best?”

“Yes, and no,” he answered. “In most martial arts classes, it’s the very same. I’ve had lots of martial arts teachers, because we moved a lot, but only one of them really taught us to be strong, to actually fight, to test our moves in real combat. The other classes were a lot of theory, very little actual fighting, or learning to fight. Then I got a teacher who let us get bloody, literally, because he wanted us to actually be good at what we were learning. Lots of parents pulled their kids out of the class after just one or two visits, but that teacher taught me so much more than all the other teachers combined.”

“So, you think parents should let their kids get bloody noses and bruised faces more often?”

He laughed. “That’s the kind of thing adults say when they’re going to the extreme, when they want to feel good about raising weak kids rather than letting their kid do hard things. As if those are the only two options. That’s a straw man argument.”

“But, let’s just be honest,” he continued, “If you want to be good at self defense, you’re going to have to learn to actually defend yourself. And yes, that means getting hit sometimes, enough to become good at the skill. The same thing is true in math, or history. I’m amazed at the wimpy assignments a lot of kids get in their classes. If they don’t really study, they don’t learn very much. If their studies aren’t really hard, their education ends up being pretty weak.”

The Road Less Traveled

I nodded. “Any other ways your parents taught you to be strong?”

“A lot of ways… Example was one of the most important.”

“What example did they give you?”

“Well, they built a business. They both started as employees, but early on they decided to start a business, and that made a huge difference.”

“How so?”

“Building a successful business is about as hard as anything. It’s way harder than being an employee, in most cases. I watched my parents through the lean years, building, building, sacrificing. Always sure the benefits would eventually come, but working so hard for almost no pay, year after year. By the time success really came, I was almost grown up. But I watched them struggle and keep going. Building a business from scratch is an amazing thing. It was incredibly hard, and the family members all participated in making it work. I used to be so amazed at how much extra time other dads had to spend with their kids, and how much extra money they seemed to have.

“My dad’s extra time and money all went right back into the business. And it was amazing. We all learned so much. Watching my parents do really hard things, and eventually succeed, made me realize that I can do it too. I remember teachers in school talking about how hard entrepreneurship is, and how all the students should choose an easier path and be an employee. But those teachers aren’t nearly as impressive or successful as my parents. And they don’t make nearly as much money. So I followed the harder path whenever I could. Easy isn’t the goal. It just makes you weak. Strong is so much better.”

“You’re kind of a philosopher, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Not really. But I was homeschooled during my high school years, so I learned to think about things. Not just cram for tests, or try to look good with my grades, like they wanted me to in public school. I want to really understand the things I study, but that means digging deep. Hard, serious study brings real learning. The rest is trash.”

I laughed. “So if the world homeschooled, we’d all be better off?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. My point is entirely different. If the world did really, really hard education, we’d be way better off. Seriously! But so many of your generation keeps telling people my age to do easy stuff—as if that’s really going to help them. Like I said, if it’s easy education, it’s mostly trash. Regardless of home school, public school, or any other kind of school. Easy is usually trash. If it’s hard, it’s more likely worth doing.”

The Problem We Missed

“You’re in college now; so do you find it harder than before?”

“Well, my classmates nearly all say it’s a lot harder than high school. But I find it easier in one way, and harder in another. The material is easy. I study a couple of hours a day, or less, and I’ve gotten mostly straight A’s all year. It’s so much easier than my teen years in homeschool. But it’s hard in a way that’s really frustrating—there is a lot of busy work that teaches me nothing, but I have to do it and show my work. I can get the right answer within thirty seconds, but I have to take 5 or 10 minutes to show the work. Ridiculous. It’s not learning, it’s rote busywork. I think the purpose is to give students something to do to prove they’re working. But it gets in the way of real learning. Too much of it is a waste of time.”

“Maybe they’re trying to make it hard for you! You said you wanted hard.”

He didn’t smile at my joke. In fact, he frowned. “Rote isn’t the same thing as hard. Rote is a cop-out. It seems hard, but you’re not actually learning much, if anything. Real ‘hard’ is way better, because you actually improve your knowledge, your skills, your ability to think and apply what you learn. Easy is the opposite of hard, but in another way rote is also the opposite of hard.”

“Interesting. Do you think college is making the same mistake you said most Boomers and Gen Xers have been making with their kids—teaching today’s youth to be good people and succeed in a career, but not to be strong? Or is it different at the college level?”

“It’s different, because they are teaching you to focus on your career, and they hardly mention being good people. That part is basically gone at the college level. But they still aren’t teaching us to be strong. It’s just as weak as in elementary and high school.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he doubled down. “The focus on career is so strong that nothing else seems to matter. They just don’t have time for being good, or becoming strong. They teach classes on ethics and legal responsibilities, but these are about the career, not actually about being good people.”

“Why do you think being strong is so important? Do you actually believe we need to teach it to all young people?”

He looked at me like I had three heads.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll bite. If you’re not strong, you’re not actually going to be all that good in life. Not really. Not when it counts. Being truly good takes serious strength. And if you’re not strong you’re also not going to be really successful—in your career, or in your family and relationships, or in reaching your own personal goals. All of these things are hard. Those who make these things work have to struggle and overcome challenges. They face problems and roadblocks and sometimes enemies or opponents. If they aren’t strong, they don’t succeed.

“And they’ll never improve the world much. If fixing the world’s problems were easy, they’d have been solved a long time ago. My generation needs to be strong. Weakness is our biggest weakness, and being strong is our biggest need.”

Getting Started

I nodded, impressed. “You’re a unique young man,” I mused.

He took this as an affront. “Not really. There are a lot more of us than you might think. But we don’t just have to learn to become strong, like all young people did in history, we also have to unlearn all the weakness and trash the older generations have fed us…”

He sighed. “Like I said, it’s not simple. We’re kids. We want to believe what adults tell us. When we figure out that a lot of it is wrong…that makes it frustrating. It’s disappointing. And it isn’t simple to know which things to believe and which are just making us weak.”

“Which things are trash,” I said.

He smiled.

So did I. Then I said: “Next time you call I’m going to answer my phone by saying your name, not pretending I don’t know who is on the line.”

He laughed. “Good choice.”

“I don’t know why we do that…habit I guess.” I shook my head slowly. “In my day, we really didn’t know who was on the line when the phone rang.” I paused. Then: “My generation wants things to be easy, too,” I told him. “We wish we could skip everything hard. It’s not just you guys.”

“But youth have to be taught to be strong while we’re young,” he responded. “I’ve noticed that the older you get before you learn to be strong, the harder it is, and the more people try to avoid it. Parents don’t help their kids when they make things easy.”

“Really?” I pushed back. “Two year olds? Four year olds? We should have them all running marathons?”

“There you go again, making your point with an extreme example.”

I grinned. “Okay, at what age should it be hard?”

He pondered. “Well…at the age that the hard thing makes the kid strong. Some things won’t make a two-year-old strong, but will make a ten-year-old strong. There are things at all ages that will help, or hurt. But most importantly we need a different way of doing things with teens. That’s where most of the damage is done right now.”

I looked at him with quizzical eyes. “What do you need to do right now in your life that is really hard and will make you stronger, that you’re not doing yet?”

“Ah…” he relaxed and leaned back in his chair. “Now you’re mentoring me. That’s great. Thank you. Let me think about that question…”

Part II

What does each young person you mentor or parent right now need this week, or month, in his or her life, to become stronger in the right ways?

*For more on this topic and ways to educate young people for strength, get the book Hero Education, by Oliver DeMille. Available here >>


Category : Blog &Citizenship &Culture &Current Events &Education &Entrepreneurship &Family &Featured &Generations &History &Leadership &Liberty &Mission &Technology

2 Comments → “The Jefferson-Madison Debates: What Are We NOT Teaching Today’s Youth?”


  1. Leiann Snyder

    3 weeks ago

    Thank you for sharing! This is great insight for me as a parent and as a leader of youth!!


  2. Shanon Brooks

    3 weeks ago

    Loved the article.

    It is exactly what we are discovering, students come on campus here at Monticello College and do really hard things in year one . . . and then they come back for year two and three and four.

    It is my opinion that young people can see their own growth from doing hard things and they like it. Doing hard things is what made America great and it will be what makes great American leaders and citizens in the future.


Leave a Reply

Subscribe Via RSS & Email

Click the icon on the left to subscribe in an RSS reader, or have new articles delivered to your inbox by entering your email address: