Generation Entitlement

Sunday, June 17, 2012
Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." - JFK (1961)

Times have changed since the darling of the Democrat Party uttered those words during his inaugural address in 1961. Could you imagine a politician from either party making a statement like that today? Americans wouldn't understand what he was talking about. Today, American political discourse is couched in terms of what the government will do for you. A comment like Kennedy's just doesn't compute with the generations of Americans who have grown accustomed to government entitlements and handouts. JFK might have well have been speaking another language. And now, on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling on President Obama's healthcare reform, it has become strikingly apparent that the loss of this way of thinking is fundamentally reshaping American society and government.

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on over the issues of entitlements and government intervention in our lives, you have to be honest in acknowledging that there are negative side effects to this change of mindset. The problem is not just political, it is cultural. We have to ask ourselves what will become of a society that believes they are owed everything and responsible for nothing? This is the dilemma at the core of America's cultural decay and political gridlock. Unfortunately, it often seems that what is best for society has been lost in a sea of narcissism.

There are many examples in our culture that show how the flipping of JFK's quote is symptomatic of a "culture of me." However, for the sake of brevity, this article will focus on the one area that is fueling this epidemic, education.

Once I entered the classroom as a teacher in 2008, it did not take me long to figure out that the kids I was teaching had a much different set of expectations than I did as a high school student in the late 1980s. They possess a much greater sense of themselves and an underlying belief that the world owes them something. This is in large part because their mindset was formed in a culture that taught them these three critical tenants: that everyone gets a trophy; education and entertainment are one in the same; and to not worry about student loans and college debt because a degree will ensure that all your dreams will come true. None of these dogmas of education prepares them for the real world. However, what may be worse is that these fallacies fuel the entitlement mindset. Once these kids become young adults and realize that the education institution did not prepare them to succeed in the real world, they easily fall prey to politicians who promise that the government will help them. Ultimately, they turn to the same bureaucracy that let them down because its promises sound so sweet. This is a downward spiral that is threatening liberty and polarizing our society. Out of desperation and confusion because what they have been taught does not compute with the real world, today's generations seems to be more willing to sacrifice freedom for government care and entitlements.

This dilemma affects all socio-economic classes. Teaching people to succeed in the real world helps all facets of our society. However, doing so will challenge the guiding dogmas of education and ask people to take more responsibility for themselves. This is a request that requires a return to a mindset that asks "what you can do," not "what everyone can do for you."

Imagine how much more cooperative and harmonious our society would be if we adopted this framework that JFK suggests. If we prepare our kids for the real world and teach them that their belly buttons are not the center of the universe, cooperation will flourish and the entitlement mentality would fade. However, we are failing them. We teach them that "safety nets" are fundamental rights and that Uncle Sam is the one to turn to with their problems. We have to be honest in recognizing that the costs of this change in mindset are increased narcissism and the loss of liberty, (two things that should seem to be at odds with one another). As a culture, it is time for us to recognize the consequences of entitlement policies and the education dogmas that fuel them. If we do not, politicians will continue to prey on our desperations and confuse us with hypocrisy.

By Rodney L. Pearson