As a teacher, when I look at our youth, my feelings move from hope to disappointment and then disappointment to hope.
They are intelligent, but mesmerized by technology.
They lack basic skills, but believe that they are special.
They know what is on Facebook, but have little interest in the abstract ideas and deeper questions of life.
They are bright, but do not understand that hard work is as important as intelligence.
They want to leap and have unique ideas, but are too distracted to turn their ideas into reality.
A colleague of mine said that all generations are like this until … until one day life dawns on them and forces them to be pragmatic. I am not so sure about that. Just fifty years back the world was different and so was the generation that breathed in that environment. We did not have cell phones, and the internet was not part of our basic needs. Jobs were ample (at least in the Western world) and a bachelor’s degree was more than enough to move up to the middle class. Now, a master’s degree is often not enough to get a job that can sustain a family of four, even when both parents work. Fifty years back, the minimum wage was a good support system for students and young men and women entering in the job market. Now, the minimum wage provides enough for one person to live on junk food and in the case of a family, you also have to rely on food stamps.
But let us look at the world outside our borders. A large number of Latin American youth is either in gangs or running away from them to save their lives. In India, every month, one million young men and women enter in the job market. And there are millions of them that have work but are underemployed.
China has only been able to control its population explosion by a one-child policy, but that policy is loosening its grip on a society that is proud to call itself communist, yet aspires to all the material benefits of capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating harsh policies to control population growth but increase in population will only multiply the problems we are facing in the world at this moment.
And now, the environment. On regular basis our scientists remind us of the catastrophes we and our future generations may face. When I look at the future, I see young men and women struggling to make ends meet in an economy that is throttled by wildfires, storms and floods. Is this the future of our future? I hope not. I am eagerly looking for a sign of intervention, but it seems that at least at this moment our leadership has decided to put the nation in reverse as far as the environment is concerned.
Let us look at our education system. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development intended to evaluate educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school students’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. The National Center for Education Statistics writes “In 2015, average scores … ranged from 556 in Singapore to 332 in the Dominican Republic. The U.S. average score was 496. … The U.S. average was lower than 18 education systems, higher than 39, and not measurably different than 12 education systems.” (The last PISA was in 2018 and its results will be announced in December of this year). Looking at the results of 2015, it is pretty obvious that our performance was not good, considering that we are a country which spend a lot more per capita on education than most of the countries that participated in the 2015 PISA. The story does not end here. On one hand a high school degree has little value and a bachelor’s is not enough, on the other hand in order to get a master’s degree and be more marketable, our young men and women have to borrow too much money due to the high rates of tuition and interest, and a rising living cost. As a result they have to defer their lives by not leaving the nest and often by delaying marriage as they are not ready to bear the expenses.
What world we are leaving for the next generation? We have often heard this question in connection with the deteriorating environment. My question is: Are we leaving a planet where the next generation can thrive?