As a college professor for over 35 years, I’ve gotten to know three generations of students: Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980), the Millennials (1981-1996), and now Gen Z (1997-2012). And because I teach rhetoric, I’ve read thousands of their papers, providing substantial insight into the way they think.
The awfulness of the millennials, now 25 – 40 years old:
To be sure, each generation has had its share of good kids and bright minds. In general, however, I found that Millennials presented unique challenges. They were, as a group, the most entitled, judgmental, and arrogant of all the students I’ve taught, often basing an inflated sense of self-importance on scanty evidence.
Essentially, they are the “participation trophy” generation, the unwitting victims of countless artificial “self-esteem building” experiments by the education establishment, not to mention their own parents. These are the kids who were told from kindergarten on how special they were — and, unfortunately, they believed it.
Their essays and verbal comments were characterized by poor reasoning, shoddy arguments, and the elevation of pathos over logos, along with a deep-seated, quasi-religious certitude. Apparently, they felt no need to support their positions with evidence. They were right simply because of who they were: the smartest kids ever. Hadn’t their parents and teachers always told them so?
I’m generalizing, of course. As I said, I had some excellent students during those years, including many I still keep in touch with. Nevertheless, what I just described is reasonably accurate, based on my experiences with thousands of Millennials.
Thus, I have not been surprised to see what’s happening in our country right now, with those “kids” in charge of government, industry, education, and most other aspects of life. Given what I observed among my Millennial college students, today’s post-rational, fact-free culture, with its toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and utter cluelessness (think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) was inevitable.
The epitome of the millennial generation
Gen Z is quite different, in general:
We should not, however, despair, remembering that everything is cyclical. The Millennials will not necessarily have the last word. This may be their time in the sun, their opportunity to tear down our civilization temporarily unimpeded, but that moment (as always) is fleeting. There is another generation of bright young people — Gen Z — following right on their heels and therein may lie our temporal salvation.
In comparison to their Millennial predecessors, my Gen Z students tend to be more open-minded, more interested in facts and logic, more inclined to question the status quo, and more amenable to free markets. They also take a more nuanced view of history and are inherently distrustful of ideologues on either side. (Again, I’m speaking generally.) …
Gen Z … seem almost libertarian in their desire to be left alone.
They are not, by and large, activists. When you see Antifa and BLM rioting in the streets, those are not primarily Gen-Zers. Beneath the masks and hoods, you will find mostly disaffected Millennials — 30-year-old losers still living in their parents’ basement. Or young(ish) college professors.
The Jesuits supposedly said “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. In any case, education by a generation of woke teachers has a lot to answer for. That’s why we need school vouchers — don’t let them take our kids!