Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On Privilege

Remember when you were little kids and you wanted to stay up later, or you wanted to get your ears pierced, or get a bigger, fancier bike, or wear certain kinds of clothes or see certain kinds of movies, your  parents would say: "When your older you will be able to ........"  As children we looked forward to those "markers" that would signify a move towards "being old enough". Rites of passage, and markers that suggest maturity are important to growth. These markers are becoming fewer and fewer. Just 10 years ago, buying your child their own computer was the high school graduation going to college present. It was a gift that signified achievement and moving forward. It was an important psychological marker. When a teen got their license, it used to be that getting the first car was a symbol of this new move into independence. Just happy to be driving something of their own, the clunkier the better, Grandma's old car was perfect. Now I am still surprised as I drive around the college campus where I teach to see kids driving around in cars I still aspire too, the hottest, newest models on the market. See I am a fuddy duddy, maybe I'm just jealous. Will you be my mother??

We have left few things for our kids to aspire too. We used to have clothing markers, privilege markers, music markers, etc. Now sex and music, clothes and technology, alcohol and drugs all start with kids too young too appreciate and understand their significance. We are raising a generation of youth who expect and feel entitled to the newest and the best. There is value in understanding that we don't get everything we want when we want it. Somethings are worth waiting for and when they do come are more appreciated and valued. Remember teens live in the moment. It is the adults in their life that need to help them to look towards the future. That old-fashioned work ethic that our forefathers and foremothers taught our parents that nothing is just given to you, if you want something you have to work hard for it, seems to have gotten lost in translation. It is OK to say no to your kids. It is OK to say these things cost a lot of money, and that is not how we choose to spend it. It is OK to say, what you have is enough!

Below is an essay written by a college senior that was chosen by the New York Times as one of the 10 best college essays this year. She articulates quite meaningfully how she sees a sense of entitlement and privilege that her classmates seem to have. Not everyone comes from monetary privilege, as this young woman describes. Some teens come from what I call emotional privilege. Lucky enough to have parents who love them and want to do everything they can to assure their success in the world. Unfortunately, like monetary privilege, emotional privilege gives teens the idea that someone will alway be their ally. Do you find yourself getting your older teens internships or summer jobs with your connections. Do you speak on their behalf to coaches or teachers or principals? Do you "over help" with homework and special projects? When kids don't have to do the work themselves to get what they want, then they never figure out how to do that.... ever. And that is why we have so many young adults suffering from the "failure to launch" syndrome. Make your kids do the hard stuff, put themselves in the position to take responsibility, learn the social skills and the good kind of risk-taking that they will need in the future. If you always do that for them now, they will never learn to do it for themselves in the future!

Erica Meister
High School: Northville High School
College Plans: Stanford University

In 2015, Northville, the place I consider to be my hometown, was named the snobbiest city in Michigan. I prefer to describe Northville as reckless. 
The more enterprising students of Northville High School specialize in the selling of three goods: marijuana, Adderall and test answers, all goods many of my peers don’t think twice about using. We’re from Northville. Most of us know nothing of consequences or responsibility for our actions, because our fathers can cover for us with cash and connections. We’ve been raised in such privilege that we feel enabled to say and do whatever we want, thoughtlessly. 
Several years back, when the rap aesthetic was particularly prominent, most of the males came to school in ill-fitting jeans that sagged below their designer boxers, sporting T-shirts and necklaces that likely cost more than the weekly income for the average person, in imitation of their favorite rapper. They carried themselves like Eminem and spewed out Jay Z verses about being raised in extreme urban poverty and racism, before parroting their parents’ views on the “communist” welfare programs. 
Derogatory terms for gays, the disabled and people of color are shouted in the hallway, right over the heads of people to whom those refer. From experience, I can certify that the administration does little besides halfheartedly admonish reported bullies and send them on their way to continue their reign of terror. 
To my chagrin, I have occasionally fallen into a similar mindset. I once asked a friend, whose family I knew was struggling, what AP tests she planned to take. She replied that her family couldn’t afford any. I had forgotten how bad her circumstances were and had asked my question without thinking. I found myself victim to the disease that infiltrates Northville, the same carelessness I despise. Northville’s gilded bubble caused me to forget that some don’t have the luxury of affording even the reduced price of standardized tests. 
Aside from being potentially harmful, this recklessness creates a sense of emptiness for me. Superficial, materialistic and shallow, we’re all too busy going on to the next thing, focusing on getting an A and not about learning the material, and getting our rib into a conversation without listening to what was actually said. Our sole aim is to keep moving. Where, how and at what cost are irrelevant questions to us, and thus we manage to remove all trace of purpose from our actions. 
My most prominent goal has always been to leave Northville behind, to find a world in which people act consciously, aware that their actions affect others, and choose to delve deeper by asking questions and seeking legitimate answers that may differ from their limited understanding. In the meantime, I aspire to prepare myself by being more thoughtful, informed and, most of all, careful.

1 comment:

  1. I wish we knew what the friend who couldn't afford the AP exam is doing after graduation.