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The Work Ethic of the Modern Student

The New York Times has an interesting article about the new work ethic of modern college students. It was written by Joanne B. Ciulla, a professor the University of Richmond. Basically, Professor Ciulla writes how she has noticed the traditional Prostestant work ethic, with it’s focus on work as a means for self improvement, being eschewed for a new work ethic that just focuses on money. She then goes on to describe behavior by college students that demonstrates this new set of values.

Here are some of the traits that Professor Ciulla has noticed:

Entitled to a do-over

I noticed this all the time when I was in undergrad. If kids didn’t get a good grade on a paper or test, they would ask if they could do it again. Professor Ciulla notes that the students who make this request aren’t failing but want to push their grade up to an A- or a B.

The problem with this attitude is that in the working world, you often don’t get a chance for a do-over. In today’s cut throat economy, employers demand quality and they demand it fast. Unfortunately, many college professors are caving into these requests by students. Consequently, many students leave school thinking they’ll get a do-over in grad school or on the job.

Clock Punching

Professor Ciulla notes that many students feel they deserve a higher grade just because they put so much time into a test or paper. I noticed this as well when I was an undergrad. Here’s the deal: in the real world, your employer doesn’t care how much time you put into a project. If it sucks, the company loses money. Effort doesn’t count on the job, results do.

Overblown egos

My generation grew up during the age of self esteem. Ever since elementary school, we’ve been told we’re special and that we can do anything in the world. Kids get prizes even if they come in last place, just so no one gets their feelings hurt. On top of that is the grade inflation that runs rampant in colleges now.

As a result, many young students have a misled idea of how their work stacks up against others. When they land their first job and get reamed for a lousy performance, young people often suffer from a spat of cognitive dissonance. Their whole life they were told they were awesome. Now, all of a sudden they’re told their work sucks. It doesn’t make sense to them.

In the real world, there are losers. It’s too bad that many young people have to learn this during their first job.

What can be done?

First, we can dump the whole self esteem thing. Of course we should teach children the value of having a good self image. A person with a healthy self image values themselves, but recognizes there’s room for improvement. People with high self esteem often are oblivious to the fact that they can improve.

Second, schools need to stop inflating grades. This is going to be a tough one. Because our system of higher education has turned into a business with students and parents as consumers, college deans, in pursuit of turning a profit, cave into consumer demand, ie higher grades. I think if anything is to be done, parents will have to demand that colleges stop inflating grades.

What do you all think? Is our society preparing young people adequately for the working world? If not, what can be done to prepare them?

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