In my everyday travels, I hear a lot about how today's kids are entitled, how education is dumbed down, and how we all must brace ourselves for a frightening future. I hear a lot about kids addicted to their phones and games; who can't carry on a conversation.
As a teacher in the trenches, I can say that for the most part this is not true - thank heavens! Students in the high school where I teach pride themselves on taking as many honors, AP, and college-level courses as possible. They are respectful. They are kind. They are accepting of people who are nothing like them. It's nothing like my own high school experiences, which consisted mainly of slogging through the day being tormented by my classmates. A good day was when I wasn't called ugly or pushed into a locker. The class offerings were slim and not very interesting.
Contrast that to now. In the last three weeks, my junior English students have analyzed speeches by famous Americans, including Steve Jobs, Patrick Henry, and Abraham Lincoln, finding examples of ethos, pathos, and logos and explaining how rhetorical devices bolster the arguments in said speeches. They created Declarations of Independence following the format of the original document. During an in-depth study of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American voices in American literature, they were able to take a poem by Langston Hughes and show how it was used as an extended metaphor in the play "Raisin in the Sun." They are thoughtful, insightful, engaged, focused, and smart.
Yes, they love to text and post on social media and take selfies. But they can also write research papers in MLA format like rockstars, talk intelligently on a host of topics, and articulate their opinions in a way that I know my generation couldn't in the eleventh grade. The technology skills amaze me as well. The creative and interesting things these kids create boggle the mind!
The expectations of student achievement, if anything, have grown exponentially. Colleges are more difficult to get into, and students face much higher pressures in the form of standardized testing than ever before. But through it all, they remain motivated to do well.
Compassion abounds among the students I have the privilege of teaching. I've witnessed students helping each other without being asked. They give of their time and resources to those less fortunate. I've lost count of the number of passionate essays about mission trips to poverty-stricken areas of the world I've graded. These kids want to make a difference - as shown through their actions, not just their words. Different perspectives are respected, discourse is valued, and unconventionality is celebrated. They are innovative, creative, fascinating.
Do not fret about the future. There are bright, shining stars coming up. I, for one, can't wait to see where we go next.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.