by tim middleton
School reports can be very revealing, not least when they have underlying humour. One teacher wrote: “Since my last report, your child has reached rock-bottom and has started to dig.”
Another one wrote: “Your son sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.” Then there is one which reads: “This young lady has delusions of adequacy.” However, there is one that may just eclipse them all: “This student should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better” — the further away from the teacher, the better! While not quite with the sentiments of the latter report, we have considered previously that parents and teachers have great expectations for their children. We do expect them to go far. However, we need to keep this in perspective.
Anyone brave, mad, or bored enough to read this article will have certain expectations of it: we will quite reasonably expect it to amuse us, awaken us, interest us, intrigue us, inspire us, educate us, enrich us, encourage us. In fact, more than just a clear expectation in reading it, we will probably feel a certain entitlement that such a respected newspaper will ensure that whatever is written in it will be quality, will be worth reading. As the title of this article suggests we develop a sense of entitlement; our expectations soon become our entitlement, at least in our own mind.
The same is very true with many youngsters today. We have seen how we as teachers and parents have expectations of our children; we can now also see how our children have their own expectations, which may not always match those of their parents or teachers. From that, our youngsters begin to develop a sense of entitlement. We need to help them to understand that there is a difference between expectation and entitlement. Such is the move towards ‘child’s rights’, many children now expect success, as a right, usually, without any real effort.
We may be familiar with the piece attributed to Bill Gates, though actually first published by Charles J. Sykes in the San Diego Union Tribune in 1996, entitled ‘Rules for Teenagers’, which refers to how youngsters have turned expectation to entitlement. Rule 2 says, “The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.” Young people expect everyone else to think about them, almost as an entitlement. Rule 3 declares that, “You will not make forty thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone, until you earn both.” Aim for it, for sure, but do not expect it! Rule 9 reads, “Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summer off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.” Do not expect having the long school holidays you once had! Rule 10 states that, “Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.” Do not expect jobs to come to us.
The latter ‘rule’, is reflected in one teacher’s experience overseas when the class was tasked with a written piece during the lesson and one pupil approached the teacher and said, “give me a pencil!” note, no “excuse me”, no “please”, no “sir”; there was an expectation, even a sense of entitlement, that the teacher must provide a pencil, though this was, in fact, the pupil’s (not entirely arduous or unreasonable) responsibility. The teacher refused, equally not unreasonably, not least as the child must learn to take responsibility for his own actions (the child could easily ask a friend). The expectation, however, went beyond that; the child who asks for, even expects, a pencil will next ask for, and expect, the answers to the questions. Children seem to forget, or are unaware, that with rights come responsibilities.
As was noted previously, we may expect our child to be born healthy, but none of us have any entitlement to that. Similarly, we may expect our child to be gifted, (be it academically, physically, culturally or whatever), but none have any entitlement to success in any such area. The same is true of our children. They may want certain things and they will definitely expect certain things but they must not confuse expectations with entitlement. To do that certainly leads to delusions of grandeur. It almost becomes a matter of a child reaching rock bottom and expecting someone else to dig them out. Expectation can take us a long way, once we do leave the coffee shop, but we need to leave entitlement in the title where it is meant to be.
That is real life.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.