The Question Matters

Are Millennials Too Narrowly Focused on Achievement?

Posted in Coaching,Generation Y,Leadership,Next Generation Leaders by treyfinley1008 on September 14, 2010

I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Dr. Guy Litton, who teaches at Texas Women’s University in the English department.  Dr. Litton spends part of his time working with first-year students at Texas Women’s, and I asked him recently about this generation of students that are now attending our universities.  Over the next couple of posts, I’ll share his thoughts with you on how well prepared our next generation of college students are for life beyond high school, along with a couple of great stories that present a contrasting picture of how Millennials are occasionally portrayed.

In many ways related to my post about the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering, Dr. Litton made the following observation of the Millennials he encounters:

They have a stronger work ethic, BUT they are so narrowly focused on achievement (David Brooks calls it the “Achieveatron” machine that is the school system today).  They are focused on merit badges, extra points, gpas, filling up the resumes with little gold stars.  They are not reflective, contemplative, deep, or sincerely seeking to better themselves.  It’s a mad dash to employment without a thought for intellectual or cultural or philosophical fulfillment.

Pragmatism, indeed.  My question: is there a connection between their “mad dash to employment” and the economic circumstances?  Or perhaps, is the pragmatism simply an idea embedded in them by their years in school?  Again, Dr. Litton:

We seem to have winnowed education down merely to math and basic reading comprehension/vocabulary.  There’s no incentive or encouragement for students to learn things for their own sake.  We always seem to send them the message that learning is important for “getting ahead.”  What do you do with your life once you’re “ahead” though?  It’s an education treadmill that’s dialed up at ever faster speeds where the runner is still stationary.

As a parent with a child starting school this year, I have pondered the pros and cons of the school system in the United States more than at any other time in my life.  What, exactly, is our school system designed to do?  What kind of student is it designed to turn out?  To hear Dr. Litton describe it, our education system is designed to turn out myopic achievement that misses out on the greater value of learning.

Is it any wonder that Millennials find themselves in very pragmatic circumstances and, in my opinion, deeply in need and want of that which is more meaningful?

Next up, a couple of stories of Dr. Litton’s students that you’ll find impressive.


3 Responses to 'Are Millennials Too Narrowly Focused on Achievement?'

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  1. […] first year students’ supervisor, spent his valuable time with me recently.  Yesterday, I shared some thoughts around his observation that the current group of college students is achievement-driven, to the […]

  2. Matt said,

    The thing is, you have to have all those gold stars and be doing this and that to get ahead…because the resume is a quick Polaroid of yourself. If you don’t have those gold stars on your resume, someone else will, and you get left behind. It’s not just a student’s or the education system’s fault that people are focused too narrowly on achievement. I also think it goes to potential employers. I’ve gone on so many interviews for internships where they want you to already have experience, prior internships, experience in this computer program, etc. and they only take the people that have all of this stuff. I thought the reason internships were so invaluable was because they could take you and polish you, and because they gave you on-the-job experience that you couldn’t find anywhere else. So nowadays if you want to survive, I feel like you HAVE to be achievement-based.

    • You’ve described the perfect self-reinforcing cycle. Our education system provides us with “achievements” that determine our success, so that employers have little or nothing besides gold stars by which to measure our ability to contribute.

      Can this system change? If so, who’s going to change it?

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