Freedom, Boundaries, and Development: What is the ‘new normal’?

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Written By Will Skis

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

       Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato, according to William L.

      Patty and Louise S. Johnson, Personality and Adjustment, p. 277

This quote is often used to examine the relationship between elder and child in society. I like it because it shows that even way back in Ancient Greece, crotchety old fellows would still grumble about ‘kids these days’. Even super bright ones like Socrates!

 Adults, it seems, have always felt that the youth of their day lacked the respect that they themselves showed toward their elders. In the modern, high population, Internet enabled global context, do they have a point? Is today’s modern generation of youngsters actually becoming less responsive to authority, less respectful, and luxurious?

I felt, at school, teachers were needlessly gruff and grumbly themselves. I liked having fun, and I didn’t see it as mutually exclusive to learning, so I wanted the teachers to all be fun too.

It turned out that life doesn’t work that way, and I suppose that is the toughest lesson we all have to learn. There are times in life where you have to work, or wait, or not have fun in general. And its necessary to survival. The cranky teachers seem a little different now that I am a teacher myself. I must say I understand where they are coming from as I get a little bit older and have to manage unruly classrooms. Gruff and grumbly may not be ‘fun’, but it certainly is more effective in positions of authority.

As Victoria Prooday puts it in her excellent blog “Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?”:

 “To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.”

 This impact on children and teenager’s behaviour has as much to do with parenting and teaching as it does with technology. The modern media landscape has been discussed in other blogs in this series  and contributes to a sense of disconnection from ‘real life’ educational contexts like the ol’ brick and mortar classroom. ‘Waiting patiently’ is all but non-existent.

 It is in the world of unbridled choice that authority begins to lessen. After having taught at lots of different schools as a casual over the last few years, it is certainly a trial by fire in managing people who do not see you as any kind of authority figure at all, because they do not know you. As a trust begins to form as you keep returning to teach day in and day out, respect and authority become a natural part of teacher practice.

Australia in particular, having always had a reputation as an ‘easy-going’ country, is seeing results slide in maths and science subjects. And the mood of the older teachers is one of resignation to a fact: our students are getting less disciplined, and therefore less academic. Some students from refugee nations such as South Sudan are even being sent back to strict African boarding schools. Because coming to relatively laissez-faire public schools is attempting to bridge too large of a cultural divide. Still, Australia remains the most expensive place for foreign students to study, particularly in urban private schools and our nation’s universities.

 Teachers are expected to give a lot and bridge a lot of divides. Lack of respect for authority is not ‘the new normal’, it has been a commonplace feature of schooling for decades. Boundaries are certainly changing. However core educational principles such as hard work and critical thinking remain as important as ever. Technological overstimulation is a new phenomena. Its solution lies in detaching students from the tangled frameworks of information they have been privy to their whole lives. Re-evaluating our approach to acceptable behaviour in classrooms in an interconnected world will require a careful and calculated approach from teachers, parents and community members alike.