Spectacular, millennials prefer a free-market economy to a government planned one, but at the same time sympathize with socialism more than capitalism. They want tax cuts, but at the same time do not want to eliminate or diminish the institutions of the welfare state. They want more government services to provide everyone with a "decent living", but at the same time oppose policies that lead to greater public sector interference in their lives.
Other than mental illness, what could explain why their worldview is so hopelessly ensnared in irreconcilable contradictions?
It appears that today's youngsters display the "I want to have my cake and eat it too" and that is the attitude of an entitlement complex. However, arguments could be made that the foregoing generations such as the Baby Boomers and GenXers displayed similar moral deficiencies. When adjusted to inflation, the minimum wage of 1968 can be deemed roughly equivalent to the value of a $25 per hour salary today.
The average millennial does not enjoy nearly as much material comfort as his parents and grandparents did in their youth. Hence, the entitlement complex alone cannot explain this bizarre assortment of ideologically incompatible ideas.
I propose that the true answer to this riddle lies in the problem of education in this country. It is a well-documented fact that grade inflation began increasing dramatically in the 1970s . Correspondingly, it has become typical for students to spend much less time on homework and the most intellectually challenging aspects of academic curricula were modulated or eliminated.
For example, literature instructors no longer called for students to understand the universal themes in stories and instead encouraged them to reflect on the emotional reaction this experience evoked. Fewer students majored in hard science, engineering or even philosophy and more displayed a distinct preference for softer academic disciplines such as Women's Studies or Ethnic studies.
Professors, students, deans and campus radicals alike categorically rejected the doctrines of individual rights. By the same token, they dismissed philosophies concerning the objectivity of knowledge and morality as "intolerant", "bigoted" and "uncool". They then replaced the philosophy of individual rights with doctrines of cultural relativism, subjectivism and other tenets of postmodernism implying that all knowledge is relative to perspective, cultural prejudice and arbitrary opinions.
Consistently with this point of view, the leftist ideologues who taught the soft classes codified these intellectual intuitions in clear-cut ideologies of Political Correctness and Identity theory. The former posits that because all cultures are equal, it is always wrong to criticize demographic groups belonging to ethnic minorities or their cultural values. Identity theory implies that because there is no such thing as objective moral values, the individual cannot define his character through his own achievements. Instead, his identity is defined in whole by his affiliation with ethnic or political groups he belongs to.
Relativism and its two aforementioned tenets emerged as the centerpiece of the mainstream university ideology and this dramatically accelerated the trend of massive grade inflation. In 1988, grade A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28% since 1960 and 12% since 1988. With the massive proliferation of online degree mills such as Strayer, Ashford, Kaplan, DeVry and University of Phoenix, it is evident that grade inflation increased by an even wider margin in the last two and a half decades. Additionally, this is becoming increasingly evident in light of the fact that conventional four year schools are emulating the degree mill paradigm by offering more online classes and replacing tenured professor positions with callow TAs. At the very least, today's average academic institution bears a much closer semblance to University of Phoenix than to a traditional University where nearly all intellectually gifted students coveted admission in the 40s and 50s.
Today, professors can be dismissed for entertaining ideas that can be construed as offensive to certain minority groups and could even encounter serious problems with the Dean for not awarding sufficiently high grades to enough Black students. In most cases, they simply have no choice but to continue softening their academic curricula and discourage students from pursuing intellectually challenging majors.
The blame should not rest squarely on the shoulders of university professors because the problem is fundamental to our system of education in general. Young students who received their early education in European public schools or American private schools can attest to the fundamental differences in how public schools educate the young here and there. By the age of ten, most European youngsters have already memorized the table of multiplication, learned the basic rules of grammar by heart and retained basic facts about history, geography and social studies. These students have undergone arduous memorization sessions where their memory was rigorous was on exams that were closely invigilated. These studies were supplemented by basic training in arithmetic, elementary logic and vocal discussions. As the minds of these students mature, they discover that the nascent years of their education laid down the foundation on which their worldview can be built. Not only were they capable of interpreting new facts within the context of the information that was indelibly seared into their memories at a very young age, they also had the basic intellectual tools for organizing, analyzing and synthesizing the incoming material.
By contrast, American public school students are rarely subjected to such "useless memorization" and such "draconian fascist" techniques as elementary logic or arithmetic. Many have not even learned the table of multiplication by the time they've reached High-School and a significant percentage of college students struggle to grasp even the most rudimentary tenets of English grammar. Open book exams displaced classroom activities that tested the general knowledge of students and logically rigorous undertakings gave way to post-modern curricula that urged students to share their personal feelings about assignments.
All of this was justified by the premise that critical thinking and creativity are the true hallmark of intellectual achievement. For obvious reasons, route memorization is much less lofty and seemingly less conducive to the student's growth as a person, artist or a thinker. The reality is quite the opposite: route memorization is the foundation of deep learning, critical thinking and creativity. Youthful minds cannot understand logic, arithmetic, rules of language or any other instrument of intellectual activity without first memorizing the essential facts about these systems. Similarly, they cannot organize, analyze or synthesize information about history, politics or society without first knowing basic facts about these fields of study.
As a result, the academic relativist ideologues achieved the opposite of their intended results. Instead of freeing the students from the drudgery of "useless memorization", they now have no choice but to resort to memorization. In the absence of the ability to logically organize ideas and conceptualize them, students simply cannot retain any information other than by storing it in their short-term memory and forgetting it. Psychologists have long been familiar with the term "chunking" which refers to one's ability to retain ideas by developing a framework with which they can be organized in a logical order. That is why chess masters can provide a move by move account of hundreds of variations simply be memorizing a limited number of positions. By contrast, they are not capable of memorizing nearly as many arbitrary facts. Similarly, car mechanics can often provide a detailed account of what supplies the repair of each automobile will require, yet seem to have a deplorable memory in many other walks of life. The chunking technique even explains the "absent-minded professor" phenomenon that involves scholars who can memorize a myriad of scientific facts in their field of specialization, but could never recall what they ate for breakfast the day before, even if their life depended on it.
In his famous treatise on Classical Economics, George Reisman trenchantly observed that it would not be an exaggeration to claim that our system of education strives to "unencumber students of as much knowledge as possible". Instead of laying down the foundations of their worldview, it encourages students to simply learn whatever they wish to learn. Barring a few cases of exceptionally gifted children, most students naturally elect to learn nothing at all. In place of teaching them to look for logical order in information and develop strategies for recalling it quickly and using it as a foundation of new material. Such miseducation again encourages them to respond to the studied material with incoherent non-sequiturs and therefore, it debauches their minds. As a result, students are not only compelled to pass their examinations by memorizing notions that strike them as arbitrary, if not meaningless, they essentially have no choice but to regard all doctrines as ideas they must accept on faith. In plain English, they become incapable of understanding the underlying rationale behind theories and have no framework based on which they can judge an idea's merits or demerits. For this reason, many of them truly can be convinced of just about anything.
With these factors in consideration, there should be no question that the deplorable quality of education in this country is the leading factor behind the millennials' inability to form a coherent ideology. These trends took root in the early 70s and will soon reach their culmination point when the University of Phoenix defines the standards of academic rigor in American classrooms. At the very least, one has a compelling reason to expect that the intellectual ineptitude of the next generation's youth will be even more prominent.