Paul Greenberg

The four scholars who did this Pioneering Study trace the origins of AE to parental pressure, material rewards for good grades, competitiveness, and "achievement anxiety and extrinsic motivation." They conclude that AE is "most strongly related to exploitive attitudes towards others and moderately related to an overall sense of entitlement and to narcissism."

At the risk of putting all that in plain English, these kids are spoiled brats with character problems. But how will they ever get over them if they're not allowed to fail -- and learn from their failures? If their mediocre performance is regularly rewarded with As and Bs, how will they learn the difference between excellent and run-of-the-mill?

The saddest aspect of these kids' condition is that they're unaware of it. They actually think they're pretty darned good, and deserve those good grades. More to be pitied than scorned, they may come out of school with no idea of what real accomplishment is, and the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something well.

They may never thrill at a formula elegantly devised, a mission truly accomplished, a sentence well written, a simple procedure done with care every time, an experiment perfected, a form that perfectly follows function....

Not for The Entitled the sense of awe that may be the first step toward God. If a teacher dropped one of these students off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he the might emerge a few hours later with only one question: Is this going to be on the test?

But why should they be any different from what they are? Raised in an age when self-esteem is all, they're told how great they are from K to 12 and may graduate without the faintest idea of what greatness is, or demands.

Consider this newly named syndrome another argument for universal military service. Call it Greenberg's Theorem: There's nothing wrong with these kids that six weeks of basic training at an Army base in some barren clime wouldn't cure -- if they didn't manage to have mama or papa get them out of it.

But if they stuck it out, they'd soon learn that it's results that count, not influence or manipulation. Or even effort if it's misplaced, if it amounts to nothing more than the same mistakes endlessly, energetically repeated.

To quote a deluded young senior at the University of Maryland: "I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade. What else really is there than the effort that you put in?"

Well, for starters there is talent, insight, intention, humility, tolerance, an openness to criticism and a determination to learn from it. There is an appreciation for what is noble and contempt for what is base. And the love of knowledge for its own sake, not for the rewards it might bring, and . . . well, you get the point. Unless, of course, you think you're entitled.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.