The lyrics of Back to School Again, a minor and late hit for The Temptations, still seem to speak for the downcast countenances of students as they ride iconic yellow buses back to school. It's a scene reminiscent of older siblings and even parents who sat in similar buses en route to similar schools over the years.

Therein lies the rub.

There's nothing new about teenage angst and the alienation of youth. James Dean is best remembered for being a Rebel Without a Cause - on and off screen. The themes play out today in popular culture and in schoolyards nationwide.

By all outward indications, teenagers are smart, jealously protective of genuine community (online and off), hungry for immersive experiences (such that it isn't just a video game anymore), suspicious of institutions and social norms that don't seem relevant, and likely to take refuge behind their ear buds with play lists that no radio programmer could've devised.

Yet teenagers can be excused for not being particularly sanguine about predictions that they're the first generation of Americans that won't be wealthier than their parents. And the uncertainty they face is compounded by global competition where there seems to be more threats than opportunities.

Project Tomorrow put some numbers to this angst through its national Speak Up survey of students, parents and educators. According to the recently released results of the 2006 survey, only 22 percent of middle-school students considered themselves an "advanced tech user." Only 25 percent of high-school students claimed "advanced tech user" status. And fewer than three-quarters of the middle- and high-school students surveyed (71 percent and 70 percent, respectively) considered themselves to be "average."

When asked, "Are schools doing a good job preparing students to compete for the jobs and careers of the 21st century?" slightly more than one-third (38 percent) of high-school students said "yes," and fewer than half of middle-school students (44 percent), teachers (47 percent) and parents (42 percent) answered affirmatively.

Those responses come as Congress considers reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act after a half decade of education reform and in a job market where 70 percent of the nation's jobs require individuals to use computers. If none of this has hit home yet, consider that an estimated half of all state governments expect to lose another third of their IT staff to retirement in the next four years.

The retirees' replacements may come from what Dr. Jean Twenge describes as "generation me." In her book, Generation Me, she describes why "today's young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled - and more miserable than ever before."

God help us all.

 

Paul W. Taylor  |  Contributing Writer