Only fifty years ago in our home we had no shower, no central heating, no telephone, no television, no car, no computer. We did have a large family, a big (vegetable) garden, and a quiet street. We wrote with a dip pen, we read books, played with lego or dolls, listened to the radio and played outdoors with other children. The world was no bigger than our village, the bicycle was our means of transport. Only a few kids would go from primary to secondary school. Studying was for the happy few. Yes, I know, I sound like the song of the old. When I write this down I almost feel old!
Students and young people hardly know different times than their own. Sometimes they are bothered by sky-high expectations, they are being rushed and they rush themselves. If we look back in time we may become aware of the speed and the impact of societal change. That is hard to keep up with for many young people and there’s no harm in reflecting on that now and then.
Cultural sociologist Gabriël van den Brink argued in 2004 that developments in our western society lead to a change in moral standards. Consider democracy, increasing wealth, emancipation of women, and participation in higher education. In previous ages examples like clean drinking water, sewerage, the Industrial revolution, the combustian engine, the right to vote in general and for women in particular did mark a next level of development for men and society. Recently computers, internet, smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence were added. And every time the new invention becomes normal very fast: the new standard. Our increasing wealth parallels our expectations about possibilities, wishes or even necessities. We have increasing claims in relationships with others, in job benefits, in school performance, in views on good and bad, in politicians, in leisure time. A standard is a requirement that makes you want more. You aspire to something that goes beyond the actual reality. A standard embodies ambitions and expectations and incites to higher performance. But that also causes new forms of dissatisfaction. People have to spend a lot of energy to keep up with the higher demands and ambitions. Whenever they fail it may cause discomfort and stress. In the field of education the number of drop outs rises due to higher social and cognitive expectations on students. Increasing the standards will inevitably increase the numbers that do not meet the behavioral or cognitive criteria. Modern times do not only solve problems, they also create new ones.
In widespread areas of our society we see a raise of standards. This shift moves very gradually and we are hardly aware of it, but after a while it becomes clearly visible. I do not know whether that is good or bad, or maybe both. I do reflect on a healthy way of dealing with it for young people and ask them about their deeper desires and choices.