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on Leading the Next Generation


Overcoming Entitlement: A Case Study

entitlementEntitlement is an increasingly common problem among students.

Fox News carried a report about recently that stopped me in my tracks. A professor from Valencia College in Florida, Jack Chambless, was interviewed on an entitlement experiment and an essay he gave his class this semester.

He assigned his class to write a short essay on what the American Dream means to you. Students were to write off of the top of their head, for about ten minutes. The papers Chambless received sobered him. The students were clear:

  • 10% of the class said the American Dream was about being responsible to make the most of opportunities and not depend on government to do it for you.
  • Over 80% of the class, however, said the American Dream was about government providing the amenities for them to live comfortably:
    • Free tuition and healthcare
    • Money for a house
    • Money for a comfortable retirement
    • Money for vacations

In fact, the majority wrote they felt the government should tax wealthy citizens more since they owned more, so that they could benefit from that wealth. Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like Adam Smith or John Locke to me.

One kid’s essay said: “As human beings, we are not really responsible for our own actions and so we need government to control those who don’t care about others.”

Where does this spirit of entitlement come from?

My study tells me it stems from 20 years of entitlement messaging from our schools and culture. When Professor Chambliss asked if his students had read or even heard of Adam Smith or John Locke, (early writers on free enterprise and capitalism), they looked at him blankly. Foreign names and concepts. We’ve failed to teach the foundations upon which our nation was built and now we are reaping the harvest…in the form of entitlement.

Today, 44% of our U.S. population live off of government subsidies, compared to 29% just thirty years ago. While I am all for helping the needy (in fact, my family gives 20% of our income to charity), what’s the model we are displaying with these numbers? In short, it is:

I am not responsible, someone else is.

Now to the entitlement experiment. After reading the papers, professor Jack Chambless asked his students to pull out their wallets and purses. When they did, he randomly selected one, grabbed it from the student, rummaged through it and pulled out that student’s cash. He then said his American Dream was to own a cabin he could retire in, and didn’t have the funds, so he was going to help himself to the money he’d just found in that purse.

Needless to say—this didn’t go over very well with the students. It did, however, spark a discussion on who’s responsible for who, when it comes to work and provision.

I realize I may sound terribly narrow and conservative—but am I wrong? What kind of adults will we have in twenty years, if this is the foundation for their beliefs? Do you want to be dependent on social security funded by the income of this kind of adult?

What can we do to change this entitlement attitude?


  1. Dsrahwoomert on March 26, 2012 at 8:03 am

    I recently saw a writing prompt hanging in a public school hallway for a class of fourth graders. The prompt was “As a child, I have a right to..” I was exteremely concerned by the entitlement answers given (good free education, loving homes, foods I like, ect.). I do fear this might be a duplication issue as I feel many adults have fallen into this way of thinking. I think as we are working with this next generation we have to create experiences for them to feel the joy of accomplishment. They need to know that working for something is good, goals are attainable, and we were created to chase dreams. I strongly believe it is essential not only for their sense of entitlement, but their self esteem and emotional age.

    • Tim Elmore on March 26, 2012 at 9:14 am

      Wow! That is a great example of the entitlement mentality being passed along at an early age. Great point about how this is a result of duplication as many adults have this same viewpoint. We have to lead ourselves first and then lead our kids to think differently about what is required to earn what they desire.

  2. Jen on March 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    This is much broader than the student population. I’m seeing this amongst seminary students and young families in ministry too. The government has done a better job than the church when it comes to getting the word out on entitlements. These 20-something’s are signing up for food stamps and other welfare programs simply because they qualify. It’s not that they believe their choice of vocation handicaps them, they have given no thought to the purpose of these programs. They see free money, they qualify, and they take it. When confronted with the consequences to their reputations and educated as to the source of this funding, they are quick to unenroll. I suspect I am alone in pressing through with these risky conversations, but I’m committed to educating them for the sake of the church at large.

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:45 am

      It’s great that you are having the difficult conversations with them. It’s tough but necessary!

    • Sedkennard on April 10, 2012 at 10:05 am

      So, say, there was a church planter with a family of 5 whose church plant went bad. Because of that, they were in scramble mode. The husband found a job at Target. Got promoted to leadership. Worked 40 hours a week, didn’t earn a “living wage” and qualified for WIC. So they decided to take the subsidy so help put food on the table while they recovered.

      Over a year and a half later, they’re still needing it because they’re just now getting back on their feet. 

      Yes, that is my family. I agree totally with the blog post, but I’m wondering, do I need someone to challenge me? Am I in sin because we’re taking this money from the government? Maybe it makes me a hypocrite. Although defensive, I’m open to the discussion, and I have a feeling you’re talking about those who take it just to take it. Maybe you’re talking about us too. 

      I guess what I’m saying is that it gets real when it is your family you’re staring at wondering, “Well, if I don’t take it I’m not quite sure where groceries will come from. But if I do take it I’m not doing the right thing.” Maybe you’ve been there, and I don’t know your situation. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe I’m just way out of turn. 

      • Jake Sumner on April 13, 2012 at 10:32 am

        I’d be interested to hear Jen’s take on your particular situation.

        I think the situation you’re describing is exactly what the government programs were created for – helping people out of a temporary situation by providing the tangible assistance they need.

        There is a big difference between that and a student believing it is the government’s responsibility to provide food, shelter, medical care, cell phone, etc to them indefinitely. 

        It becomes a problem when this moves from temporary solution to a permanent one. I know this is a complicated issue – morally, politically, etc but I agree that having first-hand experience with it changes your viewpoint. I don’t think your situation makes you a hypocrite unless you’ve given up on finding a way to provide for your family. Hope you guys are nearing the end of this season! Thanks for taking time to share your experience!

  3. Trent Thomas on March 29, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I believe we need to be very careful with giving something to people without them believing they did anything to earn it.  Grace is important, but that is when a person truly has no way of taking care of themselves or the problem.  Many times, we are only making a problem easier or non-existent by giving them something for nothing.  
    In example, I had a kid say, “give me a dollar, I’m hungry” the other day.  I told him he would have to earn it and WE thought of some things he could do that would merit me giving him a dollar.  He has earned 5 cents so far. . .haha!

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:46 am

      Great example. Thanks for sharing!

  4. SKHteacher on April 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Great article, Tim.  You are right on with your points.  As a high school teacher, there’s no question that I see this problem more so now than when I was in school!

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:47 am

      It may be more common now and reminds us of the importance of leading this generation well.

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Overcoming Entitlement: A Case Study