The Ambitious Generation

In The Ambitious Generation: America’s Teenagers, Motivated but Directionless Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson compared American high school students of the 1950’s with their 1990’s counterparts and found that contemporary students expect to attend post-secondary school and become white-collar professionals, but their higher ambitions do not correspond to their educational programs and are often unrealistic. Using case histories, Schneider and Stevenson demonstrate the importance of “aligned ambitions,” ambitions that correspond to educational goals. They use three high schools—one focusing on aligned ambitions, one focusing on getting students into the best possible post- secondary schools, and one stressing equal access and success—to show how parental involvement and effective high school counseling can provide students with needed skills for future employment.

Students need knowledge about how to reach their occupational goals, but too often they focus on admission to prestigious but occupationally inappropriate institutions or elect to attend, for financial or other reasons, community colleges that seldom offer them the necessary background. The authors, however, recommend that parents expend their financial resources, counsel their children, and use their contacts to provide their children information about education and career choices. Since the number of high school courses has increased dramatically, high school counselors need to align students’ goals with the appropriate courses; and they need to increase the internships and activities that relate to occupational goals. The articulation (transfer of credits) between two and four-year schools also needs improvement.

Readers may find the authors’ disparagement of two-year schools as preparation for the professions a bit exaggerated, and liberal arts graduates who have succeeded in the business world may object to what seems like an exclusive emphasis on vocational higher education.