Tuesday, May 03, 2016

 
Commence rant. (This week is Mother's Day.  Indulge me.)

I was told today that it's unfair to stereotype millennials, and was reminded that (although I am not really a boomer or Gen X, but something between the 2) before we created a generation well educated but hip deep in student loans, they have become a generation spending more time on line and less time interacting with flesh and blood people, and dependent on social media for everything from pizza delivery to spirituality.   There have always been slackers, burnouts and disaffected types. But we created the folks you see sitting side by side in a coffee shop texting each other and sending LOL emoji's instead of actually just laughing.  Posting stupid stuff that should never see the light of day for everyone to see.  For the life of the Internet. We didn't mean to, but we did it nonetheless.

So, yes, Andrea, there **are** flakes in every generation, but in my world the flakiness differences between boomers, Gen X and millennials (particularly in terms of how they approach the entire concept of work and learning) are so clear that everyone and their brother has written (or is writing) a book on how to engage them, keep them engaged, and how to tell if they are learning anything useful. etc.  (I'm a technical instructional designer.  We talk about this stuff as nauseum.)  And even if you aren't a cranky old fart, you have to admit it is true. Millennials aren't necessarily worse, but they are DIFFERENT. Particularly in the US.  It's part of the reason why other countries are kicking our butts on standardized tests.

And most of the differences can be laid at the feet of -- not just the millennials themselves, but the folks a generation or 2 back-- so the biggest reason it makes me sad is that we created the issues with all the best intentions, and now we are bitching about the unintended consequences.

--Part of the shift is due to the changes in institutionalized educational processes from preschool on to grad school. (AKA "no child left behind" "common core" and the rise of homeschooling, and the holy grail of standardized testing, to name a few) (all pretty much ineffective in their own way)  And my rant on homeschooling will be reserved for another day,

--Part of it is the ubiquity of information--- most of it unvetted (which is a pedantic way to say "not everything on the internet is true or correct." Yet despite being inundated with "stuff" we no longer teach students critical analysis.  I was explicitly taught how to learn beginning at the primary level-- in a session called "study skills" -- We learned how to look things uphow to problem solve, how to validate information, how to identify opinion vs. fact.  Yes, I went to private schools selected for their academic results, rather than social status, religious affiliation or convenience, and they did a lot of stuff there that is no longer PC, but I got an excellent education.
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--Another part of it is that the democratization of the classroom -- while done with the best of intentions, this has become a disaster for social learning. Kids are kids and teachers are teachers. They are not equals until you get to grad school, and maybe not even then.  Teachers, dress like you have an important profession and are in charge, not like you are going to a club or the gymn. You can be comfortable and still display respect for your self, your job, and your students. You can also be relevant and use proper grammar and an adult professional vocabulary.

There is a natural social order to classrooms and offices and factories and military units and football teams and every other group of people engaged in group activity.  If we don't teach young people how to interact with adults who are in positions of leadership, they leave school expecting the world of work to be an extension of the idealized family, where everyone loves you for the special little snowflake you are, and they make infinite adjustments for your quirks.

Unfortunately, that's not the real world in 98% of workplaces.

and... well, for all that to happen, someone has to be in charge and make and enforce some arbitrary rules to make sure that the water that comes out of the tap is safe to use, the bandwidth is available when you connect to the net, etc.

Sucks, but  it's just the way it is. 

When parents routinely criticise teachers in front of their kids, it undermines the teacher's authority in the classroom. When a student has a problem with something happening in school, the adults in charge need to work it out together, and then explain to the child how they are all going to work together to implement the agreed-upon solution.

Kids need consequences proportionate to their mistakes as much as they need encouragement for doing well.

It's really not the fault of the millennials...Their parents -- whether left or right leaning-- rebelled against traditional education processes, because it wasn't meeting their immediate needs.... but they threw the baby out with the bathwater and applied quick fixes to complex issues.


When folks like me say that millennials are "different" we need to accept our responsibility for making them that way.  They learned the lessons we taught them--- we just didn't think it through when we decided to change the curriculum.  (And before anyone of an older generation says "I didn't change the curriculum!" remember that 1. In public policy, silence is consent   2. You consented every time you complained to a teacher, principal or school board that "my kid's teacher is "old fashioned" or "arbitrary" when they gave Johnny a C because he only missed a few math problems, and most of the other kids missed them too" (ummmm...a C is average. The curve.) or complained that the dress code was too strict.  Or that getting detention or another punishment for repeatedly being late was unfair. Or that Janie will be embarassed if she is reassigned out of her AP class, because you know she can do the work, but she just forgets to turn in her homework. (Turning in your homework on time is part of the lesson she needs to learn.)

Once in a while you run into parents who get it and realize that the system isn't completely broken, but it does require some serious work and even more hands-on parental involvement (You can't outsource your kids' education to the public school system-- it has to be an adjunct to the hands on work YOU are putting in on an everyday basis)

The worst thing previous generations have done to millennials is that, now that they are becoming adults with kids of their own, we didn't prepare them to parent--not with hokey classes where you carry a doll or an egg around-- but by teaching them by example that learning is not something you go to a school building to get, like bananas at a market or discard when it is past the expiration date. That the lessons start when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning and never stop.  

My parents were complicated people and not perfect, but they were awesome when it came to education. They not only supported us academically, but they taught us how what we were learning in school applied to the real world.  Admittedly, Dad taught statistics and averages at baseball games and at horse races, geometry on a billiards table and percentages learning how to calculate a tip. Mom let me read trashy historical novels on the beach, and then made me pick out any anachronisms of language or setting or timeline.  I learned practical applications of physics, chemistry and algebra taking recipes for 4 servings and adjusting them to our much larger household.

None of this was stuff you learned to pass a test... it was stuff you learned to live your adult life to the fullest.

So, millennials, if we say "Sorry, we screwed up. We didn't mean to, but we were young and foolish and had the best of intentions." And if we promise to help you, can you please try to fix this before your own kids send your Mother's Day and Father's Day cards directly to the chip embedded in your brain in waveform because keyboards and voice to text have become "so early 21st century!" ? Because if cursive handwriting disappeared because people stopped putting real pens to real paper, when we lose our keyboards and voices, we could lose music, poetry, drama, and so much more.


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