Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gen X, Y, Z - now what?

I wrote in a post a while back that I didn't know what to call the current generation. You can read that post here. Today I found an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald in which the writer dubs them 'The I Generation'. In her article, I want out of Generation I, Lynn Van Der Wagen tackles the issue from the perspective of the classroom, as a teacher. I would encourage my readers to follow the link and read the article - it's not long - before continuing here, otherwise some contextual misunderstandings may arise.
Firstly, I have to say that I chuckled all the way through Van Der Wagen's article. She exercises an edgy, sarcastic style that is hugely entertaining, and I'm very sure that anyone who has anything to do with today's teenagers would probably have found a similar level of enjoyment from her very pointed analysis. 

However, underneath the sarcasm and wry wit, there is a very real concern, with which I identify. I tutor teenagers and I live with one - and there's an awful lot of reality in this article. It's not a particularly pretty reality either. It's not just the current crop of teens either, my boys belong a generation back, and there are elements of what is described that can be attributed to Gen Z too. Back when they were 'Gen I's' age, I was teaching other Gen Z's and receiving assignments that were - as is described in the article - all too often pastiches of digital cut and pastes from websites, rather than the product of considered research and evaluation of the  source material from the reading lists I had so very carefully assembled for them. It worried me at the time, and I told them I'd automatically deduct marks if there were no books in their bibliography lists at the end of their papers. My sense then was that it was the thin end of the wedge. I didn't have any sense of that thought being prophetic. However, now I have students in high school whose first port of call - in front of me too, when we're working together - is Wikipedia... It's pure laziness - and I tell them so.

One of my students goes to a school which has an agreement with a number of university and industry based libraries, so that the students are able to access books and journals as well as online resources that exceed the scope of most school libraries. Does this student avail himself of this awesome resource? Of course not. That would take time, and effort. Much more time than leaving the assignment until the last minute and waiting for me to arrive for a tutoring session, then in a ridiculously thinly camouflaged fashion, sitting at his computer waiting for prompts from me on what to write... "What did you say? Can you say it again?" - you don't have to be too smart to realise he's waiting for me to dictate the text of his paper...and I'm far from stupid. 

What I don't get - and this is a characteristic that Van Der Wagen didn't mention - is why this batch of kids continue to set themselves up so clumsily. I watch it all the time. And it comes back to what Van Der Wagen said so succinctly:
The sheer weight of their viewpoints is growing exponentially as parents and teachers alike are counselled to hold a young person's opinion in the highest regard.
Current thinking in educational circles focuses on students' independence and empowering unwavering self-belief.
By 'empowering' this generation to believe in themselves implicitly, and expect others to 'hold their opinion in the highest regard' are we not depriving them of opportunity to think critically? To consider their opinions and potential effects before they open their mouths? To value substantiating information and actually be concerned about getting things right, to the best of their ability? 

What I see all too often is a certain element of bravado and swagger that is probably a necessary accessory to enable them to maintain their deliverance of a lot of hot air, followed by an enormous effort to put themselves in a position of humorous superiority by joking about it if their bubble is pricked by someone who isn't prepared to indulge them. Worse, if you get them on a bad hair day, you're quite likely to get a mouthful about how all you ever do is try to take them down, and what do you know anyway...?

One of my colleagues said to me a few weeks back, when we were discussing this topic (he has teenage kids) that in his opinion, the destiny of 'Gen I' was going to be failure - in much the same way as family businesses can all too often go under when generations who weren't part of building the business inherit. My colleague's theory was that 'Gen I' have been too much indulged to have an understanding of long-term, hard endeavour, and sticking to things until they succeed. They're too accustomed to the instant gratification of things at the click of a mouse, last minute arrangements, making excuses and not being accountable. It will be their children who pick up, because they will have to find a different path... It's a scary proposition.

I do want to clarify one thing before I wrap up. I like these kids. They're very charming, and the ones I deal with are all very bright. They have piles and piles of potential. But I see so much of it going to waste, and I worry about their future when they don't have people standing by them who are there to continue to build them up because they lack the ability to do it for themselves.


  1. Kaz, I love this. Particularly the point about the "sheer weight of their viewpoints". Having reared 4 teens (and somehow managing to avoid arrest after endless sessions of listening to their high-brow rationales for all sorts of clumsily thought out nonsense they'd gotten themselves into) I can say that they are weighed down by ...something. I'm all for respecting every person, regardless of age, but teenage angst is a very real situation and parents, in my view, need to realize that guidance is paramount in the development of an individual of that age. The bravado you mention is rampant, as is a growing lack of restraint and recognition of simple personal boundaries. Very nice post!!!

    1. Thanks Scarlett, and welcome to Dragon Mother!

      To be honest, I wasn't expecting to still be wrestling with this stuff at the coal face by now - such is life... I'm still teaching and have acquired an adolescent stepson! I don't know that I could have sat back with the same level of objectivity I find I have now when it was my own kids, and certainly, I think that's an issue for many parents now - when you're THAT close, it's hard to see the incremental stages...and then suddenly, it's in your face and you have a situation that you have to deal with that's been brewing for a long time.

      Time I got back here - a number of articles and links are sitting with notes on them saying 'for Dragon Mother', but it's been a tad hectic in my world and I"m a bit time poor.

      Lovely to have you here - and I will be back!!

  2. I fear that one of the conditions that feed these teenage attitudes is the lack of family discussion and debate at home. Everybody is glued to their screens and in this world of parents working more hours outside the home, everyone gets home too tired to be bothered with conversation. In our household, there is a lot of robust debate especially around the dinner table...we all have our views challenged and have to put forward an argument to defend them. This is a great way to increase the children's awareness of the world around them, socially, politically, geographically etc. and is a safe way to challenge them and encourage their critical thinking, and enable them to cope with criticism without it being a mortal blow. I also agree with Scarlett's comment about personal boundaries, but when I see parents who don't know how to live within boundaries, how on earth are their children going to learn?