I always seem to find myself in weird places when it comes to generations: I obviously fit into the Generation Y timeframe (mid-’80s) but have some of an appreciation for both the old and the new. I have a soft spot for tradition but embrace progress and change – it’s a somewhat bizarre mix at times.
Since becoming a teacher, I have found certain things causing me to engage my place on the generational fence, confronted on one hand by some of my older colleagues (although there are a handful who are roughly my age) and on the other by my students, who have their own ways of making me feel old. My own stance provides me an interesting position, though, to engage the thoughts of both the older Generation X and the newer Generation Z.*
First, I have to turn from the classroom to that rich source of material for teacher interaction, the teachers’ lounge. (I swear, I could write posts upon posts just on what happens in there.) One day, I happened to find a printout of what was obviously an E-mail forward praising the virtues of the older generation. I don’t want to post the whole thing here, but this page on the old snopes message board reproduces essentially what I saw (this page on the new snopes board repeats many of the same claims plus some more, but it’s been cleaned up significantly from what I saw). Some highlights of why this generation is so awesome:
- “we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us”
- “our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints”
- “As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.”
To which I immediately thought: “And you think this was a good thing?!”
Which was quickly followed by: “And how many of your generation didn’t survive because of these things?”
To the author’s credit, there are some things that could arguably be seen as positive things in the past (being active outside to counteract any “unhealthy” things like sweets that they ate – although adult obesity rates would seem to suggest that these habits haven’t helped out the older generation any more than the younger), but seriously, suggesting that smoking and during during pregnancy†, lead paint in cribs†, and driving without seat belts and air bags weren’t so bad? Uh, yes, they were, and it’s incredibly dishonest to use the fact that you survived as a supposed reason. There are a lot of things that people survive that are bad by their nature: rapes, shootings, cancer, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, etc. Why isn’t the author nostalgic about those things? (Okay, probably because they weren’t as entrenched in the general childhood experience of the generation, but still – my point stands.)
On the other end, I had a student talk up his generation, saying (in a formal speech, no less) that it is the most well-behaved generation in 50 years. And after another speech about elderly abuse in one class, some students felt it necessary to talk about how old people are so rude and grumpy. These examples are not quite comparable, admittedly, but it’s a similar attitude. (Perhaps we could call it geneacentrism?)
This is like ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, and other attitudes to me: Why on earth do you have to be better than someone by virtue of belonging to a certain group (culture, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), especially when your membership in that group is wholly involuntary? Can you choose to be born in a certain generation? Of course not! The only function of this kind of attitude is to assert some kind of moral superiority, and frankly, I’ve had enough of people trying to make others feel inferior.
And why would teachers do this, of all people? Aren’t teachers supposed to support inclusion, and how can they profess to do that when they openly call their age group superior to the younger generations that they teach and work with?!
And then there’s me, content to say that there are good things that every generation can contribute. I admit that I see people somewhat as products of their generations, but that is never a pretext for thinking them inferior. I must be the bridge, between old and new, between the longed-for past and the hoped-for future, between my colleagues and the students we wish to help.
I can’t see any easy way to do this, but I can let my attitude navigate my steps and show that it is possible, despite all evidence to the contrary, to live one’s life without trying to reduce someone else to a lower status.
And that’s a goal worth building a bridge for.
*I say Generation Z rather than Y because all of my students (as far as I’m aware) were born after 1990, which is sort of where the line blurs between Y and Z (at least according to Wikipedia, that eternal source of wisdom).
†At the risk of sounding callous, a thought occurred to me: If the author’s mother did smoke and drink during pregnancy, it would at least be a biological reason for this idiocy. If something out of the author’s control isn’t responsible for it, then the author only has herself to blame for saying something so absurd. Certainly my coworkers who agreed with it don’t have any excuse…