“Kids these days” is the usual preemptive statement that is followed by what, how and why “this generation” is lacking. It does seem as though we are faulting the circumstances of a group that just so happened to be born after the millennium without taking notice of the social context that these same members of our society were born into.
Yes, our students learned how to operate an iPad before they learned how to multiply. Yes, although these kids grew up on and around computers, they barely know how to type. Yes, despite all the technology that makes life easier, these kids gripe about life being so hard. But don’t we, meaning parents and educators, especially educators, claim responsibility for any of the so-called calamities that have penetrated the current fabric of our society?
Schools especially look egregiously oxymoronic when they pathologize the plight of this new generation. We have turned the trend of paying reformers hundreds of thousands of dollars to research our schools only to find that these people are either way too smart for their own good or way too stupid. We have names, norms, and acronyms for every practice, insight, and strategy about teaching; professional developments out the ass about new ways to teach math, reading strategies, and student engagement. All of it recycled, or renamed, every half-decade or so to suggest a breakthrough in pedagogy and student learning. All the while, actual teachers, the ones who implement this stuff being sent down from high up places, realize that our latest “strategy” is nothing more than a flashy new term for an outdated method that was already in place, and then abandoned, and now back en vogue. We moved away from rote learning to “experiential-based” practice only to realize that not every kid was going to be a mathematical savant and discover the principles of multiplication on their own. And now we have a generation of kids who don’t know their timetables but are expected to answer multi-faceted math problems. While we sit back, shaking our collective heads, sighing about the kids these days.
What happened to accepting the culture and generational norms of a group and straight-up good teaching?
Damn near starting at the first grade, the stakes are so high for these “pupils” it is no wonder why anxiety is the number one mental illness in North America right now. We are welcoming a new wave of parents who have more debts than degrees and have no clue what to really tell their children about the importance of schooling. Does hard work really pay off? For the lucky ones, yes. But how about the thousands of college graduates who worked unpaid internships during their entire college time only to come out with a job that pays them less than what they could have made as a construction worker or plumber – if they had only forgone higher education and gotten right into the trades after high school.
The responsibility lies on teachers to pull back the reigns of linear thinking that results in specialized subject matter and telling 10-year-olds that if they want to be an elite athlete that they have to pick one sport and stick with it. We are stifling creativity when third grade test scores result in Individual Education Plans and special education classes for particular students. Third. Grade. Test. Scores. The lives of 8-year-olds are now predetermined based on how well they added two-digit numbers together and derived meaning from a story about a wizard and a rock that talks.
The fault does not lie with the “kids these days” but more so on our inability to properly empathize with their circumstance and then correctly adjust our teaching methods. Some, but not all rote learning is important. Unstructured time, you know – like recess and playing in the park, can still go a long way in the development of self-directed youngsters. On the flip side, high-stakes, state or province wide assessments are also not the way to a productive future. There must be a blend between the past and the present. And it doesn’t take a futurist to see that.
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