Reflections Back: Generational and Cultural Changes
Some people have told me that this past June was the perfect time to get out of education, for the winds of change are blowing on the American educational scene, and they are getting stronger each year. Institutions like public education and the church are notorious for the lack of change, always changing after a cultural trend has occurred or when that trend becomes “acceptable” to the present culture in power.
Two years ago, our English Department met to order textbooks in our seven year maintenance and reordering of new materials cycle. I was shocked when battle lines were drawn. The old guard, including myself, warned that if you did not order a textbook for every child, they may not get one for the next seven years and you will be scrambling for material. The new guard rebuffed the idea opting for new technologies to replace old books.
Our current American culture finds itself in a dilemma where technology is now moving so fast, institutions can not keep up with it. Schools finally budget for desk top computers for their computer labs only to discover that mobile laptops have already replaced them, oops, I am sorry, smart phones have replaced them. As my district finally order laptops for their staff, kids were already tweeting, Facebooking, Googling, blogging, and texting on the bus ramps. Even students on the Federal Lunch Program somehow owned smart phones while their parent’s didn’t. On a field trip, the bus was absolutely quiet, which makes a teacher nervous wondering what everyone was up to! They were all talking, electronically, texting one another as well as their parents at home informing them of out Estimated Time of Arrival! Schools can not keep up with the hardware being offered in technology and does not have the software to fit into its institutional thinkings.
As I sit here, the Space Shuttle is performing its last mission! We are known as the “space age” country, and even have a space station in outer space that we can not get to unless we send our astronauts in soviet Russian rockets. The criticism is that the Apollo Missions were immediately replaced with the Gemini Moon Missions that were immediately replaced by the Space Shuttle Missions, but with the Shuttle’s retirement to “assisted living” in selected museums, there is nothing to date in front of the public for them to visible see that will replace the shuttle! The technology of space exploration has gone so fast with satellite trips to every imaginable planet in our galaxy, we have not been able to keep up with the hardware to get man there. My generation saw a man physically get on the moon but then abandon that idea for over a decade. Now my generation demands to see a man physically make it to Mars, but my children’s generation doesn’t. They are satisfied with all the “data” received in their “data” driven minds in a “data” driven world wide web culture that is being supplied by our satellites. They want more "data" before sending men there, thus the pause, the wait before another visible launch! That is an example of the different mindsets between the two generations.
I have found that “data”, “research”, “access” to information, world wide social contacts have trumped what I thought was reason, experience, and face to face socializing. I’ve lost contact with all of my high school and college alumni except for a handful who I personally “see” “over the years”, while my children stay in contact “socially” to theirs through social networking, “seeing” them by Skyping them if needed. I think Skype is a technology for my generation because we still want to physically “see” who we are talking to. The younger generation doesn’t have to see who they are texting, the message is more important. They don’t have to actually see the person on Facebook, but they do like to share pictures with one another or maybe even videos, but actual “face to face” communication is not a requisite for “Face”book.
In the public school setting I felt my expertise through 40 years of teaching was minimized if not looked down upon by administration and younger staff members. I said, “If it is not broken, don’t fix it. We worked years to “tweak” (now an archaic term) what we had been doing.” Now I get “research says,” or “data shows” as rebuffs to my expertise, my personal experiences and my logical reasoning. There is definitely a chasm between the mindsets of older and younger generations, and the width is growing.
Like my culture, looking for a tangible, optical object to replace the space shuttle, so my generation is looking for a tangible, optical object to replace the textbook, not some ambient world wide network with its “clouds” replacing floppy discs and thumb drives. We can’t even see where this information and our valuable pictures are being stored. We are losing control of our “tangible”, visual world. The younger generation hungers for social contact that my generation thinks is shallow, hungers for data which my generation thinks is trivial, hungers for relationships that are global rather than small local communities and school districts that my generation valued. The small town mentality of my grandparents is now ancient history.
Different mindsets created by different experiences have changed culture. Often drastic cultural change brings generational divisions. This can be avoided if both generational cultures try to begin to understand each other. They have so much in common. The young pups forget their DNA is the same as the old dogs and vice versus; both are made from the same fabric. We will have to continue to look at this generational phenomena that American culture is facing.