Monday, January 16, 2012

Millennials--What Next?

I have sat through several workshops--and read some of the main books, such as Jean Twenge's Generation Me--on Millennials.  These were enlightening and this post is by no means a criticism of them.  It is vital that we older profs realize that the students in our classes see the world quite differently from how we do.

They see technology differently; work ethic differently; their free time differently; relationships differently; church and spirituality differently; formality differently; disciplines and knowledge acquisition differently; sexuality differently; politics and social justice differently; the purpose of their education differently; the professors' roles differently.  Well, they may see some of these, if not all, differently.  And let me add that not all millennials are created equally.  My son is smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation--born in 1988--and some of these are true of him and some not at all.  

My point being that while knowing this social-psychological research is vital, we don't want to overreact to it.  Example:  An instructor in my college said, "What do I do about when they email me and it looks like a text message and I can't read it?"  Her assumption was that there was something wrong with her, not the student for communicating like that, and as if to expect them to write coherent sentences was expecting them to overcome a disability.  Oh, please.  My answer?  "Reply to the email and say you will only read emails in English."  The fact that they can email you and you answer them should be enough.

Harsh?  Well, let me say that I am famous for answering my email promptly, so I figure answering them and asking for coherence is better than ignoring them and/or trying to figure out what the heck they are getting at in a text message type email.

The irony is that we have accepted that a college education is about getting a job and yet we don't expect employment-appropriate skills from them.

The second problem is the assertion that we should know pop culture to relate to our millennial students.  Which pop culture is that?  I could spend my whole life exploring pop culture and still miss what they are interested in.  Anime?  Certain TV shows?  Music?  Video games?  Here I can depend on my son a bit, who plays some video game where electronic blood splatters on the screen.  When I have tried to incorporate pop culture, a lot of the students aren't familiar with it.  And I don't like Family Guy and South Park--I find them vicious and insulting.  Should I spend time watching those instead of reading an article that will help me teach my discipline better?

Beyond this tirade, I have to ask how much longer the research on millenials will be relevant.

First, the employment situation in this country should have clued everyone into the fact that you can't go to work wearing flipflops any more.  It's a highly competitive environment, and you better put your best foot forward if you want a decent job.

Second, eventually our students won't be millennials any more.  What will they be?  They will be the grandchildren of the baby boomers.  They will be children who may or may not have grown up with helicopter parents, who may have been raised by their grandparents, who may have known a much tougher upbringing economically and relationally due to the prevalence of single-parent homes.

Which brings me to a larger point, something I have always questioned about millennial research:  Is this true for white, middle class students, or everyone?  The patterns I see in my son and his friends is not what I see in my Latino students, my international students,  or those truly first generation rural white students. 

The value of Millennial research seems to be in terms of engagement and motivation as opposed to instruction and reaching outcomes.  Of course, we must engage them, but as the title above says, what next?  Do they learn differently (do their brains process differently) from older students?  I would argue that it is highly possible they do because of our overdependence on technologically.  Therefore, the next step--the what's next--is about how to teach students whose brains may have been retrained to learn a different way.

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