Sunday, November 15, 2009

What's The Matter With Kids Today ?

Last week I was invited to a "Career Day" at a big high school in Marietta, Georgia, possibly because I can do a double-feature: I can tell what it's like to be an information technology manager and also what it's like to be a college teacher.

I went with a little trepidation.  Remember the song Kids from Bye Bye Birdie?  "Kids! They are just impossible to control! Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock an' roll!"  I was pretty certain the end of civilization had already begun, and that it had started in high schools.

Ms. March, a mathematics teacher, took me to two of her classes to talk with the students for half an hour or so.  The first was a class of freshmen, so they were 14-15 years old.  At first they let me talk, but they'd been given a list of questions to ask, and a couple of students broke the ice with the canned questions.  I got a few questions that weren't on the list, too. Although, when I asked who wanted to be a teacher, only two of them raised hands, they seemed genuinely interested in what it was like.  They were more interested in teaching than computing, too.

The second class was much smaller, and juniors, so perhaps 17 years old.  They were more at ease (not to say rowdy!) with having a visitor in their class.  With a couple of exceptions, they were engaged in the discussion and interested in learning about something new.

Was there weird clothing?  Sure!  On the other hand, they probably thought my blue blazer, white shirt with regimental tie, and khaki gabardines were pretty weird, too.  Why, no item of my clothing had a skull anywhere on it!

These are the kids Strauss and Howe call Millennials.  They'll make up most of the U.S. Congress when I'm an old (older!) man, and one of them will be President in my last years.

I haven't made a study of generations, but I've watched many people make the transition from childhood to adulthood in my college classroom over the past 14 years.  I think of the college class of 2015 as part of the Digital Generation.  They have no memory of a time without computers and the Internet, of course we send manned flights into outer space, and of course the kids' "gear" interoperates wirelessly and seamlessly.  That's the way things work... I thought you knew!  (They've also never heard a telephone ring.  Their phones play music and their parents' phones make a gobbling sound like an electronic turkey.  Yes, I do have a cellular phone, and yes, it has a ringtone of two brass bells of different pitches ringing alternately.)

If I worry about these kids at all, I worry they're being over-protected and that the transition to the reality of adulthood will be a rude, possibly fatal, shock for them.  When I was that age, we walked to school, and yes, it was uphill both ways... in the snow!  The more important point is that, between 3:15 when I got out of elementary school and 5:30 or 6:00, I was "out playing."  My parents didn't have a clue where I was, and everyone thought that was OK.  The phrases "soccer mom" and "bicycle helmet" were not a part of the English language.  The only danger I ever heard a parent worry about out loud was polio.  The other dangers were as prevalent then as now; we simply didn't worry about them.  And, mostly, they didn't kill us.  I guess I'm with Friedrich Nietzsche on that one.  (And if any of you kids is reading this, look it up!  We didn't have Google then, either!)

My trip to Sprayberry High School left me feeling pretty good about the kids who will be running the world when I'm a little old man.  I hope they invite me again next year!