I often wondered why my cohort of doctoral students at Yale University, unlike their successors, showed no interest in the unions. Most of my classmates considered themselves women and men of the left, but as I recall, there was never a trade union organization. On the contrary, twenty years later the pressure to unite graduate students in unions at private universities was strong.
For reasons that deserve close attention, Overton’s window – the range of politicians considered plausible – has expanded. Ideas that were once considered far-fetched, like writing off student debt, now seem conceivable.
What has changed? The answer, in a word, lies in Fr.deepening pessimism about the future.
The pessimism of generations can be viewed in different ways – in late marriage and childbirth, deviation from organized religion, the growing prevalence of psychiatric abuse among the twenty-something and, perhaps above all, the well-documented decline in mental health, which is clearly increasing. indicators of loneliness, depression and despair.
We are all familiar with the developments that contributed to this sense of anticipation. The lag of real incomes. The cost of housing is growing rapidly. High prices for child care. Unprecedented levels of student debt. There are fears about the degree without payment.Very slow rate of wealth acquisition. Persistent racial differences. An unprecedented level of generational inequality.
There is a widespread belief that expectations that were once considered reasonable are now unattainable.
The Jill Filipovich Generation Manifesto 2020, OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Behind, cites a number of indicative statistics:
- That her generation owns only 3 percent of American wealth, as opposed to baby boomers, who at the same age had 21 percent.
- Members of her cohort held $ 15,000 in student loan debt, unlike the Boomers, who held only $ 2,300 in today’s dollars.
- That her companions had to pay almost 40 percent more for their first homes than baby boomers.
- That her generation spends twice as much on health care as when the post-World War II generation was young parents.
As one reviewer summed up Filpovich’s argument: “The immediate post-war generation captured all careers, income, good quarters … created public policy to protect their achievements … raised the political drawbridge and thus left those born in 80s and 90s to grow into adulthood, prisoners in much weakened life chances.
The hostility of generations is manifested in the tendency to stereotype and stigmatize, to treat the young as caressed snowflakes or closed selfishness.
It’s not just that many young people own a bike instead of a car, or buy an iPhone or toast with avocado, another affordable luxury item instead of a home or apartment. For the first time since the Great Depression,most young people now live with their parents. Many work part-time because they cannot find a full-time job, paid by the middle class, commensurate with their education.
I notice that among the many twenty-something there is a growing belief that American society is against them, and the likely Supreme Court ruling that will allow states to severely restrict abortion is cited as further evidence.
HowThe Guardianspeaking, among the many twenty with something, there is a feeling that “their generation has faced much greater obstacles to becoming independent adults than previous generations».
As the left-wing British daily notes:
“Today’s youth do not put off adulthood because they are, as the New Yorker once put it,” the most indulgent young people in the history of the world. ” Instead, they do not seem to reach the main stages of adulthood at the same time as previous generations, because such stages are much more expensive, and in some cases they are even paid less than their parents at the same age.
The generation gap is certainly not new and has recurred over the last century. “when two different demographic groups face each other because one (junior) has created a system of values that is fundamentally different from the other (senior)».
It remains that most teachers, not just senior teachers, are increasingly different from their students in background, life experience formation, and often in value orientations.
One side effect: the growing sense of hostility between generations that sometimes breaks through in the college classroom. We can see this in the disputes over language, values, behavior, and identity that sometimes erupt because of imaginary generational differences that are sometimes exacerbated by demographic and cultural differences. To further complicate the situation, our classes increasingly consist of several generations, and consist not only of older teachers and students of traditional age, but also of a wide variety of students with very different backgrounds, life experiences, views and aspirations.
How can teachers bridge the gaps between generations and create classes that include generations? Proposed by communication scientist Bruce Briskysome specific suggestions:
1. Learn as much as possible about the attitudes and values of your students.
2. Identify and combat generational stereotypes and misconceptions.
3. Openly acknowledge and discuss generational differences.
4. Recognize how your life experiences and cultural landmarks differ from your students.
Then there is thatnodo:
- Not indulgently.
Be careful not to burn and talk to our students about unpleasant and inappropriate comparisons about the problems faced and overcome by the generation of teachers.
- Be careful offering wrong advice.
Recognize that social and economic realities have undergone profound transformations, and advice that may have been appropriate in the past may now be completely wrong.
- Don’t close your eyes to the concerns of students.
It is a big mistake to avoid or reject anxieties and fears that may seem transient, trivial, or exaggerated.
Of course, I’m not the only one wondering whether the pandemic will define the lives and worldview of young Americans like the Great Depression, or whether it will be more like 9/11 – a terrible, painful trauma that – for those who haven’t lost loved ones – eventually faded.
However, if the impact of the pandemic persists, it will be not just because of COVID, but because of coincidences including terrible demographic changes, the calculation of racial inequality, the debate on the meaning of gender and sexual identity, deepening stratification in education and social economy class, as well as changing models of economic opportunities that have helped color our students ’identities.
When we talk about inclusive classes, don’t limit your attention to differences based on gender, ethnicity, race, class, gender, and religion. The difference between the generations also matters.
Those of us who are seniors have a special responsibility to address the challenges our students face, and we do our best to create a truly inclusive intergenerational culture in our classrooms.
Stephen Mintz is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.