Remember that song from “Sesame Street?” My wife and I grew up in “MisterRogers Neighborhood,” so the next generation that grew up on the “Street” had to find out who the people in their neighborhood were through song rather than a by a personal visit or video views through a magical picture frame.
So who are the people in your school’s neighborhood? Not individually, but grouped by generations? While each school community and its surrounding community is truly unique, there are some generational groupings that can serve to provide insight to the societal mindset of these individuals.
While demographers today define starting and ending points of generations differently, archeologists have a common belief that a generation lasts about 20 years. With that in mind, and a known “major event,” we can then assign some years as starting and ending points to typical generational mindsets.
1945, the end of World War II, is generally accepted as the start of the Baby Boom. 20 years later, 1964 can be considered as the end of it as some major events around that time began to reshape the world, namely, the development of artificial birth control drugs, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and their visionary insights, and the start of the Second Vatican Council.
Using those dates, the next endpoints would be 1965 through 1984, which would be the birth years of the next generation, Generation X. These were the ‘Latchkey” kids who grew up as children of single parent households, had to fend for themselves at an early age, and therefore, became fiercely independent, and overly concerned with how events and circumstances affected them personally. Because of these things, they became known as “The ME Generation,” and as they grew, new publications began to emerge to reflect their societal mindset – “Life” magazine gave way to “People,” which gave way to “Us,” which gave way to “Self.” This was the first generation to realize that their lifestyle may not be better than that of the previous generation since they weren’t attuned to the principal of sacrificing so the next generation could make their lifestyle a little better than theirs.
Big Brother may not have been watching in 1984 as George Orwell predicted, but the next generation would certainly become aware of diminishing privacy. Those born in 1985 through 2004 are the Millennials. The rate of technological change during that time period exceeded the rate of change during the previous 80 years. Millennials (or Generation Y) grasp the pervasiveness of social media and embrace it. They are very much into their friends, but their friends may not be folks that they live near or have lunch with from time to time. They connect with them regularly via social media, and may be down the street or thousands of miles away. While they’re more the “Us” Generation rather than the “Me” generation, to borrow the convention of “like” used so significantly in social media, they can be more correctly called, “The ‘Like Us’ Generation.”
The next generation, known as the Digitals (born 2005 to the present – also referred to as the iGeneration, Digital Natives or Generation Z), have never lived during a time when technology was all-pervasive. Access to information is instant, and their media choices are abundant. They crave entertainment, and their brains – actually, their mental pathways – are being shaped in ways that no other generation’s brains have ever been formed.
Going backward from 1945, the folks born from 1925 through 1944 are those that grew up during the Great Depression and fought during World War II. Demographers refer to them as the Great Generation and the Silent Generation, as they struggled through hardships growing up, and early members of this generation had to defend their country as teenagers. The Immigrants, born 1905 through 1924, came to this country or were born here from parents that came to our nation from all over the world.
Charting these groups, we see:
- 1905-1924 – The Immigrants – Age in 2021: 97 to 116
- 1925-1944 – The Great/Silent Generations – Age in 2018: 77 to 96
- 1945-1964 – Baby Boomers – Age in 2018: 57 to 76
- 1965-1984 – Generation X – Age in 2018: 37 to 56
- 1985-2004 – The Millennials – Age in 2018: 17 to 36
- 2005- today – The Digitals – Age in 2018: birth to 16
What does this mean for your school?
Elementary school students are members of the Digital generation. They’re also in high school, and will be entering college in the next couple of years. While the current pandemic has forced these technology savvy students to study and learn differently, many studies are pointing to the fact that learning objectives aren’t being met during this school year, and many children are falling behind. Let me put it out there that research is awesome at aggregation, and then comparing to the norm, only looking at sample data, and not the whole. These students that require the traditional way of learning are those that are, in some way, not adept to working with technology, have difficulty focusing (which was shaped by video technology and the rapid change from topic to topic present on early learning television like Sesame Street). Those comfortable working with technology, having access to technology and brains that are adept at technology utilization, may be getting through their lessons more rapidly, using technology to expedite processes rather than doing the work necessary to grasp the concept of the process, and may even complete their assignments so quickly that they may be “bored” for the rest of the day. Plus, there’s the opportunity for continued distraction that comes with tech usage, so while they may have difficulties with their new “classroom” experience, their educational achievement might be even more advanced than usually, increasing the divide between those that “get it” and those that need someone to help them…like an in-person teacher…and something which today’s busy parents – members of Generation X – don’t have time for. Remember that Generation X is “All about me.” They’re “My kids,” and are concerned about them (which is why they’re called “helicopter” parents. Millennial parents want to make things easier for them, and they’re no longer “helicopters.” They’re “snowplows,” clearing the obstacles for their children, and believe that it’s YOUR responsibility as the school to make things easier for them…rather than realizing that real learning involves failure. Failure today means inadequacy, and, unfortunately, stigmatization. If you’re wondering why parents don’t want their kids to fail, it’s not because they love them so much, it’s because that doing so is considered by society today to be a reflection on them.
Some suggestions for moving forward? Think about these:
- Still looking for elementary school textbooks? Look some more. Get them notebook computers or some type of tablet. That’s where their textbooks will be…or should be.
- Still thinking about a 1 to 1 technology initiative? Stop thinking and make it happen before your school becomes irrelevant.
- Parents want to be treated as unique individuals, and want their kids to be treated as such, because they’re concerned about how things affect “them” as individuals and not your school community. Policies and rules are for community order – and they believe that exceptions can and should be created for them. Don’t make “exceptions” – create “customizations.”
Baby Boomers are almost out of the K-12 experience and either still have children in college or are having grandchildren. This is the age group where philanthropy takes root. Approach them. “Ask and it will be given to you” isn’t only a prayer, it’s what has to happen to help financially support the good work your school is doing. The key is to engage these individuals with your school (even though their kids are no longer part of it). These individuals are also the alumni that are most able to support your school. The problem is that if many of these individuals went to a private or faith-based school, it may now be closed or merged with another school, or, in the case of a public school district, it may be so engaged in looking for additional tax monies or government funding through vouchers that they forget about the people who influenced them to become the people they are today, and perhaps honoring their memory through philanthropy. Rather than naming an athletic field after the person that donated the money, have them honor a member of their family or a teacher who had a profound influence on them.
As a public school district, you need to realize that you’re not only a tax-driven entity, you’re also a non-profit organization and can create a philanthropic foundation to help fund it! If you’re not doing this now, then, as Alvin and the Chipmunks sang back in the day, “Now is the time to start.” The next generation that will be targets for your development and advancement efforts will be Generation X. If you thought getting them to pay tuition was difficult, or getting them involved in helping to support school activities, like your high school band booster program, was tough, getting them to donate to your school will make tuition payment seem like child’s play.
The Great and Silent Generations, as well as some Baby Boomers, are now becoming concerned with end of life issues. They can be approached with leaving a legacy to continue to fund your school through planned giving initiatives. Again, if you’re not doing this now, perhaps you’re uncomfortable with it, then now’s the time to find someone who is comfortable with it so your educational environment can continue to serve the generations of the future.