The Chronicle of Higher Education has featured a couple columns now on the Kids-These-Days books that I’ve been reading (and a couple more), and today I saw a link on a follow-up article. It’s got some good things to say, and among the smartest is this:
One of the consequences of K-12 schooling (and of college, to a lesser extent) is the creation of a narrow peer group. That segregation by age impairs the ability of young people to relate to anyone outside their cohort, as anyone with teenage children or first-year college students knows all too well.
One of the purposes of teaching, as I see it, is to negotiate the differences, real and imagined, between generations. At the moment, that means meeting the “digital natives” where they are, but it also means expecting them to meet the “digital immigrants” — the people who were not raised in front of personal computers — where we are.
I’d say that college actually does more than do K-12 schools to segment the population. After all, where do college kids go when they go home at night? Most don’t go to homes where their parents live. But this articulation of one of education’s purposes is a good one. If indeed the time when students live mainly with people their own age, give or take four years, comes at some point to an end (I hope it does), then some contact outside the Facebook generation might just be handy.
Of course, not everyone in this “generation” (an artificial term if anyone’s ever invented one) is as self-absorbed as the most alarmist books’ composite pictures, and Benton rightly insists that teachers must take into account the multitude as well as the masses:
Moreover, since the brains of our students are hardly identical (the notion of a unified generational culture is always oversimplified), it seems more effective to use a variety of teaching methods all at once — the same way it is better to eat a balanced diet than to subsist entirely on Grape-Nuts and bananas.
I’ll leave it to readers to take a gander at some of the particular teaching practices he advocates, but I felt good that I’m already doing versions of some of them. The funny thing is that, in general, I’m more enthusiastic about online discussions of class things than my students are. To be a grumpy Neil Postman-type again, this tells me that if I’m wise (and I try to be wise), I won’t try to make a world in which students would rather talk philosophy on message boards then post photos of themselves at bars but continue to play the role of the teacher in the world we actually live in. Technology won’t make students like philosophy; only age and memories of grumpy old philosophy teachers even stand a fighting chance at that.