April 2018

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The e-generation

Last week, I was flummoxed by an email exchange among students working in a group together on a project for our class. I read all of the emails and thought that I understood that there would be a meeting tonight after class to discuss the project. 

After fretting a bit, I wrote an email to the group about how I couldn't attend a meeting after class because of fatigue. I did some verbal summersaults, trying to communicate what fatigue is, how it is different than being tired, and how it limits me. I also tried to communicate that I want to be involved and to do my part, but with my disabilities I will need to find a different way to participate if the others need to meet after class. 

I had completely misunderstood their communications. They are not planning to meet on Thursday night. My summersaults were unnecessary and perhaps irritating because the message was so long. (I imagine that my classmates, a decade or two younger than I am, were reading on highly intelligent phones and that, for this generation, a short email is courteous.)

A patient classmate explained to me that we would agree to have seen and thought about the film by tonight, would check in during tonight's break, and would plan using a google-doc. Closer to our presentation, we would need to meet, but not before. 

Wow. This is different. I don't think that my confusion was because of my tumors and disabilities. I'm guessing that it was because of generational differences. 

For 27 years, I have been facilitating groups of teenagers and adults in meetings designed to plan some project, and I've been teaching young people and adults how to lead and participate in effective meetings.

In all of these years, others have come into my culture, and I have seen it as my responsibility to teach them how to have an effective meeting. Now, I'm wondering if I was just teaching them to have an effective meeting in my culture and if now I need to learn to plan in a younger culture. 

I have had these misgivings before. Once, when my colleagues Jennifer and Jill and I were helping students in the high school's "Latinos Rise Up" club, I wondered aloud to my colleagues if the students just needed to lead meetings in their way and if we needed to watch and learn and to help adjust within their (teenage) culture. 

In the same high school, I attempted to teach students about code-switching, a concept that explains that we all speak differently, adjusting for our different cultures, and that people who were not members of the powerful business culture had to be especially aware of this. Because many of my students were poor students of color and about a third  had migrated to the U.S., this lesson was an especially important one.  They needed to learn the language of commerce and I needed to express respect for their cultures and dialects. 

As an example, I described to students how between classes, they stood in circles outside my room talking energetically to one another, all speaking at once, and I never had any idea what they were saying or how they communicated. Then they would come into the classroom and would speak one at a time and in a way that I could understand them. They laughed at the familiarity of this scene and at the clear fact that I didn't understand them, though they were often speaking English, when they talked casually with one another.

In a different instance, about 15 years ago, Ann and I were walking through our neighborhood, which was largely African-American. (That's changed with gentrification, but that's another blog entry.) We walked by ten African American teenage guys who were animatedly discussing shoes. Though the guys were plenty loud, were speaking English, and Ann and I knew the topic, we had no idea what these guys were saying. It was like listening to a conversation between native Spanish speakers: we recognized the words but needed translation to follow the meaning. 

This generational gap is not new. When I was in high school, my friends and I loved to go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on Saturday nights. We dressed up, toted toast and umbrellas to the movie, and yelled lines we'd learned at the film: "Where's  your neck?" we'd ask the guy spinning the world. We'd throw toast when they made a toast, raise our umbrellas as Brad and Janet made their way in the rain, and--of  course--do the Tim Warp. 

Dad once  asked my Sister Jen and me what the movie was about, and we tried to explain, but he kept wanting to know the plot and that wasn't really the point.

When I was in college, my parents heard my boyfriend and me laughing as we quoted lines from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, so they rented the movie (something people did back in the day, in a form called VHS from a place called Blockbusters). They hated it. Mom still calls it that "silly movie with the coconuts." Having grown up in the 1950s, they didn't understand what we thought was so funny. 

In a similar experience, though this time I am on the cultural outs, I watched the movie my classmates had chosen to explore, The Royal Tenenbaums. I am so bored with it that I can hardly bear watching it and dread needing to review it for the assignment. I suspect that I just don't understand it as Mom and Dad didn't understand "that silly movie with coconuts."

I'm no luddite. I was the first faculty member to use an electronic grade book at my first teaching job in 1986. (My colleagues, at least 20 years my senior, mocked me for this as they toted their green grade books around.) Also, I earned an MA in education with an emphasis in educational technology in 1997. Significantly, in the 1990s I moved my school's journalism program from paste up to computerized layout: I introduced my journalism students to the first version of Photoshop (the only time a full group has gasped when I demonstrated something.) I always learned enough of the technology to choose what we would use and to introduce my students to the programs, and their skills quickly surpassed mine. 

About 15 years ago, I attended a  technology conference where I read an article that described anyone over the age of 25 as "an immigrant" to the culture that has grown up with technology. My students from that time would be in their 30s now, people at home in the land of Facebook friends and online planning. 

Like my students from that time, many of my classmates are now in their 30s. I am older than they are, as are many of my friends. To wit: my partner Ann and I celebrated her 70th birthday last week. In March, we celebrated my 50th birthday. I'm aging. We all are. (Besides, who but an old person and a geek--I am apparently both--would use the transition "to wit"?)

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, but I was always more a child of the 60s: listening over and over again to Simon and Garfunkel's album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and Joan Baez ("May you stay…forever young".)

No, I will not stay forever young. I will always be an immigrant in the e-generation's culture. I didn't grow up plugged in or making virtual friends and having virtual meetings. 

Last quarter, I met with a similar group, got frustrated because I didn't understand how the members were planning, and created a job for myself so that I didn't have didn't have to understand them. Last quarter, I was frustrated. This quarter I'm fascinated.

This time I'm going to try to stay with the team and to learn how my classmates are working together. I'm going to try to apply "Satya," the concept we discussed in my yoga class last night. The Sanscrit word is generally translated as "to speak the truth." My yoga teacher Stephanie talked about what it means to her: staying present as a witness in each moment. 

So I'm going to try to learn from this experience how these young uns plan together. I am not going to try to lead, as is my want. I wonder if I will decide that my process, a process from an older generation, would have been better or that theirs, from a younger generation, is in fact better. I suspect that I will discover that I have something to offer as well as something to learn. This is what I always discovered when I was teaching teenagers. That learning and giving, for me, was much of the joy of teaching.

Now that I'm a student, it's the joy of learning. And, I suppose, teaching and learning are really the same thing. 

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