Friday, April 03, 2009

What Generation is this?

I was reading Newsweek last evening, and came upon a most disturbing article: Generation Divas it was called. The gist of the article is that we are so external beauty obsessed that a whole generation of young girls (especially) is being groomed to the hilt. The sub-title of the article says it all: how obsession with beauty is changing our kids. The article refers to a show I had never heard of—“Toddlers and Tiaras” on TLC. It is called “a reality show.” Some reality.

This article got me to thinking—what generation is this?

In my husband’s work capacity, he has participated in discussions on how to attract and retain members. One of the approaches his work place has used is to consider what appeals to the various generations, and the characteristics that typify each generation. We all know the Boomer generation (of which I am sort of a member—I was born just a tad before the official beginning in 1946). This generation followed the Greatest Generation—enshrined in Tom Brokaw’s eponymous book.

Does this symbol register with you?

If these events and names strike a familiar note with you—Vietnam, Woodstock, assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, Martin, and Bobby, sexual revolution and drugs—chances are you are part of the Boomer generation.

After the Boomers, we had Generation X—this grouping includes those born between the years 1964-1980. This generation saw the Berlin wall come down, and the beginnings of computers. (Note—the events might not occur during the inclusive years, which are birth years, but rather occur as the generation comes of age.)

In keeping with the alphabetical appellation, Gen X was followed by Gen Y–birth years of 1981 to 1995. Tracking these cycles is the work of sociologists and observers of popular culture. Here’s a piece on the 20th and 21st century cycles.

So, why my rather lengthy journey into the characteristics of generations? Because those who study these generational cycles tend to assign behavioral attributes to the people born during the bracket years. So, I am wondering—what generation is this one? The given designation of Generation Z is not really helpful.

A discussion in class yesterday brought me up short—and did nothing to answer my wondering “what generation is this?” The final assignment that I have for students is for them to work in collaborative groups. They are to do research on a “third world” country and a problem that country has. Then, they are to propose a solution to that problem, focusing particularly on whether or not “first world” countries have an ethical obligation to help. To prime the students for this project, we had a discussion on several essays they were assigned to read. One of the discussion questions I posed was: do rich countries have an obligation to help poor countries. From my students I received an unequivocal NO. We have NO obligation to help any other country.

I confess—I shuddered. And I could not help but conjure up images of French peasants storming the Bastille, and marching on Versailles.

What generation is this, indeed?
Image of illustration on Storming the Bastille--from Encyclopedia Britannica online


NCmountainwoman said...

It is indeed frightening to think that the students do not feel that rich countries should help poor ones. But look at the only administration they remember. They see our country with the tunnel vision of the "leaders" for the past eight years.

I knew our values were deteriorating four years ago when a co-worker told me that her Girl Scout troop had requested a camp course on makeup and hair. At Girl Scout camp!

Jayne said...

I was at the tail end of the Boomers. I remember seeing a piece on 60 Minutes last year about how this generation (called Millennials) expects to be told how wonderful they are at everything. They have been so coddled by their parents and told they can do no wrong, that employers are saying that if you criticize them, they'll just simply walk away. It's an interesting dynamic.

Here is the URL link:

JeanMac said...

Very interesting - - -

possumlady said...

It is easy to get discouraged but when I see and hear reports about all these college kids on spring break driving from across Minnesota and from Iowa to Fargo to help fill sandbags it gives me hope!

RuthieJ said...

It's a different world than when we were teens and young adults, that's for sure!

Ginnie said...

I was born so long ago that I've forgotten what we were called (1933)...ha. I think one reason that the world loves Michelle Obama is because she is NOT obsessed with her looks. She strikes me as a very warm and truly human being.

Anvilcloud said...

I used to teach a course called World Issues. I would like to think that most of my students would have answered differently.

I remember some PD days of many years ago, some guy attempting to help us understand kids with the title "You Are What You Were When." The idea was that your growing up period influences you ever after.

Climenheise said...

I doubt that the Bush administration is a major factor in this case (little as I liked it). The roots are too complex for a post or a blog, but somewhere or other we probably have to admit that we all helped create a world in which a group of young people will say that they see no responsibility to care for less developed nations.

They may have meant that we have our own poor, whom we should care for. They may simply feel entitled. But we have spent several generations working out the concept of individual rights in ways that do not encourage us to look around for responsibility to care for others.

As some of your post-ers have noted, there are still young people who defy this image. They go to New Orleans and help out. They spend years in the Middle East living in a conflict situation for the sake of conscience. But as a society we have spent generations creating what you describe in your classroom. I would be interested in your own further analysis of what's going on.

mon@rch said...

I know that I have always been call the Generation X

Dog_geek said...

Very thought provoking post - and interesting comments, too!

Ruth said...

I am just catching up on reading blogs. The generation you are teaching has been indulged, pampered, spoilt by their parents. Of course this is a generalization and thankfully there are those who have been taught to look beyond themselves. A recently published survey of Canadian professors indicated that students are less prepared for university than they were even 3 years ago.