Kids these days: A series

I’m going to start a new series of musings on my experiences with the cohort of students I teach, sometimes in contrast with how I see others react to them. This happens on the national stage, in academia, and amongst my colleagues. I am increasingly concerned about how we treat, talk to, talk about, and judge young adults. We seem to be moving from a youth-oriented culture to a youth-deriding culture, and I’m not loving it. I have deep affection for my students and a great deal of empathy for their struggles.

This seems to come into conflict with messages I get from other middle-aged to older adults about the failings of these young people. Why so judgy? Why must we assume that young people have nothing to offer, that we should disregard their interests and values, assuming that ours are superior?

We’ve been watching Brene Brown’s videos in my classes and having some discussions about them. I have a whole slew of mixed feelings about her work, but she’s compelling and as someone from a quantitatively biased background, makes a really compelling case for humanizing the study of emotion. One of her favorite phrases is “wholeheartedness,” which she uses to describe the quality that people who can deal with vulnerability and stress and shame have. It’s part resilience, part empathy, part humility, as close as I can see. I am not an un-neurotic person, but when it comes to teaching, I believe I am wholehearted. I want nothing more than to give these young people a fraction of what they give me. I want to offer them some of the support and acceptance and encouragement that I wish I’d had from adults when I was their age. And I want them to feel seen and appreciated for all their badassery. Most of all, I want to learn from them. I want to leave the world to a generation that is less defensive and closed-minded and judgemental than the ones who currently seem to find them so lacking. We don’t need more of that right now, we need a whole lot less of it.

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