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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kids Got It Easy

Generation NOW kids & why schools have to change … (Part 1)
When I was a child, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were when they growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning.... barefoot and in the snow… uphill... BOTH ways...

I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way I was going to tell my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it.

But now that I'm older and a school librarian, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. They've got it so easy.  I mean, compared to my childhood, they live in a Utopia. 

To begin with:
  • Our parents told us to stay outside and play (without providing supervision or advice on activities) ... all day long. Now children are never left unsupervised and have packed schedules with camps, lessons, sports, tutoring, enrichment … or if the family can’t afford these things the Internet and TV are the babysitters.
  • Everything is safer now. I remember roller skating (metal wheels) on the sidewalk without the benefit of pads and helmets. My knees were permanently scabbed. I rode my bike without a helmet, often with no hands. Seat belts and car seats were for rich people with new cars.  My mom let us ride wherever we wanted – even in the open bed of a truck and we hung on.  If we were lucky, we got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly. Not only that, but the recharging ports in cars … those were cigarette lighters, and there were also ashtrays that slid out and were full of butts. People actually drove around smoking while the kids were in the car -- with the windows rolled up (which was actually a chore because you cranked a handle to make windows roll up).   
  • We didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove. Making popcorn was a real ordeal. You either had to have a special popper or you got this foil package that you put on the stove and then all the kernels in the bottom were burnt.
And then there was technology:
·         The television had 13 channels. We had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on. There was no such thing as channel surfing because we had to get UP and walk over to the TV to change the channel, which we did by turning a dial ~ I remember being the remote control. Not only that, sometime the reception was fuzzy and if I wanted a clear picture I’d have to stand in front of the TV holding the rabbit ears just so.
·         There were no DVRs or TiVo or OnDemand or streaming TV from a website, so if we wanted to watch a program we had to watch it when it was being broadcast and there was no fast-forwarding through commercials. There was no Cartoon Network either so we had to wait all week long for cartoons that were only on Saturday mornings. Late night TV ended sometime after midnight, and then the station played the Star-Spangled Banner to “sign-off” and then there was nothing on except a test pattern until morning.
·         After school, there were reruns of wholesome shows like The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and I Dream of Jeannie … oh and Bewitched. I think I may have seen every episode of these shows several times because nothing else was on. Every once in a while there was an Afternoon Special that was really corny and always had a moral lesson for you to learn. What do kids do now after school? They’re multi-tasking, switching between several activities incessantly; listening to music, texting friends, doing homework, sending IMs, watching YouTube, checking email and Facebook, sending tweets, eating, and playing a game … yes, they are trying to do all these things simultaneously.
·         Our only telephone was stuck on the wall with a long cord that got tangled up as we walked as far away as it would stretch. We were lucky that we weren’t on a party line where your neighbors could listen in. Even so, I remember my parents getting very irritated having to listen to my long, inane conversations. Now parents often don’t have a clued what their kids are talking about; half of it is in acronyms (LMAOROFL) and it is filled with bizarre emoticons ;-)
·         There weren't any fancy features like Call Waiting, either. If we were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that's it. There was no Caller ID so when the phone rang we had no idea who it was!  It could be our school, our parents, our boss, our grandma, the collection agent... we just didn't know! We had to pick it up and take our chances. There weren't any cell phones either, so if you left home you just missed the calls – see, we didn’t even have answering machines! If you wanted to make a call away from home, you’d have to find a phone booth – sometimes you can see them still.
·         TEXTING? Yeah, right – although for a while there were these beeper things that people carried around to know when they were desperately needed for an emergency.
·         Yes, there were computers (I’m not that old!), but they existed in huge rooms in big companies and even with that gigantic computer it was less powerful than an iPhone now.
·         No one had personal computers, and the Internet wasn’t open to the public.  If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the library and look it up ourselves, using the drawers in the card catalog! Information is now instantaneous and customizable with RSS feeds, blogs, interactive websites, and … Google.
·         There was no email.  We had to actually write somebody a letter - with a pen!  Then we had to find or buy a stamp and put it in the mailbox, and it would take a week to get there.
·         There were no MP3's or Napsters or iTunes!  We had records in vinyl with beautiful jackets that were like artwork. There were no CD players, but we did have giant boom boxes that were really heavy to carry around.  We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished, and sometimes the tape deck would “eat” the tape when ejected. And if we wanted to steal music, we had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and mess it all up! 
·         I remember the first video games like Pong and Space Invaders and Asteroids.  Our screen guy was a little square (well, we used our imagination) and there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen… forever! Oh, and you could never win; the game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died!  Just like LIFE! Now there are sophisticated game systems like PlayStation or Xbox with high resolution 3-D graphics, and these devices also serve as DVD players, Internet connectors, and you can control the games with your body. World of Warcraft, and other MMORPGs, are so absorbing that kids can concentrate on them for hours on end, seemingly loosing track of where their virtual life ends and their real life begins.

I hate to say it, but the kids today don't see how good they've got it … they wouldn't last five minutes back in 1970. But by the same token, I can see that their experience growing up is not “easier”, just different.
And this is why school can’t look the same as it did in 1970. We’re talking about the NOW connected generation, with their own obstacles to overcome. Students today are not engaged by spending 6-hours daily listening to a teacher talking at the front of the classroom, often moving too fast for some, too slow for others, and not using any of the tools they use to learn on their own.
[To be continued] Look for Part 2 in February, which attempts to answer the question of how schools need to change to meet the needs of Generation NOW students.
by Janice Gilmore-See, Southern Section Past-President

1 comment:

  1. Janice - so many of your childhood memories make me LAUGH or (LOL) as they coincide a LOT with what I experienced. Riding in the back of my dad's truck (with the dog too). Safety arm! I was just thinking the other day that my sons (6 and 8) have NEVER had a scabbed knee! And I had a "strawberry" on one or both knees perpetually from the time I was 5 through 10.

    So yes, we have to change. Change for this new generation who are somewhat coddled in some aspects but blazing new trails in others. I hear you! Looking forward to next post!