Today's Teachers... Today's Students...
Today’s teachers grew up in a culture in the 60’s and surrounded by idols such as I Love Lucy, West Side Story, and Elvis Presley. The perceived threat of communism was real even in the minds of kindergartners. Martin Luther King, along with many others, risked their lives to take a stand and fight for the rights of all people of color in a non-violent ways. Television networks documented these events and marketed their perspectives for the entire world to see.
By the time today’s teachers graduated from high school, their context had shifted focus to the risks of our dependency on foreign oil and nuclear accidents. Television continued to portray a carefree way of living with shows such as Happy Days and The Little House on the Prairie. The movie industry on the other hand, began to experiment with a counterculture approach to films such as Rosemary’s Baby and Easy Rider. The music business promoted progressive and philosophical lyrics from the likes of Pink Floyd with Another Brick on the Wall. The Sony Walkman was a turning point in listening to music and technology in general on a personal level.
By the time today’s graduating seniors were born in the 90’s, media had taken on a bold and provocative voice. MTV created a stark and alternative venue to watching commercial stations. Beavis and Butt-head offered a sarcastic conversation between two boys fantasizing about their sex and masculinity. Thelma & Louise gave women license to break the rules and escape from their troubled lives. The internet unleashed a mode of communication that would forever change the way we think, communicate, and make decisions. Whitney Houston opened doors for women of color to aspire to embrace success. In harsh contrast, India was diving deeper into poverty, despite the exploding economic boon in the United States. Freedom of expression brought an extended face to the media, students were killing other students, and national television openly broadcasted evidence of police brutality.
Fast forward to today’s students, they are graduating from high school at a time when foreign oil is far more than a panic, and technology is light years beyond the Walkman. Racial discrimination and poverty has progressed and regressed at the same time. The economy of the United States, and the majority of the rest of the world, are in a state of turmoil and faced with the reality of reliving the Great Depression.
Understanding the contextual similarities and differences of how teachers today learned and experienced the world compared with their students is fundamental to educating today’s learners. While today’s teachers and students share some common context, it is vital for today’s teachers to recognize their students’ considerable divergent and conflicting beliefs, values, interests, and goals.
Today’s teachers were raised to believe in the American Dream where everyone, regardless of class, religion, race, or ethnic group, had the opportunity to receive an education, pursue their goals and work hard to achieve greater outcomes than their parents were. Today’s students on the other hand are being raised during a time of disbelieve. In 2006, a CNN poll found out that more than half of those surveyed, 54 percent, considered the American Dream unachievable.
This relative accounting of today’s students is a small sample of what is going on within our complex society of learners today.
The upcoming contextual student voice study at the high school will take these facts and thoughts to a individual and qualitative research level. I will have the opportunity to interview a spectrum of today’s students to learn their views on what is important to them and their future. They will share their perspective on the influences of the media, technology and innovation, the economy, and worldwide events.
I am eager to listen, learn, understand, and help them visualize and articulate their story. We will explore what they believe in, the parts of life they value, the interests they hold close, and whatever their goals maybe for the future. Our constitution states everyone has the right to an education. How can educators apply and expand on these understandings to engage and motivate all of today’s students?