Generation M

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(HOST) You’ve probably heard of Generation X. Well, now there’s Generation M. Commentator Mike Martin explains.

(MARTIN) Ah, kids today! They’re not what they used to be; you know, TV and video games, and talking on the phone all the time and listening to that — music.

Although every generation complains about the next one, I think we’re missing the point about kids nowadays. Like Time magazine, which asked recently, “Are kids too wired for their own good?” The article showed a pre-teen who was listening to an Ipod, playing a video game, holding a PalmPilot, and talking on her cell phone all at the same time. The article goes on to say that Generation M (for Generation Media), with all their multi-tasking, probably don’t use their brains the same way their parents do. Well I work with young people every day, and they seem to be using their brains just fine.

The Time article quotes some college professors about their students’ lack of technology etiquette. Evidently the kids like to IM, email, and surf the Internet during lectures sometimes. I agree that’s a little disrespectful, but it might also signal the need for us educators to make instruction a little more media-rich and interactive. Good public speaking means adapting to your audience, and good teachers do this all the time.

A few years ago, I got to hear the President of St. Michael’s College, Marc Vander Heyden, talk about the impact of technology on socialization. He joked that we might change the signs in the library to say PLEASE TALK, so that students would look up from their computers. He’s right of course: kids need live interaction with other humans. But kids know when they need a trip to the mall, a snowboarding run, or a game of basketball. They just schedule it differently nowadays.

There’s also a misperception that kids don’t learn much in high school. We’re used to hearing that our kids score low compared to their peers in other countries and that our schools don’t work. But, at the same time, everybody agrees that our post-secondary education is the finest in the world. Well, how can that be? How do they catch up? Do they all take a special summer road trip that makes them smart? Does the food on college campuses have some magic ingredient?

It’s more likely that our k-12 schools actually do prepare students for later success, just not always things on standardized tests. For example, most French teenagers are a couple years ahead of ours in math skills, but they are often terrified of public speaking and independent thinking. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times says leaders in tech-savvy India are noticing the same thing: they produce tons of engineers, but most of the new economy’s innovators still come from the U.S.

Thanks to new media and American schools, the humblest students today evaluate sources, edit text, present, and network. When I was in school that was just for the college-bound. So don’t worry about this generation, dear listener, I have seen them up close and I can tell you these kids are all right.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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