Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Your generation"

Here's a hint to faculty members of all generations: do not use this phrase. No good will come of it.

Example, overheard in the hall, from shiny new faculty member to a senior (in rank) one: "I don't know if someone of your generation would know this," thereby placing the senior faculty member in age as being somewhere between John McCain and Methuselah.

How is the listener supposed to respond?
  • "That's right. In my day, we didn't have theories like that. We were too busy walking uphill both ways in the snow to teach our classes."
  • "Hadn't heard about that. I was too busy canoodling with my sheik in his Stutz Bearcat, drinking from a hip flask and reading that hot new novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald."
  • "Hey, kid, get off my lawn!"

    It goes the other way, too, with implicit "your generation" statements:

  • "We did that twenty years ago, and it didn't work then, so let's not try it again."
  • "Who needs all this newfangled technology? The best teaching is done with a great teacher and a piece of chalk." (This may be true, in certain cases, but it's no reason to condemn all technology.)
  • "Technology has made all this so easy for you. You don't have to look up things the way we did."

    There's a fine line between departmental history and Grandpa Stories, and sometimes one crosses over into the other.

    I don't have any words of wisdom, except maybe this: when you're tempted to say something about "your generation" or to say something that starts "In my day," think again. It's possible to make a point without emphasizing the differences that divide us from our colleagues.
  • 6 comments:

    Professor Zero said...

    My problem is I want to say it to my undergraduates. When I learned how to teach some of these classes, I had the same cultural references as the students do, now I don't ... it makes it very different!

    Pacifist Viking said...

    I've just this year reached the realization that I can't say "Our generation" to students in class. When I started teaching, I was close enough to their age to say it. Now I get asked questions like "When you were our age, did you notice...?"

    Actually, it reminds me of the late '90s Seinfeld episode when Kramer was speculating on how the world would be different in the year 2000.

    undine said...

    "When you were our age"--ouch. At least they still feel close enough in age to you to ask you about it.

    I am no longer confident about *any* shared cultural references, or historical ones for that matter. On the other hand, I don't want to insult them by asking if they've ever heard of Abraham Lincoln or something.

    StupendousWoman said...

    Departmental history like Grandpa Stories... so true! Unfortunately, though, these are stories that generally serve as an excuse to never try anything, (new or done before).

    And some people are so happy telling these stories over and over again, it seems they just will never retire...

    Geezerman said...

    I have a mix of traditional and older students. I do say things like "as you kids call it, the world wide web", or "your generations 'rock and roll' music". They might think I'm a little goofy, but I think it's actually good to put a little distance between myself and them. I'm the professor, after all.

    undine said...

    Stupendouswoman, that's true, although I hear newer faculty recycle some stories, too, though they don't have the power to crush in the same way.

    Geezerman, I like that kind of goofiness. They already think I live in a different century, anyway, so why not play it up?