Millennial Handholding Continues: Y Combinator

The [Mill] has recieved the guidance and support of older generations ([Boom] in particular) throughout their youth. It started with the “Baby on Board” stickers in Volvos everywhere in the early 80’s. It continued with Soccer Moms and loads of after-school activities. They have been coached, guided and supported in ways that are really unique to their generation.

The Y Combinator group is a great example of the next step. They guide would-be entrepreneurs through a boot camp that ends in presentations to VC’s that are eager to invest. Compare this with the experience of most Boomer and [X] entrepreneurs who had to fight it out on their own. Other than paying  huge sum of cash to get an MBA there wasn’t really any way to get support for creating an online venture until recently. I realize that its just part of the generational cycle that means that Millennials will be given every chance to succeed in reaching their goals. I suppose I could be bitter about it but I can’t really picture myself (or many of my fellow X’ers) really wanting to go through the Y Combinator Boot Camp:

Y Combinator Is Boot Camp for Startups

Watch out Teachers: Gen X is gunning for you…

Our kids have attended Waldorf Schools since they were kindergarten and because of my involvement at the schools I have been noticing a troubling shift in the parent body. As more [X] parents arrive at the school, replacing [Boom] parents, the demands placed on teachers are become more extreme.

I will write something specific to Waldorf schools soon, but for now I want to mention a trend I am seeing at several schools and ask whether this is something going on in other school systems. As Gen X’ers start to make up the majority of the parent body (which is happening in 7th or 8th grade and below right now) they are placing very individualistic demands on teachers. This seems to crop up most in 5th or 6th grade when kids are starting to assert their independence (perhaps this happens earlier in public schools?) and can start complaining to their parents about their school experience. This is when I have seen the Gen X parents getting aggravated with the teacher (and the school administration) if their child’s “needs” are not addressed to their satisfaction. Parents may recruit other parents to their cause and may apply pressure in many ways, ranging from talking in the parking lot to suing the school.

I have written before about Gen X parents, and the reasons for our challenging nature have to do with how we were raised. Generation X were the original “Latchkey kids“, raised during times when the focus was on adult issues (such as civil rights, womens rights, nuclear proliferation, etc…) and we bear the scars of having to fend for ourselves. Many Gen X’ers have promised themselves that this won’t happen to their kids and are over-protective of them as a result. We were also failed by institutions (which were crumbling during much of our youth) and have a deep mistrust of them as a result. That means we hold individuals accountable instead of organizations (which we figure will probably just screw up anyway). So we tend to blame individuals (teachers or administrators in this case) and we expect the institutions to fail in resolving issues.

The results of these actions is that teachers are under intense pressure to perform. In many cases teachers may be forced out of schools by a small band of Gen X parents. This trend has been so consistent in several schools I am associated with that I wondered if it was a larger trend. I want to hear from readers on their experience. Have you seen this sort of pressure placed on elementary school teachers recently? Have teachers in your school district been forced out?

If you are new to generational research, go to my “start here” page for a primer.

The Dumbest Generation – Part 1

Is the Millennial Generation the smartest or dumbest in history?

I recently decided to read Mark Bauerlein‘s “The Dumbest Generation” just to see what the author had to say about the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?). I certainly don’t conceal the fact that I am a fan of Neil Howe and William Strauss‘ theory about generations, and they have always maintained that the Millennial Generation is one of the smartest to date. So where is Bauerlein coming from in his critique of the generation?

The sound-bite version of the book is that Millennials don’t read books and their knowledge of history and politics is worse than older folks. You can hear Bauerlein talk about this thesis in this ReasonTV episode:

The book, of course, goes much further than just saying they don’t read. And although I have to say that I found some of the arguments compelling (I’ll get to that later) the overall tone of the book is just so, well, Baby Boomer. In my opinion it’s mainly a diatribe against young people who just don’t agree with the Boomer cultural values. Not that Bauerlein is wrong about all his accusations, it’s just the approach is an ideological tirade.

Each chapter of the book follows a fairly standard format: describing the opposing viewpoint in simplistic terms and then tearing down that viewpoint through the use of somewhat flimsy statistics. This “straw man” approach weakens Bauerlein’s points because it comes across as so black and white. As a parent of two children (Millennials) who attend Waldorf Schools I have a bias towards reading and away from digital media. Waldorf education stresses the importance of a well-rounded education with an emphasis on arts, handwork, movement, reading and writing. Waldorf pedagogy states that children should not be exposed to electronic media (computers, television, etc…) until as late as possible, and even then the media use should be restricted. I agree with this philosophy, so one would think that the chapters on the problems with “online learning” would be agreeable. But Bauerlein’s apparent desire to draw the battle lines (“Kids who don’t read are stupid!”) rather than understand the social shifts going on reduced the power of his argument.

Before I get to the portions of the book that I agree with, I want to offer some advice to Mr. Bauerlein. Mr. Bauerlein, if you are reading this post I would suggest you purchase Neil Howe and William Strauss’ book, “The Fourth Turning“. It’s a fairly long and relatively dense text, but it is worth the effort. I know you cited some of Strauss and Howe’s later works in your book, but that book is the one to read to fully understand the shift happening right now and various generations roles in it. Unlike their more recent books on the Millennial Generation (such as “Millennials Rising” which you mention in your book) I think you might find some surprising predictions in the book that would fit more with your ideas than you realize.

One of the things in “The Dumbest Generation” that I agree with is that digital media makes thinking more shallow. As Marshall Macluhan said “The medium is the message” and the digital medium is a particularly flat one. I agree with Bauerlein that much of the excitement about “digital learning” is nothing more than hyperbole from tech enthusiasts.

The book has a lot of points to make, so I am going to split this post up into several chunks. But as Bauerlein says in his book, young people just skim information anyway, so they wouldn’t even read this entire first post. If you were born in 1982 or later (meaning you are a Millennial) leave a comment to prove him wrong…

Generation X as Parents: Wildly Overprotective

Photo Credit:  Pak Gwei
Generation X’er are definitely over-protective when it comes to their kids. But do they give a damn about anyone else’s kids?

This interesting article in MSN by Susan Gregory Thomas describes parent’s attitudes today. The article makes some great points about the nature of Generation X’ers of parents, but I think it misses the marks in regards to their children.

A couple particularly good quotes:

“Generation X parents seem to have mistaken emotional ‘enmeshment’ for ‘attachment parenting,’”

and

“Our parents, the Boomers, didn’t pay so much attention to us — they were getting divorced and working and respecting independence, so they left us a lot of times to Scooby Doo,” says Calhoun. “But we’re going a bit far in the other direction and paying so much attention that we’re picking up on every blip in our kids’ whims.”

(note that many parents of Gen X’ers were actually of the Silent generation born 1925-1942)

But this one totally misses the point:

As for today’s little kids? “No one will want to hire them,” says Brody. That’s not an encouraging thought, especially in these economic times.

The kids described in the article are the generation AFTER the Millennials (born 1981-200?), tentatively known as “Homelanders” (born after 2003 or so). They are likely to follow in the footsteps of the Silent Generation by becoming conformist young adults. How is this possible? Consider that most Gen X parents are not particularly permissive with their children. They often enforce strict rules and boundaries for thier kids inside and outside the home. But Gen X parents don’t really care what society thinks about their parenting or whether their kids obey society’s rules.  So the kids get two messages: my parents will protect me from the outside world as long as I follow their rules (and they will be there to enforce them).

The message that Gen X’ers give their kids is, “Follow MY rules and there will be a good outcome”. Once translated into an adult mentality (in the Homelanders) that sounds a lot like a recipe for conformity (“Follow the BOSS’s rules and there will be a good outcome”). I think that some of the psych’s interviewed are confusing the permissiveness of the Silents and Boomers with the “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks” of the X’ers. Just because we don’t care whether Johnny takes away your kid’s toy, doesn’t mean we are permissive: it means we don’t give a damn about YOUR kid.

American Girl Books and Generations

I have been meaning to write this post for some time, but perhaps I am a little embarrassed about the topic. My 8 year-old daughter is into the American Girl Doll Books and we often read them to her during the day or as bed-time books.  At first I rejected the whole American Girl Doll thing as terribly mainstream. Since our kids go to a Waldorf School, we are fairly counter-culture in how we go about parenting. Just look at the things:

americangirldoll

They reminded me too much of the whole “Just Like Me” dolls and the hyper-narcissism that they imply. Our daughter did manage to get two American Girl Dolls (as gifts) but I really started to balk when the books started showing up in the house (from the library).

But then I took the time to actually read one of them to my daughter and I realized they were fairly interesting. Each book is based on a specific girl from a period in history (I think there are several based on current times as well).  All the girls in the stories are between the ages of 10 and 12 (I think) and are based in different eras and generations:

Julie, 1970’s (Generation X, born 1961-1981)

Molly, 1940’s (Silent Generation, born 1925-1942)

Kit, 1930’s (GI Generation, born 1901-1924)

When my wife and I were reading through the “Julie” stories we were struck by how well the reflected the times we grew up in. Of course it did not hurt that Julie lived in in the San Francisco Bay Area (where my wife grew up) and she was in exactly the same age group. But the portrayal of the times, with divorced parents and rebellious older siblings was a good picture of those times. Likewise the world of Kit, growing up in the Depression Era gave a very clear (and different) picture of what those times were about. The books have a somewhat moralistic tone (the kids are mostly do-gooders) but the times they live in are fair representations of history.

Reading the stories about the 1930’s were a particularly interesting lesson. One of the important concepts of generations is that we often repeat generational cycles because we don’t have a living history of those cycles. But books that give a 10-year-olds view of the Great Depression (a time similar to our current part of the cycle) are a great window into how to view that era and the people living in it. Hearing the compromises, fears and triumphs of kids living in the Depression (who would later go on to be the WWII heroes) is a unique perspective. Giving kids a perspective on what other children their age, in different times, have dealt with is a gentle introduction to how generational cycles work. My daughter did roll her eyes when she heard me say something about generations after reading one of the books. The kids hear enough about that stuff with Dad around…

It is also interesting to note that although the GIs, Silents and Generation X are represented in the series, there are no stories about the youth of the Boomers (born 1943-1960). Did Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best cover that period already or was their childhood just so boring that no one would be interested?

Being a Teacher in the 1930’s

John Wooden gives a picture of teaching in the 1930’s which may seem eerily familiar to those in education today

John Wooden, coach of the UCLA basketball team for over 40 years is featured in a recent Ted talk where he gives his perspective on coaching. Wooden was born in 1910 and is part of the GI Generation (born 1901-1924). He carries the hallmark positivity of that generation. In the first minute or so of the video he has this observation about teaching during a different age:

“I have my own definition of success. In 1934 when I was teaching at a high school in south bend, IN. Being a bit disappointed and disillusioned perhaps by the way that parents of youngsters in my English class expected their youngsters to get an A or B. They thought a C was alright for the neighbor’s children, because the neighbors’ children are all average. But they were not satisfied with their own and they would make the teacher feel that they had failed or that the youngster had failed, and that’s not right”

For many teachers of high school students today this statement may seem all to familiar. The expectation of perceived excellence and the finger-pointing when it is not achieved is a challenge faced by all primary and high school teachers today. The parents of today, Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Gen X’ers (born 1961-1981) have high expectations for their kids and put dramatic pressure on teachers and staff to make sure they achieve. Back in Wooden’s day it was the Missionary (born 1860-1882) and Lost (born 1883-1900) who were apply the pressure, and just like today there was little concern about “the neighbor’s kids”.

He doesn’t mention his early teaching experiences much outside of that first statement, but the video is worth a watch.

The Cycles of Generations

How do the attitudes of each generation form the climate of society during different periods (and vice versa)? This webinar explains.

I have an earlier post about the attitudes of generations, and how they affect the climate of our society. In that post I used a chart I created to explain the cycles, but it was presented on an X/Y axis. I have created a circular version of that chart, and put up a slideshare presentation explaining it. Enjoy:

Neil Howe talks about Generations

Neil Howe spoke about his book “The Fourth Turning” on a radio show in October of 2008. The show is up on Youtube for your listening pleasure.

Neil Howe spoke about Generational cycles in a radio show in October 2008. It’s a total of about two hours, and well worth a listen of at least the first few segments (it’s divided into 10 minute segments because of Youtube limitations). All are below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Part 10:

Part 11:

Part 12:

Millennial Generation: Smartest or Dumbest?

Is the Millennial Generation the smartest or dumbest generation? Two short videos debate the topic.

I came upon this video debate between Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe on Youtube:

Mark Bauerlein:

Neil Howe:

Disclaimer: I like Neil Howe’s work and have read most of his books. I have not read Bauerlein’s but probably will soon.

This video is very short, but I don’t find Mark’s argument compelling. For example, he says:

“Teen to teen contact is crowding out the voices of teachers, parents, ministers and other mentors in in their lives”.

Sounds like the Boomers (born 1943-1960) are getting some payback on this one. They certainly did not listen to any of their teachers, parents, ministers or other mentors in their youth. They had a similar “echo chamber” amongst their peers, and they used it to preach to each other and then tear down the society built by the GI Generation (born 1901-1924). But unlike the Boomers, this is a generation of people who DO more than they SAY and want to build up something new rather than tear something down.

“They don’t read books” and “In 1982, 18-24 year-olds formed the most avid readers in our country. In 2002 they became the least active reading group”

Equating reading books with intelligence is, well, an out-dated concept. I am Gen X and I read a ton, but I have lots of VERY smart peers and friends who don’t read much. Should we really judge intelligence by the size of a person’s bookshelf? Is complex thought only possible after reading a book?

Although I personally place high value on reading, it is worth noting that it is a very passive activity. Sure, some might say you use your imagination when reading, but in comparison to having an active conversation or debate with another person it is pretty passive. Should we judge those conversations harshly because they happen online instead of face-to-face?

It is particularly ironic that Baurelein subtitled his book, “Don’t trust anyone under 30”. It is a reference back to the 60’s statement “Don’t trust anyone over 30“. The message here from a Boomer is that we shouldn’t trust anyone older than a Boomer, and probably should discount anyone younger than a Boomer as well!

Bauerlein’s whole argument seems to be very, “Kids today! They have no respect for their elders”. It’s a tired argument that does not apply. It applied to Gen X (born 1961-1981) and Boomers(born 1943-1960), but not to Millennials. Time to get past that myth. Listen Howe’s brief statement. It has a LOT better facts backing it and paints a much clearer picture of what this generation is about.

Note: I can see the argument that the “multi-tasking” that afflicts most people today (of almost all ages) is destrimental to coherent thought processes, but doesn’t make Millennials stupid as a generation. I may do a future post on this distraction/multi-tasking topic in the future.

How Generations Predict the Crisis will last until 2025

The cycle of generations in the US shows us the patterns of history. And those patterns predict that the crisis we are in will not be over until around 2025.

One of the most significant aspects of generational research for me is its predictive ability. The cycle of generations described by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their books (starting with “Generations“) has an amazing predictive ability. Their book “The Fourth Turning“, written in 1997, predicts many of the events we have seen in the last few years with amazing accuracy. But this is not astrology or soothsaying. The predictions are based in strong social science that shows how the character of generations creates specific changes in society. Information about turnings can also be found on the Lifecourse Website.

Howe and Strauss point out that there are four cycles in history, that they call “turnings”, which are very similar to the four seasons of the year. It begins with the “High”, similar to Spring, a period in which life is growing, the days are getting longer and optimism abounds. The last High in the US was between 1946 and 1964. The next turning is the “Awakening” which is like the Summer, a period where life flourishes in many forms, perhaps to the point that things are a bit out of control. Our last Awakening the Consciousness Revolution from 1995-1985 when everything our society was based on during the High was questioned. The third turning is the “Unraveling”, similar to the Fall, when life dies back, the days shorten and things feel chaotic and uncontrolled. The last Unraveling in the US were the Culture Wars from 1986-2005, when society fell apart as it answered the questions from the Consciousness Revolution. The fourth turning is the “Crisis” which is most like Winter. During the Crisis the seeds that have been planted in the fall must survive through the short, cold days and life is bleak and unforgiving. We are in the Crisis now, and it will likely last until 2025. Those that survive the Crisis will enjoy warmth and promise of the coming Spring/High.
turnings-chart1
The chart above shows the turnings since 1900 (click on the image to enlarge). The red line represents the “High” and “Low” of the cycle. At the top of the curve, there is maximum unity in society as well as a simple worldview. At the bottom there is maximum discord and a complex worldview.

Just like the cycles of the seasons, the turning are of a specific length. Most vary from 20-25 years in duration. Just like the seasons in nature, it is difficult to change the timing of the turnings because they are guided by a natural force. The natural force in play is the length of an average long human lifetime, 85 – 100 years (also known as a saeculum). This period is significant because it is the amount of time required for us to forget the lessons of previous generational cycles. The cycle makes a full revolution from the High through the Crisis (and then repeats).

So while it is possible financial crisis we are in will end soon, perhaps in the next few years, the larger crisis will last for at least 10-15 years (until 2025 or perhaps as early as 2020). Think back to our most recent historical example, the Crisis turning from 1929-1945. It began with the Great Depression. By the time that the Depression was “over” (in the late 1930’s) Europe was already marching toward WWII. Think of what the outlook must have seemed like in the late 1930’s. If you had managed to survive the Depression you were wary and protective. Although the economy was improving, there were much bigger storm clouds gathering on the horizon. And by 1939 it was clear that the Great Depression was nothing in comparison to what was coming in the War. The world looked very bleak indeed (just like the middle of winter), and few would have predicted the glory that was in store in 1945. We are in a similar period now, and we are building towards that climax which is still 10-15 years away.

The climax will be the final reconciliation of the Boomer (born 1943-1960) generation who play the role of prophets in our current cycle. The ideological battle for how society should look will be debated by the Boomers and fought by the Millennials (born 1982-200?). This was true in the last cycle when the Missionary generation led (Stalin and FDR) and the GI Generation fought (all the war heroes). Does this climax need to be a war? No, but the climax has always been a major war historically (WWII, Civil War, American Revolution, Glorious Revolution, etc..)

I see this coming war taking one of two shapes. It will either be a war against Global Warming/Peak Oil/Water Shortage and other threats to our living environment, or it will be a battle against another nation or group of nations (Arab or Chinese being most likely). I would prefer the former, but as a Generation X’er I have little influence. Fortunately, there is one person in my generation does have some influence on this direction, and his name is Barack Obama (no guarantee that he will have the answer either).

The good news is that society will pull together during this crisis and we will forge a new direction for our entire country (and perhaps world) before it is over. That is how the next High will arise, but it will be a long time before it arrives. Although our situation may seem dire, it will be useful to be aware of the fundamental changes happening in our society as we face this immense struggle. And, as I have said many times, it will require a huge effort from all the living generations who must work together despite their different views.

If you want a primer on the research of William Strauss and Neil Howe, see my “start here” section.

[I put a comment about this on  as “dsohigian”]