Thursday, September 3, 2009

When Professors Say Dude: Millennial Aren’t the Only New Kid on the Block

When Professors Say Dude:  Millennial Aren’t the Only New Kid on the Block

by Hillary Burgess

Experts like Tracy McGaugh and James Dimitri have provided us with great information about how the Millennial generation is quite different from past generations of students and how we can adjust our teaching to allow them to better serve them as they enter our discourse community and professional community.  I have so much respect for Tracy, James, and others who are thinking critically about how to best reach and teach our students.  I have to wonder, though, if the struggles we are facing are not just that the students are different, but that we, the professors, are different, too. 

This thought first occurred to me when I walked out of class and saw a very old Volvo in the faculty parking lot.  I remarked out loud to myself, “Dude, check it out!”  I then became quite self-conscious.

Had anyone heard my remark?  What would the Boomer profs think of me saying, “Dude?”  Would they forever banish me to the status of Sean Penn’s girlfriend at Ridgemont High?  (Which would be anything other than "totally rad.")  What would my Millennial students think of me saying “Dude?”  Am I that old lady who thinks she’s so cool, but really is the antithesis of cool?  (Actually, I really am the antithesis of cool.)  Then, I realized that GenX is in that awkward ‘tween phase.


After running through a number of “like totally bogus” off-limits expressions that I would “like totally like” never “like ever”

use again and musical references that I would have to banish (Hey Mickey, the Bangles, and anything New Kids on the Block) no matter "what a pity," I began thinking about how the culture shock that the legal academy is experiencing might not just be about the students.  It might be about the professors, too. 

In the past decade, the generation Xers have come of age enough that we are now teaching in law schools in significant numbers.  In a culture where the Boomers started teaching over forty years ago and even the youngest Boomers have been teaching for twenty years, Xers have become the new kids on the block, at least in the professor world.  Could the changes we perceive in our students result, at least in part, from the way Xers and Boomers teach differently (generationally generically speaking, of course)?  Are our cultural expectations about how students “should” behave so different that our students are trying to navigate a rather schizophrenic system of rules where what is good in Professor Xer’s class is not tolerated in Professor Boomer’s class (and vice verse)?  While this type of experience is good training for succeeding in the practice of law, when we talk about the culture shock that is hitting the legal academy, should we also include ourselves?

I leave it to the experts in generational studies to theorize about and answer the questions I raise here.  Moving forward, I’d love to see our discussions about how we can best serve our current generation of students expand from the perspective of how different the students are to the perspective of how different we all are now that Xers have left the role of students to join Boomers as professors.  Especially as a 'tweener, I'm hoping that we all avoid the us v. them mentality as we explore these groundbreaking pedagogical ideas about how to better serve this generation of students.

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