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Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Pencils Down: How generational divides are impacting the classroom

Pencils+Down%3A+How+generational+divides+are+impacting+the+classroom
Grace Vanderveer

There are two ways of thinking about Generation Z. On one hand, this generation is more compassionate and knowledgeable than those that came before it. Though it is certainly not a linear progression, these changes can be partly attributed to the constant societal march toward tolerance. A general increase in knowledgeability is a direct result of the internet: the availability of vast amounts of information all the time. On the other hand, many members of older generations believe that the attention spans of Generation Z are being ruined by this constant access to knowledge and online content. This growing division between generations is harming the classroom environment.

In order to understand how this generational divide is affecting students and teachers alike, it is important to understand the different aspects of the classroom environment. The paragon of a healthy classroom is one featuring strong communication. Coupled with the fostering of physical and emotional safety, communication allows both students and educators to understand each other and work collaboratively to accomplish their goals. Basic respect, going both ways between students and teachers, is also crucial to this delicate balance.

With communication comes methodology. Most of Generation Z is accustomed to communicating primarily online. Especially following a year or two of remote learning, this is a method of education that we are used to. Though it is not necessary for modern learning to take place primarily online, younger generations should not be looked down on for having an intimate knowledge of these methods. When students feel talked down to or disrespected, they are likely to disengage from the learning process. This is why respect is key. 

Students should, of course, respect their teachers by giving them the space to make mistakes and showing that they are invested in the learning process. The reciprocation of this respect matters even more. It is the job of educators to show all students respect, both academically and interpersonally.

In my own academic life, I have witnessed many teachers who seem compelled to constantly be reminding their students of the downsides associated with modern technology. Comments like this are always stated as if these changes are innate flaws within the younger generations. Not every person in Generation Z was “raised on technology” or is “addicted to screens.” 

When instructors mock modern technologies and generalize an entire generation, it alienates their students. Being raised with, often unbridled, access to the internet has changed the way Generation Z interacts and forms opinions. There are aspects of this change that are detrimental. Listening to older generations when they voice their misgivings with these advancements could lead to valuable change for Generation Z. The benefits of these warnings will not be reaped, however, if older generations cannot deliver them in a way that is respectful. 

In all recorded history, there are examples of older and younger generations finding fault with one another. Generally, this can be a healthy process that allows both sides to see where they can improve. Within the context of a classroom, however, this back and forth is harmful. Learning is an exercise in collaboration and understanding; it must be done together.

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Grace Vanderveer, Co-Design Editor
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