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Oyler: ‘Extreme optimism’ for Generation Z

April 8, 2018 GMT

We educators spend a lot of time worrying about the unique characteristics of our students and brainstorming techniques to best serve them. I personally have focused on promoting independent thinking and creativity, in contrast with memorization and regurgitation.

Recently this problem has escalated, apparently because the students who are now reaching the university level have grown up in the Information Age, where the answer to nearly every question can be acquired via Google.

William Strauss and Neil Howe are generally credited with popularizing the concept of cohort generations.

Tom Brokaw exploited this concept by coining the term Greatest Generation for the people born between 1901 and 1924, the generation that survived the Great Depression and won World War II.

They were followed by my generation, the Silent Generation, then the baby boomers, Generation X, the millennials and finally Generation Z.

Strauss and Howe postulated that the personality of each generation is formed by the prevailing social/economic environment when they are adolescents and that they significantly influence the environment when they are middle-aged adults. This certainly makes sense for us “Silents” — we were so relieved when the war ended that our personality was dominated by conformity.

We adults agonize over the fact that Generation Z children spend far too much time engaged with their smartphones, much as previous generations were criticized for their obsession with the radio, or with television, or with video games. How well I remember my parents telling me to quit spending so much time “with your nose in a book.”

I have just had the pleasure of spending a week with my daughter Sara’s family in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the opportunity to observe Generation Z members close up. Fifteen-year-old Ian, 12-year-old Nora and 10-year-old Claire certainly are all very impressive.

In addition to sharing family experiences with them, we attended five basketball games, two concerts and a high school play, events that showed off the talents of young people very well.

My other exposure to Generation Z is my 13-year-old granddaughter, Rachael. I have had the opportunity to attend many of her performances with the Quaker Valley Middle School strings orchestra, as well as with several other musical groups.

Again, I am astonished with the quality of musical presentation these early teenage students demonstrate.

John keeps us updated on the continuing development of his 4-year-old daughter Lai An, in China. We have every reason to believe she will replicate the achievements of her cousins as she grows up.

Realizing that my five grandchildren and their teammates and fellow band members are an insignificant sample size for an entire generation, I still must report my extreme optimism about Generation Z. Despite their perceived addiction to smartphones, I find them to be quite well-rounded in all aspects and remarkably talented in the activities that interest them.

I am compiling information for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s next “Second Tuesday” workshop, which will focus on the Bridge­ville High School classes of 1948 and 1949, the peak years of our generation. We certainly could never have performed as well in any activity as all of the Generation Z kids do today.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach him at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@icloud.com. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.