Why is This Stereotyping of People Acceptable?

Sorting Hat

Last week, the Pew Research Center decided to alter the definition of a Millennial. The all-powerful Pew declared that hence forth people born between 1981 and 1996 would now be called members of the millennial generation. Instead of whatever the period was one day earlier.

An economist and college professor calls this the “‘generation game’ — the insistence on dividing society into groups based on birth year and imputing different characteristics to each group”.

To see what’s wrong with the idea, take a look at American millennials. In seemingly endless essays in recent years, they’ve been derided as lazy and narcissistic or defended as creative and committed to social change. But these all sound like characteristics that the old have ascribed to the young since the dawn of time. Similar terms were applied to the “slacker” Generation X and before that, the baby boomers.

Yep. When I was in high school, the news media called us lazy and spoiled many, many times. When I was teaching high school, they called my Gen X students the exact same thing. I wouldn’t be at all surprised newspapers in 17th century London assigned the same faults to kids of that era.

So why do we accept and spread classification schemes that try to stuff millions of people into the same box? We are often reminded that it’s not fair to stereotype a whole group of people based on arbitrary characteristics. But what could be more arbitrary than the date of your birth?

As the writer reminds us, the practice is not only lazy, it also diverts attention from some real and damaging divisions.

Some may argue that the generation game, if intellectually vacuous, is basically harmless. But dividing society by generation obscures the real and enduring lines of race, class and gender. When, for example, baby boomers are blamed for “ruining America,” the argument lumps together Donald Trump and a 60-year-old black woman who works for minimum wage cleaning one of his hotels.

I certainly hope that the high school students from Parkland, Florida and other areas of the country – who carry the label “Gen Z” or “iGen” – can use their activism to draw attention to aspects of American society that are horribly wrong.

However, declaring that millions of kids who happen to have been born during one arbitrary period of history will “fix” our current mess, and blaming that mess on yet another group of people who happen to have been born during an earlier arbitrary period of history (those newly reclassified Millennials), is just dumb.


The sorting hat was far more discriminating in the classification of Hogwarts students than Pew is with generations. I know, that’s a stretch but I needed an image for this post that was at least tenuously related. :-)

In Praise of Messiness

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If you are someone whose work process is often messy (like me), I recommend a book whose author makes the case that disorder can be good. That disorder can often lead to creative and innovative results. And that strict adherence to organization might just be getting in the way of making real progress. 

The book is titled Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives and in the first chapter, the author profiles the seemingly chaotic approach to music used by Brian Eno. You may not have heard of Eno but you certainly know some of the people he worked with, including David Bowie.

Eno took to showing up at the studio with a selection of cards he called Oblique Strategies. Each had a different instruction, often a gnomic one. Whenever the studio sessions were running aground, Eno would draw a card at random and relay its strange orders.

— Be the first not to do what has never not been done before
— Emphasize the flaws
— Only a part, not the whole
— Twist the spine
— Look at the order in which you do things
— Change instrument roles

I especially love the idea on the first strategy card he wrote:

The first was “Honor thy error as a hidden intention,” a reminder that sometimes what is achieved by accident may be much more worthy of attention than the original plan.

Eno’s process often baffled and sometimes frustrated the people he was working with, but it also helped them to do some of the best work of their lives.

Very often we as teachers expend a great deal of effort trying to get our students to be organized, believing it will help them produce better work. Maybe we need to help them embrace the messiness of their process and learn to make it work for them instead.

Ok, so you may not come to that conclusion, even after reading this book. But I found it to be a wonderful collection of stories and ideas that show how a messy process can often lead to creative results. It’s also a fun read.


Brain by Elisa Riva is distributed by Pixabay and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo Post

I’ve been past and around the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown DC many times but never really taken a good look inside the place. So I recently took a tour and, of course, brought the camera. Here are a few of the better images and more are in this gallery.

Penn Ave

The view down Pennsylvania Avenue from Freedom Plaza towards the Capitol. The Reagan building is to the right.

Atrium

The massive atrium of the main building.

Woodrow Wilson

A portrait of Woodrow Wilson on a window in the center named for him. One of many discontinuities in a building named for Reagan.

Seats

I like the pattern in the seats of the auditorium. This is home of the Capitol Steps, a political satire group that started early in the Reagan administration. The irony is not lost.

Listen To This

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Do you ever pay close attention to the sounds that are around you? Telling the “stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds” is the theme of a new-to-me podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz. I’ve only listened to a few episodes so far, but if this topic sounds interesting (pun intended), I recommend starting with these two segments.

First is Muzak, which anyone of a particular age (re: older) will recognize as the company that became synonymous with the concept “elevator music”. Today, music and other sounds are carefully and scientifically designed to help stores, restaurants, and other businesses improve productivity and profits.

The other is Disney Parks in which sound designers (Imagineers) for the entertainment company explain how they program music and other sounds to enhance the amusement park experience. Even in It’s a Small World, which all sounds the same to me.

Both segments, which run about 20 minutes each, might be good programs to play for middle or high school students studying science, social studies (this work involves a lot of psychology), or music.


The image is from Pixabay and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Making Is More Than Robots and 3D

Punkin Chunkin' in Washington State

When you hear the word “maker”, many people think of 3D printing, robots, coding, and makeshift devices like that pumpkin’ chunker in the picture. But, as Josh mentioned in a webinar last week, we should also be including some more traditional creative activities in our thinking, like blogging.

I would also add photography.

When professional photographers talk about their work, they will often not use the phrase “take a picture”. Instead they are “making an image”. It may be a subtle difference, but more than a few pros I’ve read and heard insist that making better defines their process than taking.

Because great photos, ones that inspire and move people, don’t happen by just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing a button. They are made through artful composition, a skillful use of light, and making the best use of the available equipment.

I won’t claim that any of the images I’ve posted here, on my photo site, or on Flickr qualify as “great”. However, I’m working in that direction, through experimentation, learning from others, and lots of practice.

Just like any good maker.


The picture, from Photos By Clark on Flickr, is used under a Creative Commons license.