After a stirringly compassionate and informative presentation on the demographics of our student populous, that included the psychological reality of externalizing failure (after you have failed so often you expect to fail, then as a defense you blame someone/something else) and the place it plays in our students psyches, an older instructor asked if that was mostly generational. She was wondering if these “young kids” (20-30) are more likely to make excuses and blame others. Actually, she wasn’t wondering, she was accusing. It was interesting; 25 people in the room and the fascilitator (whom I greatly respect) immediately met my eye. I almost answered for him.
He gently and graciously explained that most of the generational characteristics of the people she was describing are bound up in optimism and a “go-get-em” attitude and that for the most part poverty was one of the deciding factors when it comes to dealing with failure. (Side note: he was incredibly thoughtful and allowed space for the system of cyclical poverty to receive blame, he was not simply saying poor people or minorities blame others.) He also smirked and said that some of the people in the room fall into the generation she was referring to and that, clearly, they would not fall into her delineations.
Here is the thing: when she attempted to locate the concept of externalizing failure within a specific generation, she was, in fact, externalizing her own failure as a teacher. Teachers are, in fact, (partially) responsible for student success and through her words and actions, it is clear she has struggled with students from a certain demographic (in this case, age) and by assuming that they always externalize failure she has let herself off of the hook (externalized failure).
I have no doubt that she is a good teacher and I’m not trying to disparage her, in any way. My hope is twofold: 1) to expose false and dangerous generational assumptions and 2) to encourage excellence in the workplace. So this begins a new series about age and generational difference and power. Stay tuned.