Learning with Gen Z

Cavemen, conversation, and 5 links worth your time

Back in the stone age, when a young Neanderthal, let’s call him Gronk, first dragged his knuckles out of the cave and headed off to spear-making school, I’m sure his return home was not a smooth one. As he rolled up on his new-fangled “wheel,” his mother probably grunted something along the lines of “So, you’re too good to ride mammoths now?” After a big argument, they likely sat down to an awkward meal of whatever Gronk Sr. had dragged home, barely snorting in each other’s direction, and keeping a tense “peace” throughout the holidays. 

Complaints about “kids these days” and communication across generations go back as long as there have been kids becoming adults. Young people, as early adopters of new technology and radical ideas, may think and behave in ways that seem foreign to older folks who had entirely different formative experiences. 

That’s not how I raised you

It can get a bit hyperbolic, on both sides. 

Young people think past generations are out of touch, culturally stuck, uncritical (except of their kids), and stubborn. Older folks think the young have abandoned their values, become impulsive activists, and are brainwashed by their professors. Like most things, there’s probably some truth in these characterizations, but there’s probably more exaggeration than either would admit. 

With families being reunited for the holidays (whether in person or virtually) and prolonged “family time” ahead, this is a good time to rethink the old battle lines and try something new. 

Hope in Gen Z

Rather than seeing your Gen Z family members as yet another opponent in the ideological warfare that seems to define our country these days, perhaps you can choose curiosity and openness about their views and opinions. Family history and long-term connection offers the common ground necessary for productive discussions.  And even if there is strong disagreement, you might be surprised by what you learn.

But don’t take my word for it. This week on the Civil Squared podcast, we sat down with Dr. Lindsay Hoffman, an associate professor of communications and political science at the University of Delaware. Lindsay’s research focuses on the intersection of technology, media, and political participation. She also considers it an important part of her job to help her students have more civil conversations about their political values, whatever they may be. 

If Gen Z is every stereotype you’ve heard about young people you would expect Lindsay’s outlook to be pessimistic, but she’s downright hopeful about this generation of students. We talked with Lindsay about how this generation compares to others that she’s taught, how they see the world, their level of openness to different points of view, and their political engagement. She also offered some thoughtful ideas, based on her experience, on how to engage college students. 

Our 5 links below dig into Gen Z and what the research says about them and their views. I encourage you to check them out with an eye to where you might find points of interest, agreement, and optimism about this generation to take into your conversations this holiday season. 

5 links worth your time

  1. Stop the Echo: Political Polarization, Heterodox Academy – Political polarization is dividing the nation, but how is it affecting things on the ground on college campuses? Watch the video of this panel with professors and students sharing their perspective on the state of conversation at colleges and universities and the willingness of Gen Z to engage in open dialogue.
  2. Our Polarization Doesn’t Have to Be Permanent, The Dispatch – Dr. Sam Abrams teaches political science at Sarah Lawrence College and is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. After studying political polarization in our country for over two decades and teaching students for many years, he believes that the hope for depolarization might just lie in Gen Z. 
  3. Gen Z is more conservative than many realize — but the Instagram-fluent generation will revolutionize the right, Business Insider – A survey of the state of Gen Z found a more complicated and nuanced picture than what you might assume: they’re more conservative than you might expect, but also more united in their belief that government should be doing more about the problems we see in society. 
  4. On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far, Pew Research Center – How different is Gen Z from the Millennial generation we’ve heard so much about? Learn how the generation who doesn’t remember a time without smart phones views the world. 
  5. How will the coronavirus pandemic shape Gen Z? University students share their thoughts, USA Today – Hear it in their own words. The executive director of BridgeUSA Institute, an organization dedicated to helping students further reasonable discourse on campus, compiles thoughts from students involved with her organization on the effects of the pandemic on this generation.

Photo by shurkin_son on Adobe Stock