Keeping abreast of the morphing demographics of generational characteristics seems an essential sin for marketers, poli-sci profilers, and educators. I say sin because no one really likes to suffer the stereotypes. (As a Mexican-American, I am always reticent to confess my love of beans and tortillas. But they really are good!)
There is an entire dogma to the millennial demographic that can be ascribed to Dr. Leonard Sax  and Dr. Jean Twenge who is likewise an authority on the characteristics of iGen – the generation born between 1995 – 2012.
At 37-years old, I do not feel too distant from the characteristics of this youngest generation. Born in 1980, I’m barely a millennial, thus the iGen’s overarching generational trends of foregoing a driver’s license, obsession with safety, and not having as many friends are relatable to me as an introverted SoCal refugee who abhors traffic and has paralysis-inducing fear of germs.
My beef with iGen is with their trends in learning. In Dr. Twenge’s Atlantic piece, she documents that these post-millennials do not read. Yes, they do not read. They are literate (I assume), but they eschew the hard-won, time-honored, species-defining, practice of reading books in favor of videos and podcasts. As a lawyer, an author (albeit of law articles that no one reads), a once grade school “slow-reader” turned connoisseur of lit worthy of qualifying antecedents, and oh yes, an educator, this characteristic of not reading textbooks, ebooks, or book-books is scary on many levels.
I went existential after reading Twenge. Am I a dinosaur? Am I causing issues for my students in expecting them to read 60+ pages a week? (We do 8-week sessions in the business department.) I am trying to be positive and objective (to keep from crying): iGen-ers dislike lectures, dislike reading, dislike long formatted papers. In fact, Twenge remarks that newer textbooks are packed with pictures, a full-color palate, and must be updated at least every 2 years to fight the slide; never mind that every economic undgrad in America used Chiang’s Quantitative Methods text for the past 50 years and society progresses still.
There’s redemption. A University of Michigan economics professor, Dr. Susan Dynarski, challenged higher ed to keep laptops out of the classroom. There is an incredible amount of research showing that laptops are not as effective as old school note-taking. There’s something about processing the information and writing it down that straight transcription misses.
Anecdotally, I actually followed the old script of never missing class, sitting at the front of the room, outlining, never pulling all-nighters, and I never used my laptop in any of my classroom lectures ever. I know enough about myself that my focus will be destroyed with electronics in my proximity, and why would you blow your tuition not being fully present? This may win me some virtue points with the nerd gods, but I honestly believe that this was the best way to learn, and I try to shepherd my students in my antiquated ways. I won’t go as far as banning laptops from my classes as I am too libertarian for it, but I can present information and hope that students will aspire to the challenge. Maybe it’ll catch on.
I saw that this company called Moleskine actually sells paper notebooks for $15 and up. This is called a Giffen-good in economics and some of the irony is not lost on me that Dollar General sells a similar product at a striking discount. But if a huge markup makes the basics hip again, I welcome it.
 Twenge, Jean. (2017). iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. New York: Atria Books.
Twenge, Jean. (2017). Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Atlantic, Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
 Chiang, Alpha. (1967). Fundamental Methods of Mathematical Economics. New York: Mcgraw Hill.
 Dynarski, Susan. (2017). New York Times. Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html
I have secret powers, yes, I dare say super powers. Nothing as feckless as being bulletproof, outrunning speeding trains, or bending steel; these powers are of the mind.
First, I can focus. “Pfffft.” You may sneer, but I assure you that I have capabilities to down 70 pages of Tolstoy in a single sitting in the zoo of the ATL terminals. My dean could kick open my basement office door (as he is apt to do) and order through gritted teeth to read the phone book by week’s end summarizing it in a report. I’d happily turn it in a day early with fancy graphs and flashy pastel colored thumb tabs thrown down like a tomahawk jam. In a world of foxes that worship at the altars of multitasking, my demure hedgehog-ness power goes unrecognized.
My second power borders on the angelic/demonic: it is an ostensible photographic memory. No, don’t confuse this with a visual memory where learning is best done with visual aids that hook concepts – although I must confess some ability here as well. Nope, this is the full-on freak mode to look at a paper, a tableau, an address, a face, and see it after. I almost confessed ethical issues on my bar exam with memorizing my outlines.
And third, my magnum potentium might be best called obsessive anxiety. Odd? Some may say that my nightly logging of pages (exactly 33) from a panoply of war histories, English literature, economic theory, the Holy Bible, and a select style and grammar manual is circumstantial evidence of a personality disorder. However, from a distance, one would see that the professional skill of executive function was mastered in grade school.
Lo, do not envy these powers, this magic, as the rose has thorns. Though I can quote the 7 axioms of a perfectly competitive market or the nine justices of the Supreme Court, alphabetically (Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Gorsuch, Kagaen, Kennedy, Roberts, Soto-Mayor, and Thomas) at a rock concert, memorize entire prayers in Latin, and check off (Chekov ;)) dead Russian authors’ works rivalrous of Netflix binge-watching, but there’s a caveat wrapped in this reflection: be super cautious with superpowers. I expose my favor to certain modes of learning in my teaching. This is bias in every sense of the definition; blind spots. For instance, I know I personally despise group work, hate it passionately, but by building my courses with avoiding this method, I risk dusting those students that may excel with it. Thus, my secret superpowers that allowed me to conquer my own higher education challenge, may obstruct another student’s experience. So, be careful with your own powers.
I discovered cheating in my professional ethics course during my first semester of teaching. The irony shouldn’t be lost. But it was so much more than just cheating; this was a vocational existential shock. This was in my first semester in a new career path as I was making the shift from industry and law to loftier goals in academics. So, this cheating event was no less oracular than seeing owls in the daytime.
To my detriment, I must confess some (much) naïveté to the practice of cheating. As a Mexican (grand)momma’s boy, an experienced Catholic altar boy, a Navy NCO (noncommissioned officer), and as an oath-sworn lawyer, cutting corners carries the connotation of shame, dishonor, and the very real possibility of burning in hell for eternity. Furthermore, I unwittingly functioned on the assumption that everyone operates on my same code. This cheating event made me question what I was doing; I was weighing whether to return to the business world where the predators are easily spotted or staying in education. I obviously chose the latter; and needless to say, my pedagogy needed to be amended after realizing that there were wolves acting as lambs in my flock.
Serendipitously, the poison was the antidote in this case as the very subject matter of ethics that I was teaching in the course held the cure. I was literally teaching the redeeming concept of my own crisis, which had originally attenuated the sin. My ethics course came to a place where we all define our ethical code. Not to get into the weeds too deep here, but there are 5 or 6 big philosophies of personal ethics. Personally, I know that I align with the Platonic thought of virtue where the thought is we make ethical mistakes but we strive to be better. Transversely, in a contemporary ethics branch, there is the philosophy of relativism, which holds that morality is relative to the norms of one’s group or tribe or society or (oh yes) class.
Thus, my reflection and reaction to a potentially disparaging situation was to refuse my Platonic judgments of moral superiority with the urge of throwing all sinners to the flames. Rather, I adopted the thought that we are all are relativists and in the “society” of this face-to-face spring 2013 second 8-week session of BA 431: Professional Ethics, I would raise the ethical bar by including honor oaths before tests, give real world case studies of ethical gray area, and challenge my students to adopt virtue. The exam timers stopped clocking common start/stop times, the football players stopped getting the exact same scores, and one student’s final reflection on formulating his own ethical code was ultimately soul-redeeming.