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Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Teaching the
I-Want- (and Expect it)
-NOW Generation

Schools may well have a new function: Schools may be the last place where children learn that they cant have everything that they want the moment they want it.

Im here to reassure you that this is a good thing. Not that it will make the job of teaching easier or more fun -- but it will make it even more important.

Everything else in our culture seems to encourage kids to believe that, at the push of a button, the blink of an eye, or the snap of their little fingers, all they desire can and should be theirs.

(Okay, I should offer a caveat here: the rest of this column might make me sound as if I am older than Methuselah, or even Joan Rivers, and that my expectations in life have been formed by nothing later than the Code of Hammurabi. In other words, Im very well aware that Im speaking not only from an individual perspective, but from a generational point of view. Having said all of this, however, Im also quite certain Im right.)

Lets face it: iPods, T.V. monitors in cars, cell phones, etc., are not going to help teachers have a better time in the classroom -- at least, not when these devices are what kids are brought up depending upon, replacing, it seems, sippy-cups and blue security blankets as agents of comfort.

Children -- from almost every class except the poorest -- have at their fingertips what they desire. They can, for example, watch T.V. and movies in the car. Assistant Melissa, a 28-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut (UCONN), reassures me that it might not simply be my age that makes me nervous about watching T.V. in the car. Look, even at my age, Im disturbed by the lack of boundaries between activities that used to have their discreet venues. Its the thing that first freaked me out about cell phones. You talk to people at work or home but not in between. You watch T.V. in the living room after dinner or on Saturday morning. You watch movies in the movie theater. You buy a record and listened to all the tracksnot just the ones you heard on the radio. And you dont do all these things at once.

If you find televisions in cars disturbing, my student Greta tells us that theyre now installing video screens into shopping carts as well. Swell.

These days, you can see an 8-year-old sitting in the back of a mini-van looking at a screen, talking on a cell phone pressed to one ear, with an Ipod bud in the other ear, while being handed a bag of corn chips by his mother whos driving him to get some one-on-one time with the tennis coach. All the kid needs is a cigar and a pin stripe suit to complete the impression of him as a tiny tycoon. So imagine this kids horror at being told to wait his turn in a classroom or during gym class.

They come from a generation of children who are unaware of the fact that patience has, historically, been considered a virtue.

These kids will stand in front of the microwave tapping their little Sketchers-clad feet, yelling at the microwave, I dont have all minute! while their Hot Pockets heat up.

Tim, our 32-year-old computer-guru colleague at UCONN -- a man not intimidated by technology -- argues that, From infancy, kids are brought up watching T.V.They dont watch it just the way we used to watch it. They watch it all the time. Theyre accustomed to the idea that life goes on -- at least on screen -- no matter what happens to the kid himself. The problem is the character on screen keeps doing whatever he or she is doing whether the child claps her hands in delight, wails like a Banshee, or crawls under the sofa searching for old gum. The kid is not encouraged to consider that his or her responses matter or are even recognized.

It shouldnt be surprising, then, that our students often act as if we are merely figures projected on a screen. Many kids act as if instructors cant possible see what theyre doing even if they are two feet from your nose -- as if you cant see what theyre doing from the front of the room. Because, in terms of the world they understand, nobody witnesses or responds to their actions. Theyre startled when you say Hey, stop poking Taylor and get back to work. How did you know he was poking Taylor? You saw it? How? Youre all the way up there.

The fact that you can choose not to comment on what a kid is doing -- even when youve still seen it -- is nearly impossible for them to process.

In part, this is because these kids have never had an unexpressed thought. Or unexpressed emotion for that matter.

These are kids for whom it is not unusual to make a quick leap from the first awakening of sexual awareness to the first consummation of sexual experience. They havent had to wait for anything else; why wait for that?

But what happens when a generation no longer understands the delight of anticipation or the creativity of imagination, but instead only knows immediate gratification?

If you dont learn to wait your turn, you will become outraged anytime you have to look for a parking space. If you expect to be entertained by somebody else every minute, you will not develop alternative routes to your centers of joy or satisfaction. If you always get focused attention from the best teacher in school, you will never learn how to deal with (or survive, for that matter) a problematic boss.

And, after all, it could turn out that the song you like best is a cut that wasnt played on the radio.

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