We’ve all seen them – stories circulating on Facebook and social media about young people (dreaded millennials) who don’t know how to use rotary phones, can’t write in cursive, and puzzle over analog clocks. Take a peek at the comments and you’ll see in a matter of seconds how absolutely cruel and condescending people are towards an entire generation – for things that are, in reality, not their fault.
Let’s start with the cursive thing. Somewhere along the line kids stopped learning handwriting in school. Now, who made that decision? The students themselves? Of course not. It was the adults running the school and planning the curriculum. But when those first graders who were never taught to scrawl their names in anything but block lettering reach middle school and high school, somehow teachers, activity coordinators, and perspective first-job employers are scoffing at their inability to produce a signature. These young people are immediately judged for their lack of a basic life skill that no one ever showed them – at no fault of their own.
It’s the same with analog clocks. When I was in elementary school, learning to read a clock was part of math class. I remember hating it and struggling with it, just like anything having to do with numbers. But I was required to learn it, and eventually I did. So if educators eliminate this basic skill from math class, and parents fail to teach it at home, how can we mock the children who simply were never taught a skill by the people who are meant to help them navigate the world?
One thing millennials are made fun of for is their inability to know how to use a rotary phone, and this one irks me to no end. First of all, I know how to use a rotary phone because I’m an “older” millennial and my grandparents had one in their basement until I was probably seven or eight years old. My cousins and I spent lots of time playing with the heavy contraption, spinning the dial as fast as we could long after the thing had been disconnected. But the millennials who are five or ten years younger than me simply never came in contact with one – just like our parents and grandparents probably never came in contact with gramophones from the twenties or a washboard from the 1800’s.
Is someone stupid or incompetent if they don’t know how to use an invention that became obsolete before they were born? Of course not. But for some reason we’re treating this new generation like they are.
Think about it – were women in the sixties and seventies stupid because they didn’t know how to tie a corset? Are people in the military inept because they wouldn’t know how to load a musket? Were music fans in the 90’s daft because they didn’t know how to use an 8-track player? No. Our world is constantly changing, evolving, and improving. Eventually old technology is going to become obsolete and only a handful of people will know how certain things work. Or a lack of knowledge about this once-new or popular technology shouldn’t automatically brand someone as a brainless zombie.
I realize that writing in cursive, changing a tire, cooking basic meals, and preparing your taxes are things that not a lot of people in my generation and those younger don’t know how to do. And I completely agree that these are important skills needed to navigate the world. But we aren’t born knowing how to do these things. And some of us don’t have parents around to teach us. So I stand by my opinion that teaching these skills needs to be a priority in schools. While it is important that kids learn how to use new technology, it is also imperative that we don’t have scores of graduating high school seniors who don’t know how to use a screw driver, bake muffins, or communicate face-to-face with another human being.
Even more important than teaching these skills is realizing that if a young person doesn’t know how to perform one of these tasks, more than likely it isn’t their fault and it doesn’t dictate their intelligence, worth, or potential as a human being.
Lets’s stop writing off an entire generation as mindless idiots simply because they were born in a time like the world has never seen.
In the words of Mark Twain …