586. About the Generation Gap

One year when I was in high school, we had to read “Romeo and Juliet.” A few of us suggested to our English teacher that we could take a class field trip to see “West Side Story,” which we knew was based on “Romeo and Juliet.” Our English teacher was a nice guy in some ways, but in other ways, he was an old fuddy- duddy. He didn’t spend any time thinking about whether our idea had any merit. From his point of view, we might as well have asked to see Mr. Magoo play Hamlet.
Four years later, I was a high school English teacher. I had the class read “Romeo and Juliet,” and though “West Side Story” wasn’t in the theatres any more, and VCR’s weren’t around yet, I did bring in the original cast recording and start to play it for my class. At first, there was a little bit of smirking. Then yawning.
Finally, one boy asked me whether THAT was the kind of music they used to listen to when I was a kid. And I was only about three years older than the kids in my class!
I know that I’ve usually been somewhat out of touch with the musical tastes of much of my generation. I wasn’t into the rock groups a lot of my peers were into, many of which stayed popular much longer and climbed much higher on the charts than songs from Broadway musicals. So the gap I was experiencing was not a pure generation gap. If, tomorrow, I meet one of the pupils I taught in , we’ll really seem to be part of the same generation; I’m forty-nine, and they’re about forty-six. But they’re more likely to go to a nostalgic rock concert, and I’m more likely to see a revival of “Camelot.”
But in a way, anybody who’d been in my position – the high school English teacher – would have been seen by some of the pupils as being in a different generation. We teachers were supposed to get pupils to get excited about the high school curriculum, which some of them had already decided they weren’t going to like. They were already used to having their teachers try to find ways to get them involved, and some of them seemed, to me, to be immune to those efforts.
My discouragement with teaching high school was one of the main reasons I decided to teach elementary school. And now that the first graders I started working with when I came to Amherst are in fourth grade, I’m starting to worry. There certainly isn’t any doubt that I’m part of what they’ll correctly think of as the older generation; I’m forty years older than these children.
I notice that elementary schools tend to have lots of volunteers, and secondary schools tend to have very few. Parents tend to come across as being very busy when their children are in secondary school; they aren’t as likely to come to school events. True, some of their children ask them not to, but there’s not much of a tendency for parents to argue about that; many of them are glad not to come.
I’m committed to being there for these fourth graders as they grow. But it’ll be interesting to see the degrees to which they do and don’t want to have one more adult to have to deal with. I’ll let you know.

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