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Innovation

What century is this?

A meeting tonight with parents and teachers to coordinate an after-prom party for this year's seniors convinced me that the generation gap is alive and well.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Much to my oldest son's chagrin, I went to a planning meeting tonight for his after-prom party. The idea is a good one and it's remarkably successful each year: throw a party that is big enough, impressive enough, and cool enough that kids are willing to stay drug- and alcohol-free instead of partying the way most of my generation did after prom. It actually requires a lot of planning, though, since it's free to students, prizes like laptops and LCD televisions get handed out, and everyone gets to eat for about 6 hours.

So planning starts early. As in tonight (and, in fact, some dedicated teachers and parents had already begun planning this summer). I volunteered to help with a few things that were up my alley, although I didn't have many graceful ways to decline when the meeting chair asked "Is there anyone here who's good with computers? Someone who can maybe do some work in Excel? Keep a database of our donations? Anyone? Anyone?" On the second Beuller-style "Anyone," all eyes had turned to me, so I sheepishly raised my hand and was suddenly the de facto treasurer and historian.

That part was OK. It wasn't until various signup sheets started getting passed around that I felt like I had time-warped back to my own days in high school. Nobody included an email address. The handwritten sheets had two columns: Name and Phone Number. Nothing about an IM handle, no pointers to a Facebook group, no requests for Twitter IDs. A quick scan of the phone numbers showed that most people actually recorded their land line numbers besides.

I know, isn't it weird? I wrote my email address and Facebook profile anyway.

Maybe it's just the rural community in which we live, but I don't think that's actually the source of disconnect with the rest of the world in 2009. I think I just witnessed a major generation gap from which I'd been somewhat isolated working with students for so long and living, eating, and breathing tech for quite a few years.

These parents, teachers, and community members literally just didn't even think to communicate electronically. I'm actually connected with a few of them on Facebook and one asked about getting content posted on the school and district websites, so I know there were exceptions, but overall, it was quite apparent that the generation gap is alive and well. Since these folks are largely parents of high school seniors, they tend to be in their 40's and early 50's. While the parents of our younger students seem to be fairly well-connected, our older parents (with some exceptions) just seem to have missed social media entirely.

Which begs the question, do we reach out to these parents and educate them about electronic communication, apprising them of they way their kids communicate and opening new doors for parent/teacher contact? Or do we make sure that as we shift much of the communication coming out of schools to the web that we don't forget this generation that still likes to use a land line for speaking to people?

The answer is probably both. I just have to make sure that I stay in technological fields so that I don't have the same communication disconnect from my younger kids when they hit high school 10-15 years from now.

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