The Judgment of the Young

Yesterday I engaged in a bit of cheap cynicism. In twitting my students for their over-dependence on the latest technology and fear of being "off the grid," I failed to mention that at least half of the room did crave the experience I described. I often forget how much the students are like me. Indeed, most of the time I feel alienated from their concerns and lives, which inevitably produces some middle-aged snorting about the next generation. A lot of times, too, I feel like my efforts go into a void. There have been so many moments in empty classrooms, as I'm packing up papers, erasing the board, and straightening the desks, when I think, "Well, that didn't work."

In The Courage to Teach, the educator Parker Palmer names the secret fear that permeates teaching. He writes,
In unguarded moments with close friends, we who teach will acknowledge a variety of fears: having our work go unappreciated, being inadequately rewarded, discovering one fine morning that we chose the wrong profession, spending our lives on trivia, ending up feeling like frauds. But many of us have a fear we rarely name: our fear of the judgment of the young.

Day after day, year after year, we walk into classrooms and look into younger faces that seem to signal, in ways crude and subtle, "You're history. Whatever you value, we don't--and since you couldn't possibly understand the things we value, we won't even bother to tell you what they are. We are here only because we are forced to be here. So whatever you have got to do, get it over with, and let us get on with our lives."
On some level to teach is to be constantly reminded that your time is passing. What Shakeseare's King Lear says of his own hand could easily be said of teaching:"it stinks of mortality."


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