I noticed at the start of the trimester that many of my first year students have dates of birth in 1993. In the spirit of similar lists I have seen over the years (and with the help of Wikipedia), I offer you a chance both to feel old and appreciate the perspective of those that are being taught in 2012. This is a rough guess at the paradigms of a student born in 1993: (With apologies to overseas readers for the Australian cultural bias.)
• Not only did the fall of the Berlin Wall occur some years before their birth, but they never co-existed with a place called the Soviet Union.
• The first Gulf War happened before they were born. And the 9/11 attacks plus the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq happened in the middle of their primary school years.
• They’ve never used one or two cent coins.
• They never realised there was a first President George Bush.
• They are a few years younger than the TV series Home and Away. Even Sonic the Hedgehog is older than them.
• Big Brother holds no Orwellian overtones in their eyes.
• The Falklands War is as distant in time to their childhoods as the Cuban Missile Crisis was for many of us who teach them now.
• Who is Bob Hawke? John Howard won his first election when they were barely in pre-school.
• Shane Warne has been bowling all their lives. His “Ball of the Century” dismissal of Mike Gatting happened the year they were born.
• The Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement was signed in their first term of Prep / Kindergarten.
• When they started high school the big three premiers were Steve Bracks, Bob Carr and Peter Beattie. The same year Schapelle Corby was convicted for drug smuggling and the Cronulla riots took place.
• The year they were born we were watching Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List and Mrs Doubtfire.
• The first time they ever used a computer it was probably running Windows 98. The first mobile phone they had for themselves was most likely an iPhone.
• For them, Nelson Mandela has always been free.
Naturally this is all rather patronising and arrogantly assumes that these young adults have never absorbed a skerrick of information in their whole lives. Obviously untrue. However I do find it useful to remind myself of some of the above chronologies when I am teaching. For if I make assumptions about what they do know, then I feel it risks making me less effective as a teacher.
Tossing off assumed cultural references can be alienating and unproductive in communicating a broader theme or issue. And it’s not just a case of ‘facts’, but world view. My 10 year old daughter asked me who Nelson Mandela was when the ageing ex-President was ill recently and figuring on the news. As I explained apartheid, she was genuinely mystified by the whole idea. Not because she didn’t have the facts, but because she had grown up in an environment where the concept of segregating people by race just wasn’t a consideration. It didn’t enter her mind that such a scheme would be plausible.
“That’s so lame!” she said. “What was the point of that?”
It’s of course nice that she has that interpretation of this part of human history. But a good teacher, especially when dealing with a region like the Middle East, needs to constantly review their own assumptions, lest they become a victim of their own date of birth.