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The Music of Generations


The very first cassette tape I ever bought was Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth. I could still probably sing along to every song. Several years later when CDs became available, my first one was Boys II Men’s album, Cooleyhighharmony. Though I can't say in which order the rest were bought, CDs like Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Counting Crow’s August and Everything After, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and both Use Your Illusion I and II by Guns-N-Roses were ones I listened to over and over. Though I generally don’t listen to the radio much anymore (thanks to audiobooks, podcasts, and hands-free calls while driving), the music of my formative years was played on a five-disc CD player that made me feel like a baller at the time.

In addition to music, TV was a part of my identity growing up. I remember playing with my Barbies on Saturday evenings suffering through reruns of Star Trek while waiting for The Muppet Show to start. I was jealous of kids who had cable and got to watch shows like Fraggle Rock or the USA Cartoon Express. That said, I can sing every word of the Ducktales theme song. My first celebrity crush was Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains. Oh, how I cried realizing that he would never know who I was. I watched Webster, Mr. Belvedere, The Facts of Life, Different Strokes, Threes Company, and later, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 90210, The Real World, and Ally McBeal. When I called boys on the phone, I called the landline because no one had a cell phone. Moms, dads, and siblings would not just answer, but potentially listen in. The boys would tell me all about the moves their favorite wrestlers like Hulk Hogan or Macho Man Randy Savage were doing on WWF wrestling. This was my childhood.

Twelve years after I was born, my younger sister, Emily, was born. By that time, everyone owned a VCR and so she had oodles of VHS tapes including Barney on repeat as well as Disney Sing-Along movies or any of the Disney classics (like Snow White or 101 Dalmatians). The music she listened to included Spice Girls and Brittany Spears. My mom, who is twenty-five years older than I am, has a photo of her and her sister and brother in front of the first TV their family owned. I’m sure she knows how to use a record player. When my oldest was born seventeen years ago, I still had dial-up internet. Now, all of my children have phones that have internet access wherever they go.

I’ve heard it said a lot lately that students are apathetic. Teachers tell me how they could do headstands and cartwheels and the students wouldn’t care. I’ve heard this said about elementary students and college students alike. I’m certainly not debating the possibility of cultural malaise. Two years ago I did several Lyon’s Letters about the impact of the situational trauma we all experienced due to COVID. That said, I can’t help but wonder if some of what we’re seeing is a function of predictable generational differences. After all, every generation says with regard to the way they see children behaving, “When I was a kid we would never act like that,” right? Yet, and this is the real irony, new generations take their cues from previous generations. My kids were not born with cell phones in their hands; my generation gave them phones. In other words, there is no nature or nurture confusion about how kids got cell phones - this is clearly nurture. Just like kids in the 50s and 60s were not born with record players where they could listen to rock and roll.

I also have been thinking about how many years people work before they retire. If you’re lucky, you will work for somewhere between thirty to forty years and then you’ll be able to retire. When I was a kid, in order to find out how long a generation was, I’d have to go to a library if I didn’t own a set of encyclopedias. Now, I typed the question, “How long is a generation,” into Google and Wikipedia came to the rescue in a millisecond. According to Wikipedia, “In population biology and demography, generation time is the average time between two consecutive generations in the lineages of a population. In human populations, generation time typically ranges from 22 to 33 years.” Given that you will work with people who are about to retire and those who have just started working, you can go to work with folks and have three or four generations working side-by-side. In a school where there are children, the generation span can be even greater. Rather than the music and pop culture I described as my experience as a child in the 80s and 90s, there are people who have more in common with my mom from the 50s and 60s, my younger sister from the 90s and 2000s or even my kids from the present-day. It’s a grab bag. I like the quote from McKrindle researchers (who also developed the image below), “When we look at the times and technologies that shaped us, it helps us to understand ourselves and how we are different to others. Hopefully, that then helps to bridge gaps rather than point out those gaps.

All of this makes me wonder if rather than there being something wrong with the world today (cue Aerosmith’s “Livin’ On The Edge”), we need to have a “Birds & the Bees” conversation (cue Jewel Akens) with adults about the normal and predictable behaviors of other generations.


P.S. My Catch of the Week is Alice Keeler, the co-author of our upcoming book 50 Ways to Engage Students with Google Apps. Alice Keeler is a Google Certified Innovator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, and is a member of the K12 Disrupters. Alice has her B.A. in mathematics and an M.S. in Educational Media Design and Technology. She taught high school math since 1999, has taught in the Kremen School of Education at California State University Fresno. She was on the Horizon Report advisory panel for 2013-2016. She has worked on the YouTube for Teachers project and the Google Play for Education project. She designed lessons for Bing in the Classroom. Consulted for Youcubed. Alice is a mother of 5. Areas of interest include gamification, spreadsheets and data, Game Based Learning, Minecraft in education, student-centered instruction and connected educators. Alice is the founder of CoffeeEDU ( which is a one hour unconference get together of educators. Alice regular presents at conferences and schools on technology integration. Sign up to receive Alice’s newsletter here or check out her other books here.

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1 Comment

Lori DeCarlo
Lori DeCarlo
Apr 13, 2023

You make a great point here, Heather! Love the infographic, too.

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