Think for a moment about the changes that have taken place over the last few generations. It sounds cliché, but we’re definitely living in a new day. As I observe the realities of our time, I notice people have the same needs we did 50 years ago — the only difference is that we’ve found new ways to meet them. Some good, some… well, not so good. At times we actually drift into a “new normal” without noticing. For instance:

  1. Workouts… are the new work.

Generations ago, no one needed to go to a gym to lift weights or run. Many worked manual labor jobs on a farm or a factory. Now, we need gym memberships to stay fit.

  1. Movies… are the new books.

While I know books still sell, many from the emerging generation would rather wait for the movie to come out. They watch 35 movies for every one book they read.

  1. Musicians… are the new philosophers.

In times past, men like Socrates, Plato or Augustine gave us our worldview. Today, it’s Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Kanye West. Hmm…not sure they’re qualified.


  1. Athletes… are the new heroes.

Instead of statesmen or military generals, we choose celebrities from a playing field or basketball court… you know, people who throw a ball really well. Makes sense.

  1. Starbucks… is the new front porch.

My friend, Len Sweet, said it first. We used to gather on a neighbor’s porch to share community and drink lemonade. Today, we meet at a coffeehouse for a latte.

  1. Texts… are the new letter or phone call.

We used to take time to write a letter or even make a phone call. Today, we don’t have time for that nonsense. We text or tweet. It’s short and sweet.

  1. Facebook… is the new social hook up.

There was a time you had to go to a school dance or a church social to meet a special friend. Today, we do it virtually from the solitude of our bedrooms.

  1. Netflix… is the new Blockbuster.

Today, you don’t have to drive to a store to rent a video. In fact, you’re antiquated if you do. Just get the movie On-Demand, on your TV set… and don’t leave the couch.

  1. Smartphones… are the new Rolodex.

I remember using that little contact cardholder to look up numbers and network with people. Today, you have all those names and more on a portable device.

  1. Twitter… is the new headline news source.

We once read newspapers for the latest updates. Today, many don’t even visit websites. They see what tweets have come through to fill them in. Wow.

Some questions for you: Are we moving in a good direction or a bad one? Can you think of any other shifts that have taken place? What must we do to adapt to our new day but still build the timeless virtues into our students?

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Generation iY helps adults:

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  • Adopt education strategies that engage (instead of bore) an “I” generation
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Yesterday, I posted a blog about the connection between students who know history well and their ability to display resilience. It might seem like a strange correlation, but a growing body of research now connects the two. When I know my history, I feel part of something larger and can be inspired to play my role. I’m encouraged by those who lived in tougher times and can learn from their mistakes. In a day like today—when resilience seems to be waning and stress is high—this is huge.

Today, I’d like to dig deeper on where this idea begins.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t stem purely from knowing modern history, or even American history. It actually begins with a healthy family history. I first read about this idea when research was done on it at Emory University. New York Times writer Bruce Feiler tells the story of Dr. Marshall Duke, a prominent psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta (where I live). During the 90s, Dr. Duke was tasked with researching the nature of “myth and ritual in American families.” From his work, Dr. Duke discovered that one of the most important things a family can do is to develop a strong family narrative.

big family

“There was a lot of research at the time into the dissipation of the family,” he says. “But we were more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.” So Dr. Duke set out to help families build and talk about their history. It proved to be quite a breakthrough.

During this same period of time, Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara — a psychologist who specializes in children with learning disabilities — made a similar discovery about her students.

“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she said. Wow. What a coincidence.

Digging deeper into the research, Feiler’s article reveals further insights about this issue. “Dr. Duke said children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. Leaders in other fields have found similar results. Many groups use what sociologists call sense-making, the building of a narrative that explains what the group is about.”

Feiler goes on to cite the work of Jim Collins (author of Good to Great), noting that “successful human enterprises of any kind, from companies to countries, go out of their way to capture their core identity.” In Jim Collins’ terms, they “preserve the core, while stimulating progress.”

Additionally, Collins also argues that the same truth applies to families, recommending that families “create a mission statement similar to the ones companies … use to identify their core values.”

Six Steps We Can Take

If this research is indeed true, then what should we do? How can we begin to build a sense of history into our families, our classes, and our teams? Let me begin to answer these questions below with a few basic strategies:

1. Tell the tales of the past.

Take time at meals or holidays to share funny or engaging family stories. At our house, we enjoy reminiscing about past trips, experiences and mishaps.

2. Start customs and traditions.

Create unique practices that are specific to your family, things you can do on holidays, vacations, etc. We have several “Elmore customs” like popcorn night, boat-time, and service trips.

3. Create a list of values and how you can practice them.

Our family met and came up with a set of values we’d all embrace. We chose to practice service, trust, good attitudes, hospitality, faith and risk-taking.

4. Begin using language that is exclusive to your family.

Note what funny or interesting terms are used and refer back to them. We have hilarious phrases, catchwords and rhymes that are for our ears only.

5. Refer to past history when current events align.

When facing a new situation, share how it reminds you of former events. My kids know the details of stories from the lives of their parents and grandparents.

6. Celebrate milestones together.

Healthy families are full of celebrations of achievement for new life stations. Birthdays, graduations, grades and performances are all remembered.

I welcome your additions to this conversation. Are there ways you’ve succeeded in sharing your family’s history with your kids?

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Let’s walk down memory lane. Do you remember the hilarious segments of Jay Leno on The Tonight Show called “Jay Walking”, in which he interviewed everyday people on the street about familiar facts from U.S. history? Here are a few of the questions he asked:

Q: What country did America fight in the Revolutionary War?

A: France. Or, was it Germany? I forget now.

Q: When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

A: 1492

Q: Who said: “Give me liberty or give me death?”

A: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Q: How many stars are on that flag?

A: It’s moving too fast to count. Uh, 32?

Obviously, Leno showed edited versions of his funniest interactions, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that far too many young adults know more about Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber than they do about Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson. They fail to have any sense of context for our history and society.

What’s more, it seems there’s a rise in the number of students today who lack resilience and are unable to cope with the normal anxieties that accompany life. Almost everywhere I go, I meet teachers and coaches who grieve the lack of resilience in their students. In a 2014 study, it was reported that “more than half of Australian students lack the skills to deal with life’s difficulties, with many citing depression, stress, and a lack of confidence as common issues.” Additionally, Oxford and Cambridge reported increases in referrals to their university counseling services in 2010, citing that new students lack the resilience to make it through their college classes.

Did you ever consider that these two items might be connected? That there may be an association between embracing history and being resilient?

The Connection Between Resilience and History

A growing body of research now reveals that having a strong sense of history actually enables us to handle stress and bounce back. I just finished the book Resilience by Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, who reveals that students who build a knowledge of history also demonstrate a strong sense of resilience. And it begins with a healthy family history. The more students feel a part of a narrative — both at home, then as a people — the greater their chances are of living a resilient life.

Let’s step back for a moment and reflect on how knowing history can actually foster resilience in people, specifically students. The following are three common sense ideas to consider today.

How Can a Knowledge of History Help Students with Resilience?

  1. It provides them with the big picture—they are part of a larger narrative.

I can easily feel overwhelmed when I feel isolated, like I’m facing hardship all alone. But when I know my nation’s and my family’s history, I no longer feel alone. I see that I’m part of a larger narrative, which makes me feel connected along the way and inspired to play my part.

  1. It encourages them with stories about people who’ve endured tougher times.

I remember hearing my father and grandfather talk about the Great Depression of the 1930s. They didn’t complain about it; in fact, they felt those days were gifts, teaching them to be resourceful and grateful for even the small benefits they enjoyed. This gave me perspective as I surveyed my Christmas presents as a child.

  1. It enables them to learn from mistakes.

We’ve all heard the phrase: Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. When I know my history, I can avoid committing some of the errors others have made. I can stand on the shoulders of our forefathers who paid a dear price — sometimes through sacrifice and failure — so that we, the descendants, can enjoy a better life.

So what can we do?

Stop hesitating. Be a storyteller, relay the tales of people in history, and ask your students how they can stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Talk about what we can take away from those narratives. I had a history teacher during my sophomore year of high school that did this brilliantly, weaving in colorful stories and lessons learned along the way. Let’s connect our students today with the bigger narrative they’re a part of and can continue.

We are part of a story that includes ancestors and descendants. We can’t do much about our ancestors, but we can certainly prepare our descendants.

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As the 2016 presidential campaign heats up, we can be sure of one thing: the cost of a college education will be a primary topic. More and more politicians, as well as business leaders, are hopping into the conversation, suggesting that education is migrating toward ”free.” Every kid deserves a chance at higher education without amassing huge debt.

It’s an issue I hear about almost everywhere I travel. Free content seems to be everywhere—why not schools? I meet students who want to attend college but fear what’s happened to their brother or sister upon graduation. Just to paint a picture for you of how costs have skyrocketed: a college student in 1979 only had to work 182 hours per year to pay for tuition, but the average 2013 student had to work 991 hours. This is the difference between my university years and my children’s.

Perhaps Howard Horton, president of New England College of Business, said it best: “Free higher education may seem like an obvious solution at a time when business leaders decry the ‘skills gap’ and as four-year colleges often seem the playground of the elite. But in our zeal to service new learners, we must be equally mindful that we don’t unintentionally shortchange students in the process.”

No one disagrees—so let’s check on the progress of two big attempts at offering free education to college age people.

  1. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Years ago, when Harvard and MIT coordinated efforts to offer some marvelous Ivy League level courses (“EdX”) online to the average person, it seemed too good to be true. MOOC’s, as we’ve come to call them, seemed to democratize college education, enabling anyone to attend a Harvard class. Sadly, the lack of teacher and peer interaction in MOOCs diminished their value to students who require such dialogue to win in school. As a result, MOOCs have typically low completion rates and have not yet been widely adopted in the nation’s colleges and universities.

  1. Competency Based Education (CBE)

CBE is another model that’s gained attention in higher education today, enabling students to master skills without needing to actually take a class. In CBEs, students read instructional material with minimal support from teachers and without much discussion with peers. So far, so good. Many educators agree, however, that while these programs can successfully impart a “hard skill” such as the ability to solve a math equation, they don’t help students develop “soft skills” necessary for employment, such as the ability to work in teams, communicate well or negotiate a sale. Such “soft skills” usually require modeling and mentoring from someone.

So, we’re going to have to get creative.

What’s Missing?

Did you notice what the two attempts above were missing? It’s the most fundamental and timeless ingredient for effectively educating kids. It’s also one we find it hard to offer in our day. Call me the master of the obvious, but we’ve got to find a way to restore this ingredient to education.

I am talking about relationship.

A relationship between an instructor or mentor and the student. A social connection that undergirds the transmission of information. A hundred years ago, America still experienced one-room schoolhouses, where teachers and students of various ages knew each other well and learning happened not merely as the teacher lectured but as life happened between the children. Early colleges were launched in the basements of churches, where a vicar or minister met with a small cadre of young men and invested in them. While they didn’t benefit from video, power point slides or Internet connection, they had something we often don’t. They experienced relationships in the midst of community.

  • I believe there is no life change without life exchange.
  • I believe circles of students are superior to rows.
  • I believe students want to belong before they believe.
  • I believe trust is the bridge that enables information to travel well.

So, the next time you’re wondering what’s missing in your instruction (or what could make your work with students more effective), try working at cultivating a relationship with your end user.

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Have you heard of “Hikikomori”? It’s a phenomenon that we first read about in Japan, but it has spread to other cultures such as Spain, France, Italy, and Latin America. It’s a trend describing socially withdrawn youth. And the trend is spreading.

According to the University of Michigan, “They are modern day hermits—hundreds of thousands of young people who have retreated to their bedrooms. They disdain social contact and are unable to go to school or work for months or even years. In Japanese, it’s called ‘hikikomori,’ [which means] withdrawing, pulling inward.”

Having affected hundreds of thousands of youth, it’s an epidemic.

Alan Teo, a researcher and psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, writes that the term comes from an expert panel of Japanese researchers who define it as “a state of social withdrawal for more than six months.” (Korea uses a shorter duration of three months to define the concept.) Japanese researchers explain that the young people (usually ages 15-32) who struggle with it don’t leave their house except for rare occasions and don’t interact with people outside their own family. As Alan puts it, “Existence is pretty much confined to the home.”

Avoiding Reality

Hikikomori is the avoidance of social interaction, adult situations and responsibility, and it’s usually replaced by spending one’s days surfing online or playing video games. The diagnosis is not limited to, but especially affects males, with some reports stating that nearly 80% of cases come from males. Most importantly, it’s accompanied by some form of distress or functional impairment — the young adult is full of angst and wants to escape. Psychologists are still diagnosing the issue.

While this medical condition is relatively new and remote, it paints a picture of a growing reality across the globe and begs the question: Has the virtual world left too many young people ill-equipped for the real world of responsibility and social intelligence? If so, what is a society to do with these people? “The real heavy lifting may ultimately have to happen on the level of the culture itself,” writes Lev Grossman of Time magazine.

There was a time when people looked forward to taking on the mantle of adulthood. That time is past. Now our culture trains young people to fear it. ‘I don’t ever want a lawn,’ says [twenty-seven-year-old Matt] Swann. ‘I don’t ever want to drive two hours to get to work. I do not want to be a parent. I mean, hell, why would I? There’s so much fun to be had while you’re young.’

Abandonment or Abundance

I think there’s a deeper reason for our predicament. During their childhood and adolescent years, kids often experience something traumatic. They encounter one extreme or the other: abandonment or abundance. Many experience both.

Young people who experience abandonment are thrust into responsible roles too soon. Perhaps because of an alcoholic father, an absent mother, or a self-absorbed caretaker, these children don’t fully form. They are exposed to emotionally traumatic situations and typically don’t respond well. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes.)

The other extreme is abundance. It’s a delightful word—we all love abundance. But when abundance is furnished and young people never learn to manage resources (money, possessions, relationships, or time), their growth can be stunted.

Certainly, every parent wishes to provide for their children abundantly, but a never-ending supply of anything reduces the human ability to interpret, manage, save, give, and spend wisely. Frankly, we become spoiled. Kyle is a young man in this situation. His parents are fearful of losing him. They’re afraid he won’t like or accept them. So Kyle is now in power. He’s completely self-absorbed, and he’s come to expect his parents to do everything. Kyle has feigned a suicide attempt, and he is rude to guests. His parents are ashamed.

Kyle was not abandoned. Quite the opposite: he wasn’t expected to fend for himself at seventeen or eighteen, when he probably should have been. More importantly, there was no plan for giving him responsibility in increasing amounts as he grew up.

These two scenarios remind me of the ancient Hebrew proverb written three thousand years ago. The prayer says, “God, don’t give me too little, or I might be tempted to steal. But, don’t give me too much, or I might think I can get by without you. Give me just enough.”

Sadly, Generation iY suffers from both too little and too much. As a result, they’re in danger of being “not enough” for the demands of their future lives.

These are uncertain times, when educators, parents and employers are navigating new terrain. We must balance the “too much, too little” lifestyle and provide young people with wise doses of resources. Centuries ago, Publilius Syrus wrote, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

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