The Curious Case of Millennials: How Unity Inspires Change

How many times did what we read, watched, saw, or experience drive us to read more, learn more, or share the experience with others?



Woman reading
Image via Pixabay.


Depending on which generational theory you subscribe to, the Millennial generation encompasses people born somewhere between the years 1980-2000. There are two leading generational theories: the pulse-rate hypothesis, and the imprint hypothesis.


Early social scientists touted the pulse-rate theory because it simplifies the concept of a generation; it breaks down groups of people, usually in non-overlapping ten or twenty year spans and assigns them a “peer personality,” meaning that people born in those spans have similar ambitions, futures, values, family structures, etc. This theory is largely rejected by social scientists today because, like many “discoveries” of the previous century (think: eugenics), it classifies people inappropriately — assuming members of the heteronormative, white, upper class are predominant.


Most social scientists today support the imprint hypothesis, which explains that generations are linked by common experiences, which can be historical, such as the Vietnam War, or pop culture-related such as Woodstock or Queen’s Live-AID Benefit Concert. 


So what does this have to do with Millennials? Well, if you have happened on a headline in the past 10 years about millennials, chances are it made you roll your eyes (Millennials Hate Napkins), pull your hair out (Lay Off the Avocado Toast If You Want a House), or maybe, just maybe, smile (A Dutch Teenager Had A Dream to Clean Up The World’s Oceans). No matter the article, Millennials have an increasingly bad reputation in the media — and that made me wonder. What large event shaped our generation? What aspects of our childhood gave us this peer personality?


When I was doing my thesis research a few years back, I was studying the differences between Generation Z (post 2000s kids), Millennials and Boomers regarding how they view sexuality. It made me startlingly aware of some of the largest differences between generations that are often overlooked. Politics and technology are the two large differences most people can recognize between any two generations. However, I believe there is an even larger difference hiding in plain sight — the bridge between pop culture and education. 


For Boomers, growing up in the shadow of WWII had many benefits and disadvantages; one one hand industry was booming (pun intended), a large majority of people were able to find work in fields that valued their skills, and there seemed to be more opportunities around each corner. However, if you look toward some of the less-advertised parts of society during this time period, you’d see: women pushed from the jobs they diligently manned during the war and experiencing a new level of misogyny (enter: Women’s Liberation Movement), vehement pro-segregation movements cropping up throughout the country (enter: Brown vs Board of Education), and dark political agendas promoted by men in white hoods (see fellow boomer, David Duke). For many young Boomers, the world they experienced at home, or were told about by their parents, was not the world they walked to school in each day.


If you took a snapshot into the lives of young Boomers during this time, their experiences with education and pop culture would be vastly different depending on their identifiers.


For instance, if you were a white male growing up in Indiana, your father most likely has a job outside the home, and is able to provide for his family. He sees teachers, students, movie stars, politicians, veterans, who look like he does. He is taught in school that he can be successful if he works hard and follows in his father's footsteps. (See the bridge between pop culture and education?). 


Now perhaps in another area in Indiana, we see a Black male growing up with both parents working outside the home. If he goes to an integrated school, he faces violence, discrimination, and other aggressions that lead him to believe that he does not have the same opportunities as other children because he somehow "lacks" what other children "have." If he goes to a segregated school, he is still surrounded by inherent messages that he cannot be successful in the world. This is reinforced in the outdated textbooks which tell the side of the oppressor, the elected officials on his school board who belong to the KKK, the mob of people gathered outside his school demanding that he be kept away from their children. I haven’t even begun to delve into what each child was taught about the world at home — lessons that would again be reinforced at school, on the radio, on the playground. 


No matter the sphere a Boomer grew up in, by the time they reached young adulthood spheres were starting to collide. Schools began to integrate. More and more Black officials were winning in congressional districts previously held by Klan members, or otherwise outright racists. Women were beginning to carve out entire sectors of the job market. People began to push for equality. And as overlooked as it may be, many young Boomers took on this fight as well.


I believe that it was not the desire to fight for equality that banded this generation together; no, I believe the awareness of difference is what connects them. Other generations had certainly noticed the differences between races, genders, classes, etc, and some had even tried to fight for change. But in most of those cases, they were small pockets of society fighting for change. In the Boomers case, this awareness took on a life of it’s own. 


These Boomers became aware of this difference and went on to make sure that their children and grandchildren (Gen X and Millennials) would not forget, and would work toward equality. And what a better way to do that than to create programs in ALL schools, ALL homes, ALL spheres of life. 


There was an overwhelming push from the content creators of the 90s to inspire children to become whoever they wanted to be, regardless of differences — to learn and think and move through the world with educated confidence. If we were to take a snapshot from any year in the 90s, we would see said programs such as Hooked on Phonics, Reading Rainbow, celebrity READ posters, Ghost Writer, Magic School Bus, Scholastic Book Fairs, Zoboomafoo, etc. All of these are educational, with messages that encourage children to love to learn, read, and think critically.


It isn’t just that these programs existed — it’s that they were ingrained in every facet of our education. We began reading with “Step Up to Reading” books, Phonics. As elementary age children we experienced the excitement of attending a book fair, of reading incentive programs through our summer library program, of looking at the smiling faces of LL Cool J, Shaquille O'Neal, and even the Power Rangers, holding books and telling us that reading was cool.


After school, or on a Saturday morning, we could be found singing along to Reading Rainbow, or watching Bill Nye burn his eyebrows off. How many times did what we read, watched, saw, or experience drive us to read more, learn more, or share the experience with others? I remember conducting science experiments with my friends after being inspired by Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s guest appearance on Bill Nye one weekend. Or pushing myself to finish a book series just a little faster, so I could talk about the final chapters with my friends on the bus. We were experiencing what we call in education a “learning high,” or the boost in pride, confidence, and self esteem you get from that aha moment when what you are learning just “clicks.”


As adults, we have transformed this high into something far beyond what the Boomers had in mind when they created this content. The Boomers became aware of differences on the surface level, Gen X played a large part in uniting groups of like-minded people to fight for change, but we, Millennials, and now Gen Z are pushing for large systemic changes to take place.


It is no longer enough to recognize that racism is wrong, we must push ourselves, our children, and the systems in which we work to be anti-racist. We need to close the wage gap that was created and upheld for reasons that barely made sense when they were established in the first place, and now seek to keep all women, but especially women of color in a lower place in society. We need to defund police, and fund education. We need more LGBTQ representation in schools; this means safe policies for teachers to be out just as their students, LGBTQ literature and sex education, and protections for trans students and teachers. We need trans lives to matter. We need Black lives to matter. 


I believe this feeling, this learning high, has been dulled somewhere in the midst of our generation coming of age. We inherited a world filled with injustices around every corner. Many of us will be in debt our entire lives (thanks, student loans) and are putting off having families because we just can’t imagine raising children in a world like this. Many of us have been fighting for so long to get people to see us as we truly are, all while educating others and advocating for change. I know our flint is dull, and we have calloused hearts from trying so hard to make the change that was promised to us — but it is our turn to ignite that spark in the next generation.


 And how do we get there? We teach. We rekindle that feeling of unity we felt as children learning alongside one another. 


What are we doing as individuals, as a generation to inspire and leave a mark for the kids coming of age in our world today? 


We are a curious bunch, us Millennials. Let’s not let that curiosity die. 



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Millennials, Gen X, Boomer, Media, Television, Books, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, Culture, Social Justice, Education