Older members of Generation Z looking through their Instagram feeds might have started to make a startling discovery: people their age are having children. In fact, some Gen Z’ers reading this right now might already have some, or are currently expecting. Even more exciting, or perhaps sobering, is that every year from beyond this point the number of Gen Z parents will be increasing.
With new parents and new children to enroll in schools comes, of course, new faces in the Parent-Teacher Association meetings.
If one of the oldest members of Generation Z, born in 1997, had a child when they were 18, then that child would be five or six years old right now. That means they would be starting kindergarten soon or perhaps already have. Finally, the people who have spent many years on Twitter complaining about the education they received in public school are now in a position to shape education’s future.
What should it look like?
Right now, there is already a debate of sorts occurring in the realm of education based on how history is taught. In efforts to better present the dark legacy of slavery in this country and shine more light on the contributions of Black Americans, The New York Times created the 1619 project. Work from the project is being examined and adopted as part of some school’s curriculum, but not without controversy. Asserting that teaching American history in a negative light is unpatriotic, the Trump Administration had created their own 1776 commission, which filed a report two days before Trump left office. The commission was unceremoniously canned by President Biden, and their findings have been criticized by the press.
This is not a debate spearheaded by Gen Z by any means, but it does illuminate the sorts of battles the first Zoomer parents will be thrust into. Do we plan to embrace progressive, inclusive, and challenging curriculum or will we cling to the sugar-coated truths force-fed to us during our schooling?
The potential for educational upheaval does not end at history, but carries through in all facets of the learning system. Should math still hold the same sort of prevalence in an age of smartphone calculators? Does the literature we teach put too much emphasis on authors of narrow backgrounds? Is the reliance on standardized testing too archaic? How coveted should extracurriculars be? What about Physical Education? Is it time to add new classes on things like programming or social media use? With a new crop of parents comes a chance to reexamine these questions and many more.
Yet, while it is nice to imagine that the injection of a new generation of values will help to shore up deficiencies and gaps in our education system, there are also pitfalls to be wary of. In general, members of Generation Z are aging into an economic system with fewer opportunities and dominated by corporatism. The influence of corporations and private wealth into the realm of education provides a powerful competing interest to any dialogues on educational reform, and it is unsure if it is for the better.
For example, a recent piece by The New York Times detailing the issues within labor at Amazon explored the influence of the mega-company in education. As the article explains, students in one San Bernardino high school are offered classes in Amazon logistics and business management as part of possible career paths to study. Students in this program wear Amazon branded shirts, take tours of the facilities, and learn other skills that would allow them to transition into the Amazon workforce after high school. Of course, this program is also partially funded by Amazon. On the one hand, with the economy so uncertain for young people it is hard to shun programs designed to help prepare students for entering the workforce. On the other hand, it feels incredibly… icky? Should our schools be for providing knowledge and inspiring our youth to be curious about the world around them or should it solely be for training the best worker bees possible? I don’t know if anyone, Gen Z parents included, knows the answer.
Whatever the case, thinking deeply about these questions will be necessary for structuring the future of our nation’s educational system. Each new generation leaves their mark on the ones that follow, and schooling is one of the primary ways this impact is felt. We must remember, every child we put through the school system we design will grow up to be an adult we interact with. They will become adults who engage us in conversation, work in the cubicles next door to us, and help steward the Earth with us. With that in mind, do we really want to mess up their education?
Vincent Rendon can be reached at Vincentrendon@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.