That’s What Gives Me Hope


Marc Cavell

It's normal for us older people to fret about the generations that come after us. 

Plato wrote, "The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them."

He was writing using the newfangled phonetic alphabet that his own teacher, Socrates, was convinced would make the next generation into blithering idiots. And he was writing about a generation of youth that included his own student Aristotle who, I think we can all agree, was no slouch.

My parent's generation worried about my generation -- in fact they still do -- and their parents worried about theirs.

I've been concerned about the generations that are growing up after me. I tend to amber-ize my own childhood, wringing my hands over the degree to which today's youth are missing out. I've worried about the impact of television, of mobile phones, of computers, the internet, and the vanishing of vinyl records. I'm worried about the loss of play, the loss of childhood freedom, and the loss of the ability of humans to continue living on the globe. I'm not saying I'm wrong for worrying about any of it, but I have noticed that while I've been worrying, young people have been living.

Teacher Tom Play Summit presenter Valora Washington has recently published her book Changing the Game for Generation Alpha, which focuses on children born since around 2010, including the children in our preschool classrooms today. As children of Millennials (who often refer to themselves as "digital natives"), this generation has never known a time without the internet, social networks, streaming services, or smartphones. They are not digital natives, they are just, well, natives. They know no other world, just as I was part of a generation that has never known a world without television and telephones. 

And it's more than technology. America's preschoolers are part of the first generation in which over half of them are children of color. They are growing up in smaller, ever-changing families, with divorce, same sex parents, and single-parents on the rise: they are growing up in a time when there is no such thing as a "normal" family. And the Covid pandemic will likely have changed them and their view of the world forever. As an older person, I try not to look at any of this with judgment, but I can't help but be concerned.

And I should be, right? Change isn't always for the best. Just because Plato turned out to be wrong, that doesn't mean we're wrong . . . right? 

I genuinely believe that today's children would be better off with more unsupervised play, outdoors, like I had as a boy. I genuinely believe that today's children would be better off without all that technology, like I didn't have as a boy. I genuinely worry about what will be lost when my own wisdom is lost.

Meanwhile, the youth are living in the world as they find it.

As I scrolled through the thousands of comments on the play summit Facebook group page yesterday, I lingered over many of the glowing comments about Caitlyn McCain's session. I first met her years ago as one of our daughter Josephine's college friends. When we were putting together last year's summit, Josephine urged me to reach out to Caitlyn because of the incredible work she is doing. As I've gotten to know her a little bit over the past couple years, she has time and again shown me that some of my so-called wisdom is indeed foolishness. 

And I'm not the only one. Fellow presenter Suzanne Axelsson commented on my interview with Caitlyn: "(I) absolutely adored this talk. SOO much good stuff, and proof that the young people of today are better equipped for change . . . I see it in my own children and their work with climate justice which is intersectional . . . and I am constantly learning so much from them." In these few words, there are several concepts that I myself have learned by letting my old ears listen to young voices.

We worry about the future and not without reason, but I also have come to believe that we old people greatly underestimate human adaptability. Every generation, from long before Plato right up to this day, despite the predictions of gloom and doom from the previous generation of elders, has demonstrated our species' incredible capacity to adapt to the world as it is, making foolishness of many of our older generation worries. And what a wonderful thing that is.

It's not just young people, but all of us who are equipped for change. Indeed, it is the thing that sets Homo sapiens apart. Because of our unsurpassed ability to learn from one another and cooperate, we can make adaptations in a single lifetime that would take other species centuries or even millennia.

Caitlyn is not the only young voice at the summit. Nick Terrones, Mónica Guzmán, and Mina Tobias have also joined us gray-hairs in this global dialog.

Presenter Sonya Philip wishes that she were 20 years younger because, as she says, "there is still so much to do." My sentiments exactly, even as I know that there is no turning back the clock. We will never return to the olden days of my youth that are today tinted with the sepia tones that make the process of living life look like eternal wisdom. There is new wisdom being born this very minute, old wisdom is being rediscovered, and we learn about it by setting aside our wise worries, and instead listening and viewing the world through every lens we can find, be it old, young, or somewhere in between.

My time here is my time, but maybe, through the kinds of conversations we are having at our summit, we will create the kinds of ripples that presenter Monique Gray Smith talks about. It's not that we old people are not wise, but rather that we ride on the crests of the ripples that our elders made before us, and our youth then ride on our ripples, who in turn are making ripples of their own for the Generation Alpha and beyond. It's an endless process of wisdom spreading ever outward, the cause and effect of every one of us.

That's what gives me hope. 


As I've posted this, we are just beginning Day 4 of Teacher Tom's Play Summit. To catch the final two days of the summit for free, click here to register. If you want to engage with all five days of the summit, please consider upgrading to full lifetime access to all 20 sessions with early childhood and parenting experts and thought-leaders from around the world. Until the end of the summit, the upgrade price is only $97, which, I hope you'll agree, is a very reasonable price for 20 full hours of information, inspiration, and thought-provoking perspectives. Professional development certificates are available and we are offering group rates. Please join us!

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