Yes, I am a sucker for a good crackpot theory (plate tectonics, Schenker, Julian Jaynes…), and I revisited one of my favorites over the last week. I was in high school when I first read Generations by Neil Strauss and William Howe, which posits a fantastic theory that social history can, in large part, be explained through an examination of 20-year cohorts of the people in a society. They identify my “generation” as Generation X, born between 1962 and 1982, and my parents as Boomers, born between 1943 and 1961. They suggest that there is a cyclic aspect to the preferences, parenting styles, approaches to authority and values of these generations. Here is the website for their think-tank, LifeCourse Associates, where you can read up their theories and buy their books. Frankly, while I’ve remembered their theories over the years, I had forgotten how compelling they are in making their case.
The best part is when a crackpot theory turns out to be true. Over the last week, I’ve finished Strauss and Howe’s latest book, Millennials Go to College, about the shift from my generation to the next in the undergraduate population. This book will change the way I teach, beginning with this semester. I recognize exactly the trends they describe in my students, and their suggestions make perfect sense. Probably only the student evaluations will tell, but I recommend that anyone associated with collegiate education get their hands on this book, now in its second edition.