20 Jul 2015

Understanding Generation Z

Understanding Generation Z

Author: Mary James  /  Categories: Education  / 

and Teaching Junot Diaz as a Transformative Learning Experience

Working with students in our Heritage University Honors Program, like all teaching at Heritage University, is an opportunity for my own transformative learning as a faculty member.

“Transformative Learning [first articulated by Jack Mezirow (1978) of Columbia University] is perspective transformation, a paradigm shift, whereby we critically examine our prior interpretations and assumptions to form new meaning--the “why” [of knowing]. This perspective transformation is achieved through (1) disorienting dilemmas, (2) critical reflection, (3) rational dialogue, and (4) action.” (Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/transformativelearning/elements-of-the-theory-1)

Certainly in 1989, the move to Wapato, and more recently to Toppenish, from just 50 miles away in Ellensburg, was immersion into cultures much more diverse than those in Ellensburg. Within the year, the first Yakama Nation students I met shared their culture by taking my husband and me to the first foods wild celery xamsí feast, also called Ká’uyt latínan, other Longhouse ceremonies, and pow-wows. Other students took us to family events such as Quinceañeras, weddings, and confirmations. Our neighbors took us to the Yakima Buddhist Temple and the Filipino Community [Center] of the Yakama Valley, both in Wapato, six blocks from our new home.

So what is new and different with the Honors’ Program? All of these students, among the best in their high school classes, are “Generation Z.” All of them are living in, and preparing to lead, a world dramatically different from the one I knew as a teen. If I am to help facilitate their learning, I must be open to what they can teach me and what their life experiences are, which here at Heritage will vary widely! Note: Some of our entering students are the children of the first students I met, a signal that Heritage University is meeting its mission.

Let me offer a concrete example of my own learning process, and I hope a modeling for my students of how to approach challenging, maybe disquieting, ideas. I have been reading our HU Honors Retreat homework assignment, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel by Junot Díaz, 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner and 2012 winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

From the MIT News website, I learned “Díaz, 43, [is chosen] for his stories that use raw, vernacular dialogue and spare, unsentimental prose to draw readers into the various and distinct worlds that immigrants must straddle.” Because “raw, vernacular dialogue” is not easy for me to read, and because the experiences described are deeply painful, I realized that given my age (not telling), gender, and rural Scot-Anglo upbringing, I needed to do more homework!

Since this is the 21st Century, where did I look? YouTube, of course! I found many videos of various lengths with interviews, speeches, and vignettes, some designed to help immigrant teens in urban ghetto situations embrace reading, learning, and to help those teens survive the being different—both from their home countries and in their new environments.

These videos, and others with academics in mind, helped me appreciate Díaz and his constructive, ethical intention in writing! I can’t say, yet, whether I recommend The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to every reader, but I can certainly understand why Junot Díaz earned the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant.

Here are two short videos: (1) Junot Díaz on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (9 minutes): https://youtu.be/Gz8h2Ozo-g4 and (2) Geeking Out with Junot Díaz at a Comic Bookstore (5 minutes): https://youtu.be/p4113UuBTio

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