Millennials again- What religion would you design?

This is taken from a longer article addressed to college faculty about how to adjust to the new generation of students. It is from a list serve for faculty development. In response, my colleagues are busy creating online dimensions to courses and FB pages to their courses. They are redesigning for this generation. My question is what if we think about the same issues for teaching Torah? What sort of synagogue would you design that fits this student? What sort of rabbi? (I am assuming that modern Orthodoxy followed the lost generation and Centrism followed the gen x.- not the topic for this post.) What synagogue will keep them busy and plugged in but acknowledge that they have no interest in books, introspection, or rebellion? They are not deep minds or deep psychologically. They dont like authority but like emotional parental units and respect expert knowledge. What does the rabbi need to teach? What do you offer those who are action centered? (shechitah lessons?) Would rabbis need to have a techie knowledge of some aspect of Judaism? They all expect to not have their self-esteem broken, so I guess no stories of older Lithuanian rabbis calling people horses when a wrong answer is given. They respect rules. So do we give them a Judaism of rules and leave them free the rest of the time OR do we engage their materialism? Their boomer parents thought they valued introspection, intellect and rebellion but instead settled into materialism and emotionalism. What halakhah would you offer this group? Which Jewish thinkers would you teach?

This generation comprises children born between 1982 (some say 1980) and 1995 to the late baby boomers. These parents kept their children’s lives busily structured with sports, music lessons, club meetings, youth group activities, and part-time jobs. In their spare time, young millennials spent many hours on the computer, often the Internet, interacting with peers, doing school work, playing games, shopping, and otherwise entertaining themselves…They received a weaker K-12 education than previous generations.

Their combined family and school experience, along with their heavy mass media exposure, made them self-confident, extremely social, technologically sophisticated, action bent, goal oriented, service or civic minded, and accustomed to functioning as part of a team. On the flip side, they are also impatient, demanding, stressed out, sheltered, oriented materialistic, and self-centered. They use—and abuse—alcohol and prescription drugs more than street drugs.

Although skeptical about authority, they tend not to be particularly rebellious, violent, or promiscuous.

With so much activity in their lives as well as frequent interaction with friends and family (much on computers and cell phones), they have little time or inclination for reflection, self-examination, or free-spirited living. Another feature of this generation, one that distinguishes it from so many preceding ones, is that millennials do not hunger for independence from their parents. Quite the contrary, they stay close to the parents through college (and often beyond) and turn to their parents for help when organizations don’t meet their needs.

Those whose grades slip in college feel their self-esteem threatened and may react with depression, anxiety, defensiveness, and even anger against us.

We are also very different from them and difficult to fathom and identify with. We prize the life of the mind, we love to read, and we work long hours for relatively little money. We must remember that this generation values money and what it can buy. Aside from the materialism that their parents and the mass media promoted, these young people face the prospect of being the first generation at least in the United States, that cannot afford a standard of living comparable to that of their parents, let alone higher. So while some observers call millennials hopeful, others point to their economic anxiety (Levine & Cureton, 1998)…In any case, our modest material status, coupled with all our education, does not inspire a great deal of their respect.

Despite the difficulties millennials may present, this generation can be easy to reach if we make a few adjustments. After all, they have career goals, positive attitudes, technological savvy, and collaborative inclinations. In addition, they are intelligent enough to have learned a lot, even if it is not the knowledge the we value.

Although millennials are understandably cynical about authority (so are we) and don’t assume we have their best interests at heart, they value communication and information and respond well when we explain why we use the teaching and assessment methods we do. We can “sell” them on the wisdom of our reading selections…reinforcing the fact that we are the experts in our field and in teaching it. As experts, we should have solid, research-based reasons for our choices.

Millennials also want to know that we care about them. Remember that they are still attached to their parents and not far from the nest. They are also accustomed to near-constant interaction, so they do want to relate to us. Showing that we care about their learning and well-being—by calling them by name, asking them about their weekend, promising we will do whatever it takes to help them learn, stating how much we want them to be successful, and voicing our high expectations of them—will go very far in earning their loyalty and trust.

Finally, having led a tightly organized childhood and adolescence and not being rebellious, they respond well to structure, discipline, rules, and regulations. If you set up or have them set up a code of classroom conduct, they will generally honor it. If you promise that you will answer their email at two specific times each day and you follow through, they will not expect you to be available 24/7.

Of course, blanket statements about an entire generation always apply to only a portion of its members.

3 responses to “Millennials again- What religion would you design?

  1. Generational speculations are becoming an unfortunate speech tic of this blog. I am flummoxed as to how any of the above statements could mean much of anything. As a graduate student surrounded by graduate students, I am also particularly insulted by the infelicitous formulation that

    There are more people who are reading books and care for the life of the mind than can be employed in our country. Perhaps what the author of this piece meant to say (other than that undergrads are alien lifeforms) is that academic labor has changed as universities have expanded into schools for the middle class and concomitantly deemphasized intensive liberal arts while relying on a contingent system of labor. Of course, it would be harder to critically analyze relations of labor and think about the shifting role of qualifications in over-determining societal roles (ala Pierre Bourdieu) than it would be to engage in facile narrative arcs about “My Generation”– which happens to be a new primetime show on ABC.

  2. I was born 1989. Spot on!

  3. I would suggest that DIY or Baal _______ Judaism will work best with these people. Much like the popular Baal Tefilah prayer training program, young people like mastery, they like participating in group activities and they like ecstatic performances that take them away from themselves (like concerts). All of these things can resonate well within a Jewish context. Teach them how to pray like Chassids (like a mosh pit) and own the service.

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