X Marks the Spot? Not Anymore – Y Does!

To whom are you directing your marketing materials?  An article by David Mastovich, who publishes “Light Reading” as part of his “Massolutions” eNewsletter, stated the following:     

Marketers, historians and writers love to coin catchy phrases to describe generations with similar life experiences, values and attitudes. An entire column could debate the segmentation and descriptions of various generations. Instead, let’s focus on the communication challenges created as a result of four generations working side by side for the first time in American History, including:

• The Silent Generation, born between 1933 – 1945 (ages 73-85)
• Baby Boomers, born between 1946 – 1964 (ages 54-72)
• Gen X, born between 1965 – 1976 (ages 42-53)
• Gen Y, born between 1977 – 1989 (ages 29-41)

The current talk seems to be about the difficulty working with Gen Y.  Since similar angst occurred when Baby Boomers and Gen Xers entered the workforce, we might want to acknowledge that it could be, as Yogi Berra famously said, deja vu all over again. Each generation has similarities and differences.


USA Today, Time Magazine and other media outlets describe Gen Y as nurtured, programmed and pampered by parents more involved than those of previous generations. Academicians note Gen Yers grew up in the era of ‘latchkey kids,’ daycare and high divorce rates. This combination makes Gen Y the most independent generation to date, with a sense of security, optimism and in some ways, entitlement. Their technological expertise, multitasking skills and educational experiences also make Gen Y more prepared to enter the workforce.

You may realize some truth to the description of generations, although debate exists as to where Generation X ends and Generation Y begins.  If you notice the yearly breakdowns, you’ll note that some of the generations indicated above are between 11 and 18 years in length.  Personally, I like to think of a generation spanning 18 to 20 years or so (as is reflected in the above description of the Baby Boomers).  Similarly, we can see attributes of the Generation Y, more commonly referred to now as “The Millennials,” as present in our current ehigh school students – so either Gen Y is has a later “end” date, Gen X is longer than 11 years, or both.  It will still be a few years into the future before we can determine a more clear line of demarcation

However, for argument sake, let’s think about the ages of the children in our K-12 experience today – 5 years old through 18 – which would make them different from any other generation that has gone before them, as are their parents.  Let’s take a closer look.

They have instantaneous access to knowledge that required us Baby Boomers (I’m part of that group) to visit the library and research encyclopedias and closed stack publications in order to substantiate assertions.  Their methods of communication (texting, emailing, and social networking to name a few) are faster (and more prone to misinterpretation) than putting a pen to paper was when postage was a nickel per ounce of first class mail.  Yet, are teachers using the same pedagogical methods in the classroom?  I’m sure there have been some adjustments, but radical change would be considered anathema by school boards, parent organizations and community leaders.  For instance, does it make any sense that music programs are cut in schools across the country when music one of the only activities that make both sides of the brain work simultaneously, especially when research shows that children who participate in music programs perform better academically than those who do not?  Yet, why can students memorize the latest pop music lyric or hip-hop rhyme when they can’t memorize the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America?  Try setting it to music – it won’t rhyme, but they’ll remember it.  Try it first with the Prologue to Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” – in Old English – and set it to the tune of “Three Little Fishes.”  You Baby Boomers will remember the tune.  It works.

Realize that those 5 to 18 year-olds have parents that are 26 to 39 years old – give or take a few years.  Most of those parents are of Generation Y, otherwise known as The Millennials.  Are they going to listen, understand and comply with what they’re asked to do because the school is the authority in how to educate their child?  No.  Generation X had an inherent distrust in institutions, and were always interested in how things affected them personally, rather than whether or not they were for the greater good.  Further, Millennials are even less patient than Gen X, and really don’t care that answers to difficult questions take time to research, test and re-evaluate.  Further, are Millennials willing to sacrifice their lifestyle because it’s expected that they will do what is necessary to have the best for their children?  No – they revel in “experiences.”  Millennials aren’t the “me” generation, like Generation X; they’re the “us” generation.  Some people have called them the “Like” generation because they share their experiences on Facebook and other social media platforms, and their community consists of people “like” them…which creates their definition of “us.”

So how do we market our schools to Generation Y?  First, you need to determine “WHY” they want to enroll their children in your school.  Once you know that, you can craft your vision for your school and increase its marketability.  How do you begin to do that?  Ask your current parents “WHY” they’re there.  Then you’ll be able to capture more of Generation Y – and you have to be ready for them.  They won’t come to your open house…they’re going to show up when it’s convenient for them.  Their tablets and mobile phones are tools of that convenience.  Speaking of which, how does your school’s Web site look on a tablet or mobile phone?  If it looks outdated, that’s how they’re going to judge your school.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 20080714)