“Those young people just don’t understand what we fought to achieve.”
“Those experienced teachers just want to talk about ‘the good old days.”
That’s the sound of generations colliding.
Some researchers believe that people are deﬁned as much by their times as by their parents or upbringing – perhaps more so. Regardless of differences in backgrounds members of the same age group share a common social environment that helps shape who they are and how they relate to their work, their colleagues, their families and their friends. Members of a generation experience the same historical events, technological advances and economic shifts. They worship the same heroes, listen to their own music and create their unique fashions.
Researchers have classiﬁed the four generations populating our workplaces and our unions according to the time period in which they were born: Traditionalists –1920 to 1943; Baby Boomers –1943 to 1960; Gen Xers –1960 to 1980; and Echo Boomers (Nexters, Millennials, Gen Y) –1980 to 2000.1 Social scientists are scrambling to understand the impact of these generational divisions on our lives.
One thing is certain: generational differences can lead to conﬂict. Understanding the differences can lessen that conﬂict.
Forged by two world wars, the Depression of the 1930s, and the Korean War in the early 1950s, Traditionalists were raised in long-established family struc- tures: male breadwinner, mother at home. In their era, advanced technology meant rotary dial phones, radios, phonographs and movies with sound.
Traditionalists are hardworking and loyal – to their country, faith, institu- tions, employer and family. For them rules and duty come before pleasure. Respecting authority, they accept a hierarchical chain-of-command leadership style. They believe in “saving for a rainy day” – forgoing today’s pleasures for tomorrow’s security. They are the last generation to embrace this ethic.
When traditionalists became teachers, one-room schools dotted the province. Hired on individual contracts, they had little say about their wages or working conditions. Once married, women were forced to resign; if allowed to stay, they worked on temporary annual contracts. Rural teachers were expected to clean and maintain their classrooms. It was only during wartime, with men off ﬁghting, that married women were allowed to work outside the home; in fact, they were encouraged to do so, to make up for the labour shortage.
Born after World War II, Baby Boomers are part of an enormous population bulge that, because of sheer numbers, had a signiﬁcant social and economic impact from the outset. Between 1950 and 1951 enrolment in Ontario’s elementary schools jumped from 19,500 children to 42,000, then rose to 58,000 in 1952. As part of this big crowd, Boomers learned to be competitive but also collaborative. They had to compete for