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Why Generational Learning Is Important

It is true that grandparents can teach their grandkids but it is equally true that those grandkids can teach their grandparents; intergenerational learning is a two-way street.

Grandpa Joe is one of the most beloved fictional grandparents in all of pop culture. His relationship with Charlie in the book and movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory perfectly captures that special bond between grandparent and grandchild. The story is also a wonderful illustration of how grandparents can impart wisdom to their grandchildren. In the story, Grandpa Joe teaches Charlie about faith, hope, and the power of imagination.

Grandparents are important and so is intergenerational learning. In the busy society we live in, intergenerational learning is often minimal or even absent.

Here are three reasons why intergenerational learning is important.

Intergenerational learning broadens our knowledge base beyond our own personal experience and gives us a broader historical context for understanding our world. This is something deeply felt and understand in cultures that revere the elderly for their wisdom. The pop culture image of a young Native American warrior seeking advice from the wise old chief or the feeble old woman may seem cliche but it speaks to the inner desire for a connection to our past. (Even Luke Skywalker needed counsel, which is why he turned to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who turned to Yoda, who was about as ancient and wise as you can get.)

Intergenerational learning helps people understand the commonality of the human experience. It also reveals the true rate of change, which is most often very slow. Love, sorrow, laughter, and tears are all common to the human experience. Grandpa Joe may have gone on a date at the local soda shop, not a Starbucks, but you can bet that he was just as nervous about asking the girl out as his grandson. Understanding our common humanity is a critical role in cultivating empathy and the ability to love fully and deeply.

Intergenerational learning helps the older generations realize that the younger generations are, in many ways, just like them. It helps provide assurance that, contrary to public opinion, each new generation is not spiraling down into the depths of depravity. Actually, while there are differences in the ways that each generation manifests its humanity, each generation is no better and no worse than the generations before it; human nature and the human experience are a constant in an ever-changing world.

Charlie learned a lot from Grandpa Joe in Roald Dahl’s classic story, but it is also true that Grandpa Joe learned a lot from Charlie. Grandpa Joe was a little rough around the edges and a little jaded and cynical; Charlie taught his grandpa to believe in people, to empathize and be forbearing, and to be unselfish. It is true that grandparents can teach their grandkids but it is equally true that those grandkids can teach their grandparents; intergenerational learning is a two-way street.

Part one of a four part series on generational learning.

Part 1 – Why Generational Learning Is Important
Part 2 – Williamsburg with My Grandmother
Part 3 – Intergenerational Learning: Insight from Research Studies
Part 4 – Tips for Intergenerational Learning

About Ethan Demme

Ethan Demme is the President and CEO of Demme Learning and is passionate about building lifelong learners. Ethan is an elected member of the board of supervisors in East Lampeter Township, PA. He has never backed down from a challenge, especially if it's outdoors, and is currently into climbing big mountains and other endurance sports. An active member of his local community, Ethan is a well-socialized homeschool graduate who holds a B.A. in Communication Arts from Bryan College.

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