24 August 2023

Mariola Bogucka, Ph.D.: Believing young generation is inferior means losing touch with reality

An interview with Mariola Bogucka, an English philologist, Ph.D. in social sciences, and academic teacher at the University of Gdańsk. Dr. Bogucka is also a member of the Scientific Board at the Holistic Think Tank.

Author: Maria Mazurek,


Photo: Federico Giampieri/Unsplash

As an academic, every year, you meet the following graduates of the schools. What are they like?
Each yearbook of students is fascinating. I learned a lot from each one. No one will ever hear from me that the young people are inferior.

Yet, we can hear it often.
If someone says, “These young people are worse, defective, dumber than we were,” – it means that he is probably losing touch with reality. The young are certainly not worse than we were. They are just different. We are at a loss if we stop trying to understand them. As parents, as people, as teachers.

By the way, as for the word “teachers.” I have a bit of a problem with it. Because what I love about this profession – and what I am grateful for – is not so much the opportunity to teach but to learn from young people. This is very enriching.

What does teaching teach you?
Self-distance. Sometimes, a teacher, in order to work with students in a constructive, interesting, and innovative way, should find a lot of chill and take risks. Get out of the usual patterns. This teaches serenity, a sense of humor, and distance. The teacher’s work also strengthens respect for others. And it shows the value of commitment. It is impossible to be a halftime teacher, to get involved, but only a little. No. You have to be committed 100 percent. But after all, it’s like in life: to enjoy life to the fullest and live it meaningfully, we must find passion, commitment, and curiosity about the world every day. My work as a teacher and contact with young people set me on a path that is also worth following outside working hours.

You learn from students, but you also teach them. How do you start?
By building relationships. I feel that my role is not just to teach English. I want to work with students in a way they practice communication, cooperation, curiosity, and respect for diversity.

Is this the role of an academic teacher?
This is primarily the role of school teachers. However, if I see young people coming to me after 12 years spent at desks, unable to make eye contact, it’s not too late to nurture values that may have been missing in their schools. First-year students are still very young people, almost children. It’s not too late to (at least try to) catch up on some things.

What does this relationship-building look like in practice?
I pay a lot of attention to getting young people to introduce themselves, say something to friends, shake hands, touch each other, and look into one another’s eyes. I suggest sitting in a circle so we can look at each other. You’d be surprised at the resistance this causes. I hear comments: “I feel like we’re at group psychotherapy.” At group psychotherapy? After all, that’s how it should be in all classes, starting in primary school!

Where does this resistance come from?
If a young person is used to sitting at a school desk all school – usually with the same person, in the same configuration, even in the same place in the classroom, looking at someone else’s back and with his own back turned to his peers – he is simply used to it. And if we are used to something, we feel – at least ostensibly – safe in it. We don’t know we can do otherwise. We can’t. We haven’t tried.
If we didn’t do anything about it, students would sit all through their studies in the same place in the lecture hall, next to the same person with whom they felt a shared vibe at the very beginning. I always encourage my students, especially first-year students, to meet in the afternoons. I explain that studying is not just about learning. It’s also about a social life.

We did not need to be explained. And how can we not be tempted to sigh: these youths are somehow weird?
It is not they that are weird. It’s the school that hasn’t taught them (I’m speaking in simplification, of course, because not every school and not every teacher has an impure conscience) that nothing can replace looking into another person’s eyes, being interested in them, touching them, spending time together.

Our school didn’t teach us this either. And yet we know about it.
Yes, but consider what an extremely different world today’s students grew up in. First, this is the generation that – because of the COVID-19 and lockdown pandemic – sat through a large part of high school at home on e-learning. Second, we didn’t have an attractive alternative to meet with peers, go out to the yard, and hang out together after class. They had smartphones, computers, games, communicators, and portals from a young age. Immersion in the virtual world is easier than meeting another person in person. And the point is not that young people give up this virtual world. That would not only be impossible but also foolish. This is their natural environment, part of their functioning, and a tool that can be very helpful. The point is that they find a balance. We must show the youth that virtual reality is great, but they also need encounters in the real world. And that, among other things, is what school should teach. Now, even more so. Meanwhile, today’s school is not remarkably different from the one you or I graduated from. The school has not kept up with modern times. The fact that students can’t look each other in the eye is not their fault. It is the school’s fault.

Again, let me emphasize: I am speaking in a simplified way, generalizing and perhaps hurting many great teachers I meet, for example, during the training courses I conduct. It’s not that everything is wrong in school education. However, I dream that the change will reach all schools, all teachers, all classes, and all students. I dream that school will be a good place. A joyful one. One that is a platform for intergenerational exchange.

What do you mean?
We discussed how the older generation sometimes doesn’t understand the younger generation. This works both ways, unfortunately: we are not curious about the youth, so they are not curious about us. Everyone lives in their bubbles, yet if we think about the world’s future, we need to cooperate, find understanding, learn from each other, and inspire each other. If the world intergenerationally does not integrate, we lose.

So, we need platforms for intergenerational integration. Houses have already stopped being them; grandparents, parents, and children rarely live in the same place. Schools, on the other hand, are such a natural platform. It’s nice if they organize picnics, integration days, and performances to celebrate grandma’s, grandpa’s, mother’s, or father’s days. Teachers should also initiate as many projects as possible that inspire children to take an interest in the history of their family, relatives, and neighbors. For example, you can look for heroes in your family. I assure you that they will be found in each. Take an interest in your heritage. Let me give you an example. I spend a lot of time in Kashubia. Being Kashubian for a long time was a source of shame. And yet, these kids should draw from it, be proud of it, and enjoy it.

It was a source of shame because other children laughed at them.
Therefore, schools should teach curiosity about the world, respect for other cultures, and admiration for diversity. They should show young people how to learn from the fact that we are different. To cooperate despite it.