During her 12 years of teaching English-524, a course titled “Rememories: Trauma and Survival,” Kathryn McQuade, Instructor in English, has found that teenagers are not reluctant to expose themselves to difficult content. This discovery ultimately motivated McQuade to publish her article, “What I’ve Learned from Teaching the ‘Snowflake Generation’ about Trauma,” in the September issue of TIME Magazine.
“The misunderstanding I often see thrown at Generation Z is that they’re a generation of oversensitive ‘snowflakes’ who would rather opt out of anything that challenges them in school. And I think that’s both incorrect (I watch students embrace challenge all the time) and a gross oversimplification, one that suggests this generation’s sensitivity is a problem rather than a strength,” wrote McQuade in an email to The Phillipian.
Although some believe that teenagers avoid challenging literary works by trigger warnings, McQuade believes that trigger warnings are in fact supplementary tools that ultimately guide students to look at truth from many sides and connect them altogether.
McQuade wrote, “Trigger warnings are pedagogical tools that, when used carefully, can invite more students engage with a work of literature. They don’t necessarily help a student understand a book better. But they can allow a student to feel safe enough to lean into that work of literature and grapple with it, even if that book challenges them on both intellectual and personal levels.”
According to McQuade, her students understand several layers of tragic narratives and perspectives in war with relative ease.
“Trauma literature is at least as much about the problematics of truth and storytelling as it is about actual traumatic events. And students today seem more comfortable with the inherent subjectivity of both personal experience and historical record than I remember students being when I was in high school. Perhaps more than any generation before them, they recognize not necessarily a traumatic world, but certainly a world where history is perforated, where facts are under attack,” wrote McQuade.
Mudmee Seereyothin ’20, a student in McQuade’s trauma literature course, finds great interest in searching for and understanding the nature of truth during class.
Seereyothin said, “I find the material really interesting so far. The book that we are reading right now is The Things They Carried, which I read before but never analyzed through the particular lens of multiple truths. That is [interesting] because when writing trauma literature, strict facts don’t matter as much as how you experienced it and thought about it.”
Not only does McQuade find Generation Z to be capable of grappling difficult texts in literature, but she also says that teenagers are often more flexible in understanding literary works than adults because adolescents exhibit increased doubt towards the media.
McQuade continued, “Depending on where you get your news today, you’ll encounter very different versions of the same events. The line between journalism and propagandistic entertainment has become dangerously blurred. And plenty of researchers have studied the way modern sources of information – social media, cable news, the internet – have contributed to a society that is increasingly siloed, especially politically.”
McQuade hopes that both readers and students learn the importance of asking questions and dealing with uncertainty through reading her article.
McQuade wrote, “I care most about teaching students how to ask questions, and also how to be okay if those questions don’t produce neat, clear answers. Being okay with uncertainty is important not just in literature, but in life. If today’s world included more question-askers and fewer answer-shouters, I think we’d all be in a better place.”
Already an author of a short-story collection, McQuade plans to start writing her next novel while simultaneously teaching English-524.
“Teaching is always a great energy boost for my writing, and I’ll certainly be teaching the trauma literature course as long as I have students who sign up for it. Introducing students to these incredible authors is one of the most joyful parts of my job,” wrote McQuade.