UNSA Dialogue: Generational Viewpoint 02 - 2009

by Michael Platzer on February 4, 2009

As a practitioner/academic I have found in my UN and academic experience that the more striking differences are generational.

I am reluctant to weigh in as the "wise old man" and say that things were different in my day. I cannot claim to have been among the original "idealists" who formed the core of the first Secretariat- however, they were our chiefs and they still inspired us.

But even in the "link" generation, we discussed the United Nations as a whole, the actions of the Secretary General, the pressure of the United States (delayed payments), as well as Security Council decisions- in the cafeteria or in coffee breaks

Later when I worked in Habitat and in Vienna, colleagues were not interested in what happened in New York

I recently discussed the phenomen of secretariat people having narrow interests and focusing on their narrow professional concerns with a younger colleague who said yes that those behind him were perhaps brighter but even even more focussed on their particular issue and not interested in the global picture

On the other side, I taught the United Nations in a historical way (with iconic music, references to pop stars, sitting Presidents) to establish a context for UN actions. I must admit this worked well- for some of the students.

and I have taught "Challenges the UN faces" which focussed on selected issues. This course had a lot of inter-action but the students learned little about the structure or history of the UN

I must also admit that some younger teaching assistants have an easier time relating to today's students. We "old timers" must be wary about teaching what we think they should learn or what we would like to teach (have prepared). Moreover, frontal teaching does not work anymore. Film discussions, simulations, structured debates (Model Security Councils) work much better. In fact one should take into account why they are in the class and what they want to learn. I have come to the point that it is not about imparting knowledge but rather talking about solving global issues together.

Therefore, I think there is little difference between a good inter-active teacher and a practitioner (of course we have a few anecdotes and "war stories" but kids are not that interested). The key is exciting the students and I think both the general academic and a practitioner can bore (or excite) students. It must be realized the digital multi-tasking students today are much different that the students I taught 40 years ago as a teaching assistant or even the generation x students. Most textbooks I feel are out of date (or quickly get out of date) and blended inter-active learning is the key.