One of our favorite events each year is the beginning of college careers. There is so much those young students know that their parents and grandparents don’t know. And there is so much they DON’T know that we do.
We who watch them set sail on this new adventure are reminded of that each year by the Mindset List compiled at Beloit College in Wisconsin. This year is the twentieth anniversary of the list which provides “a look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students” that take their first steps on our college campuses each year. We suppose it also could be something of a gauge of what society, media, schools, and parents have taught them in their first eighteen years.
Ron Nief, now the publicist emeritus for the college, who started circulating the list widely in 1998, was joined by humanities professor Tom McBride and, in 2016, Charles Westerberg, who received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from the University of Missouri. (They’re McBride, Westerberg,and Nief, L-R, in the picture)
This year’s Mindset List tells us that these new students, during their early kindergarten careers, saw—again and again—the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. They are more likely to think of Harry Potter than John Lennon when they see wire-rimmed glasses. “Selfies” with celebrities are more important than autographs. Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” has always been “the only news program that really ‘gets it right.’” Saturday morning cartoons shows are something they know nothing about but they’re big fans of the Sunday night “Animation Domination” on FOX. Hong Kong has always been part of China. Joe Camel never encouraged them to smoke. Nicotine has always been an addictive drug. If the students are at Baylor, there has been student dancing throughout their lifetimes. Cloning has always been fact. There has always been a WNBA. “Chicago” has always been a Broadway hit. Netscape probably has never been their web browser.
And there’s more of the list at https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/previouslists/2018/.
We thought it might be interesting to look at the first list, from 1998 because some of the students going to college this fall are children of the students who were part of that first list. The 1998 list said, for instance:
Students did not know Ronald Reagan had ever been shot. They didn’t remember the Cold War. There had only been one Pope. They had never been afraid of a nuclear war and “Day After” was a pill rather than a post-apocalyptic movie. They didn’t remember the Challenger explosion. The expression, “You sound like a broken record” had no meaning to them (perhaps because they had never owned a record player). The special effects of “Star Wars” were pathetic. They had always had cable; there had always been VCRs, and they had never played Pac-Man. They had always known where the Titanic was.
That’s for starters.
The list has its critics, the strongest—perhaps—being the counter “Beloit Mindlessness” which charges the annual list is “a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors…” To each his own, we suppose.
In its own way, whether you consider them merely entertaining or useless or useful in knowing what to talk about with your children or your students, these lists provide us with annual markers of our changing world.
For those of us with some years on us, they also remind us of things we couldn’t have imagined when WE moved from high school into young adulthood, things we were yet to hear and learn, and how much we have become history.
When my generation entered college we had a high-tech machine into which we inserted a piece of paper. And when we hit a key on our keyboard, a letter immediately appeared on the piece of paper in front of us. We didn’t need to hit “print (two or three times),” and then go to another machine to get what we’d written. And if the power went out, the machine kept working.
I’ve run into some of the people who are the topics of this year’s Mindset List whose eyes widen a little bit when I describe that wondrous machine. They’ve never heard of it. Or seen one.
Long before there was Apple, you see, there was Royal. I keep it within arm’s reach.
(Photo taken in the old Missourinet newsroom by Steve Mays a long time ago)