It's rather a fact of life that we will all grow up to think that the generations coming after us are spoiled, have it too easy, are entitled, know nothing about the rough life we had, couldn't have hacked it in the old days, are completely and totally self-absorbed, and so on and so on—even though we never journeyed through a blizzard with hot potatoes in our pockets to keep our hands from freezing in the 10-mile trip to school each morning and instead were picked up in our friend's mom's minivan and delivered to the front door of our middle school to receive our fine, progressive education. Point being, there's a bit of "Get Off My Lawn" in each of us as we grow old. At the same time, we desperately seek to understand the youngs, maybe so we can co-opt them into doing things for us, or, at the very least, so they don't take over our jobs and homes and all the small pleasures of life we have become able to possess.
It is in this vein that we find the Beloit College Mindset List, created by the Wisconsin private school's former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, and released today, reports The Associated Press. (Nief and McBride are also the authors of 2011's The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal.) They created the list for practical reasons, to remind teachers to be aware of references that students might not understand, but, per The AP, "it quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation."
And so, it's that time of year, again, the time in which we separate the kids from the adults. The authors write, "For those who cannot comprehend that it has been 18 years since this year’s entering college students were born, they should recognize that the next four years will go even faster, confirming the authors’ belief that 'generation gaps have always needed glue.'" How are the olds different from the youngs? Well, a lot of folks have died:
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
As for the 75 items on the list, referring to students' realities: "They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation" (because those kids are the same age, not because they're going to Beloit); "they have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of 'electronic narcotics'"; they don't really know the Bible; they consider Michael Jackson's family "American Royalty"; they get their news on YouTube and not TV; Robert De Niro is an actor in terrible instead of good movies; they know nothing about when Bill Clinton was president; and so on.
A while back, we talked about how cursive was maybe dying, which led to a discussion of how all this other familiar accoutrement of life—radios, postage stamps, airplane tickets, and non-rolling luggage—were probably going to go away, too. The Mindset List seems to indicate that this is indeed occurring: These kids "have never seen an airplane 'ticket'"; don't listen to music on the radio; have probably never used a floppy disc or owned a set of encyclopedias or made a mixtape; and are immune to the shock and horror of an exposed bra strap. They grew up with a different concept of fame, i.e., reality TV, and all the many Kardashians it has put upon us.
On the plus side, they are less likely to believe in the stereotype of the dumb ditzy blonde, or to think that a woman can't be in power in the government or otherwise (yay, Hillary Clinton!), or the pilots of war planes and space shuttles. Also, "White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited," and "Slavery has always been unconstitutional in Mississippi, and Southern Baptists have always been apologizing for supporting it in the first place."
Additionally, "There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones"; and "despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes." Finally, "The Sistine Chapel ceiling has always been brighter and cleaner."
The thing is, of course, that just because one hasn't lived through, say, the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel, or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, or even a time without The Real World series or with an physical local bookstore, doesn't mean one shouldn't know about and be able to understand that those things existed and/or happened. This is called "history" and it's important to teach, regardless of how old or young someone is. Perhaps the real value to the Beloit Mindset List, other than to remind the olds that the youngs are baby chickens, unformed at best, and hopelessly Bieber-centric at worst, is to remind all of us that we have a communal history that really shouldn't be forgotten, regardless of the specific time we're living in. What one actually experiences in a lifetime is rarely as important as what one is curious to know—and we're pretty sure there are kids who know a lot more than is hypothesized on this list. As one 18-year-old told The AP, he's fully aware of what The Twilight Zone is, despite the list's presumption that he'd confuse it with Twilight.
That doesn't mean the list doesn't have value, as much for what it says about what the olds generalize about the youngs as anything else. When was the last time, after all, any of you over 30s listened to your tape deck, or used a rotary phone? These things are happening to all of us. We may be powerless to stop it, or maybe we simply don't want to.
Class of 2016, your move; we're going to return to our "electronic narcotics" and then maybe lie down for a bit.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.