Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beloit Mindset List

Beloit College was one of my top choices back in the day until my father declared it too far and too expensive. For the past 12 years they have released a list to remind professors that pop culture references change quickly and can have different meanings to different people. Madonna, for example means "Like a Virgin" to me, but will no doubt mean elevator music to my sons.

This point was driven home to me last election when s'daughter Shelby, a bright, well-read, well-rounded college sophomore, was a little shaky on who Caroline Kennedy was. It's not her fault. John Kennedy is ancient news to her. It was still a very hot topic when I was growing up.

(I see in the news today that Ted Kennedy has died. It was very carefully explained to me as a child that he would never be president because he'd had an accident where someone died. I wonder if that would make a difference if he were running today.)

In their story on the Mindset list the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Bob Dylan was questioned by police as he wondered a New Jersey neighborhood. The story said the officers didn't know who he was. I looked this story up and several other sources report that the young officer just didn't believe him as he was dressed in sweats and two raincoats with no ID. In all fairness, would you have believed him?

Anyway . . . here's the introduction to the list from the Beloit website:

If the entering college class of 2013 had been more alert back in 1991 when most of them were born, they would now be experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. The headlines that year railed about government interventions, bailouts, bad loans, unemployment and greater regulation of the finance industry. The Tonight Show changed hosts for the first time in decades, and the nation asked “was Iraq worth a war?”

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Emeritus Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. It is used around the world as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation. It is widely reprinted and the Mindset List website at receives more than 300,000 hits annually.

As millions of students head off to college this fall, most will continue to experience the economic anxiety that marked their first two years of life just as it has marked their last two years of high school. Fears of the middle class--including their parents--about retirement and health care have been a part of their lives. Now however, they can turn to technology and text a friend: "Momdad still worried bout stocks. urs 2? PAW PCM".

Members of the class of 2013 won't be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent media—radio, TV, videos and CDs—to the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given. It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald's everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on.

Thus the class of 2013 heads off to college as tolerant, global, and technologically hip . . . and with another new host of The Tonight Show.

1 comment:

  1. ML, this is a great post with so much thought and history that I, of course, can relate to quite well. Having just left a coffee house where we discussed the stress new college students are under, I thought back to 1991, the year I graduated, when the job market was looking gloomy. A few years later it picked up, and those who graduated that year, I later noticed, were so much more optimistic about the future than we had been just a few years prior. It really does shape your thinking when you emerge into the world during a time such as this. I guess all generations have their challenges and joys. But wow, has the world changed in a short amount of time. I guess we're kind of lucky to have the perspective that we do, don't you think? Thanks for putting it all into perspective for me this morning. And thanks for the awesome comment on my blog as well. I highly value your thoughts on that subject since you've been on both sides and learned the important lessons long ago. Have a great week!