The Generation Gap: Changing Student Mindsets are Reflected in the Beloit College Mindset List

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Every so often, each of us is reminded that we are, well, not as young as we used to be.  Whether you’re 20 or 20 plus 40, there’s always a little something that gets lost in the generation gap. And that is precisely the focus of the Beloit College Mindset List, a compilation meant to be used by university professors to figure out just how ancient their pop-culture references are, and just how many blank stares their reminiscences of the days of yore will evoke from their newly minted college freshmen.

The list, compiled annually by two faculty members of the private Beloit College, is meant to serve more of a purpose than simply making people feel old and decrepit—it’s also meant to allow professors to construct lesson plans that are more relatable and easily understood by their students. The freshmen of the incoming class of 2014, for example, most definitely have a different outlook on life than their instructors—most of them have never written in cursive, find e-mail too slow, and have never worn a wristwatch.

Excerpt from Mindset List (for the full list, click here):

Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this fall’s entering college class of 2014 have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow…

The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat….

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992….

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

Keeping these changing trends in mind, says Ron Lief, one of the list’s creators, has given him an unusual perspective on cultural attitudes towards what is considered taboo. In an interview with Yahoo News, Lief stated: “I think we do that with every generation — we look back and say, what were we getting so upset about? A, kids outgrow it and B, in retrospect we realize it really wasn’t that bad.” Kind of like the difference between The Simpsons and say, Family Guy or SouthPark.

The list also serves another purpose—it demonstrates that every widespread panic about the moral and educational well-being of American children is just that: sheer panic. Tom McBride, another of the list’s creators, told Yahoo News: “There’s something about the resilience of human nature that renders these gloom-and-doom prophesies moot after a while,” he said. “I can’t say for sure, but it looks like the track record of these very anxious prophets has not been impressive over the years.”

Photo from quinn.anya via flickr

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