Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shaping the world view of wide-eyed optimists

The Mindset List /
The Class of 2019 Mindset List will make you feel old.

Each year around this time since 1998, Beloit College releases the Beloit College Mindset List, which provides a close up look at cultural "touchstones" that shape the lives of students entering college.

I took a particular interest in this year's Mindset List as I have a niece and a friend, the son of our best friends from Seattle, Washington -- born a day apart in September 1996 -- who are both incoming freshmen in the Class of 2019. One stayed close to their Minnesota roots to attend community college while the other was accepted for admission by a well-known university in Boston.

For those of you not familiar with Beloit College, it's a private liberal arts college located in Beloit, Wisconsin that was founded in 1846 by a Yale University graduate, Aaron Lucius Chapin. Beloit College is recognized for its longstanding commitment to curricular innovation.

Among the cultural touchstones shaping the lives of students entering college this fall include:

• There's always been Google.

• They have grown up treating Wi-Fi an entitlement.

• Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.

• They have never licked a postage stamp.

• Color photos have always adorned the front page of The New York Times.

Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

• They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.

Hybrid automobiles has always been massed produced.

The Lion King has always been on Broadway.

• First responders have always been heroes.

The Class of 2019 enters college this fall with high technology playing an increasing factor in how and even what they learn, according to Charles Westerberg, Director of the Liberal Arts in Practice Center and Brannon-Ballard Professor of Sociology at Beloit College.

"They will encounter difficult discussions about privilege, race, and sexual assault on campus," Westerberg said. "They may think of the 'last century' as the twentieth, not the nineteenth, so they will need ever wider perspectives about the burgeoning mass of information that will be heading their way. And they will need a keen ability to decipher what is the same and what has changed with respect to many of these issues."

Critics of the Mindset List call it "a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors, and based on nothing more than the uninformed speculation of its authors." The website Beloit Mindlessness said: "It inspires lazy, inaccurate journalism and is an embarrassment to academia."

To its credit, the Mindset List has generated a book: The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think is Normal was released in July 2011. It has a Facebook page that's been liked by more than 5,000 fans. And, it's been the subject of attention on broadcast news on The NBC Nightly News and in print in Time. 

Like it or loathe it, the 50 items which comprise the Class of 2019 Mindset List will make you feel old.

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