Ten years ago, Beloit College of Wisconsin found a gimmick that won it a yearly splash in the media spotlight.
It was 1998 when the college first released its Beloit College Mindset List of “cultural touchstones” thought to shape the lives of students entering college.
As if to underscore the tool’s blend of intellectual curiosity and the college’s quest for ink, the list was co-created by a Beloit humanities professor, Tom McBride, and the college’s former public affairs director, Ron Nief, both of whom remain its authors.
The initial idea was to remind faculty to be aware of dated references. The main result has been exposure for Beloit. As McBride and Nief announced this week upon release of the class of 2014 edition, “the Mindset List website at www.beloit.edu/mindset, the Mediasite webcast and its Facebook page receive more than 400,000 hits annually.”
That measure would mean absolutely nothing when the class of 2014 was born.
Most members of Class of 2014 were born in 1992 “when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage,” say McBride and Nief.
“They’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch,” the authors note. “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.”
There’s still room for moralizing, of course. “A generation accustomed to instant access will need to acquire the patience of scholarship,” warn McBride and Nief. “They will discover how to research information in books and journals and not just online. Their professors, who might be tempted to think that they are hip enough and therefore ready and relevant to teach the new generation, might remember that Kurt Cobain is now on the classic oldies station. The college class of 2014 reminds us, once again, that a generation comes and goes in the blink of our eyes, which are, like the rest of us, getting older and older.”
The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014 also notes:
• “Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.” (And I thought Fergie was a Chicago Cubs pitcher.)
• DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed. (And a map of your DNA is probably in a file somewhere.)
• Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks. (If anyone is still watching.)
• American companies have always done business in Vietnam. (And all kinds of business.)
• Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties. (With a grueling break for country pop.)
• They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S. (The new unthinkable is a teacher strike, averted only by teacher firings—like a new Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine.)