Cross-posted from my Higher Ed blog

Beloit College releases the "Mindset List" every year since the class of 2002 (so, since 1998).  I try to read it every year, and every year I have comments in my own mind that sound a lot like what Linda Holmes over at NPR had to say about this year's list:

Here's an example: Item Number 58 is "Beethoven has always been a dog." Really? When I entered college, Ludwig van Beethoven had been dead for 162 years. He has now been dead for 183 years. My guess is that the class of 2014 sees Ludwig van Beethoven largely as the class of 1993 did: as a long-dead guy who wrote classical music, whom you know a little something about if you've studied music, and whom you know very little about if you haven't. I profoundly doubt that the intervention of a series of family comedies means that if you said, "Now, this piece was written by Beethoven," they would say, "Wow, that must have been, like, the smartest dog ever."

It's true what she says.  We're making some gross generalizations about the class of 2014 which, as one commenter made a point of mentioning, would not pass muster with most professors in college.  This list is much more of a reminder of how old the faculty are getting.  When I go back and read the list for 2002 (the list created for my year, and the very first Mindset list created), I find myself not realizing what I don't know, but realizing that yes, these things are all "before my time" but they are not irrelevant, nor are they things that I know nothing about.

It should be noted that since the NPR article was published, it seems as though the Beloit folks have made a few changes to the list.  Instead of saying "Beethoven has always been a dog" it now reads "Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog."  Is that how we're really going to edit that to make it more accurate?  In 10 years, are we going to say the same thing aboutTinkerbell?

As I read through the list, and a few of the lists from prior years, I come to one conclusion.  The list makes an assumption about students mindsets, it's true.  But it also assumes that these students' parents have imparted absolutely zero cultural knowledge on them.  It's as if they were born in 1992 and their parents decided that they would only expose them to current cultural events and completely ignore anything that came before.

For example, I look back at the 2002 list and I see these entries:

13. The expression "you sound like a broken record" means nothing to them.
22. Most have never seen a TV set with only 13 channels, nor have they seen a black & white TV.
36. They don't know who Mork was, or where he was from.
40. Michael Jackson has always been white.
41. Kansas, Boston, Chicago, America, and Alabama are all places—not music groups.

My response:

13. Just because records may not have been in style anymore, cliches are timeless.
22. I had a 13-channel TV in my bedroom growing up, and it didn't have a remote control *gasp*!.
36. Mork was from Ork.  He was played by Robin Williams, and his traditional Orkian greeting was "Na-nu Na-nu."
40. That's just kind of offensive (and I'm not basing that on the fact that the guy is now dead).
41. Just because I was born in 1980 doesn't mean I don't like the music from a prior generation.  I love Chicago.  Saw Alabama in concert when I was 7.  "Horse With No Name" by America is one of my favorite songs. Just as my parents introduced me to the music they loved, I fully intend to do the same with my children.  So just because Nirvana will have been probably 20 years gone by the time I have kids, I don't expect them to not know who they were.

Ranting aside, I recognize that this list is supposed to be, in some part, a light-hearted look at changes in what people have experienced over time.  I get it.  I do.  But rather than making a list of what people comprehend or how they feel about a subject, perhaps we could focus on things they have never experienced because of the restriction of when they were born.


One Reply to Beloit Mindset list gets a good talking-to

Lori Lancaster | September 28, 2010
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