Beloit’s Mindset List for Class of ’18 Makes Us Throw Up in Our Mouth a Little Bit

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If you want to feel old, try talking to young people. It isn’t just the words and constructions they use are different from the vocabulary of us old bastards — to them, like, conversation is a thing (with a rising intonation at the end — aarrggh!!).

No, what really makes it disturbing is how much of the past I am carrying around with me as my basis for talking about stuff. We don’t share the same experiences, mostly because they weren’t alive for it. Enter Beloit College to drive the point home on an annual basis.

Beloit College is a small liberal arts college on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, less than two hours from Chicago, 80 minutes or so from Milwaukee. To distinguish it from other small colleges, someone there in 1998 came up with a list of things that are cultural touchstones for the incoming class, a reminder to instructors that there really is a generation gap. The Mindset list for the class of 2018 came out last week.

Presuming the average freshman is 18, that means he or she was born in 1996. This leads to some scary observations.

As an international relations wonk, I was stunned to realize that they never knew a British Hong Kong. To the freshman starting school at Beloit this autumn, Bosnia and Herzegovina has always been a single independent nation. I have almost adapted to having just one Germany, but this is too much.

In American politics, two-term presidencies are the norm for them, while landslide victories are not. Ralph Nader has always been running for the job, too. To them, George Stephanopoulos has always been a guy on ABC News, never a presidential adviser. Affirmative action has always been against Californian law. What Beloit doesn’t mention is that, as in my youth, the governor of California is still Jerry Brown. Of course, these days he’s the oldest governor in the nation and not the youngest.

When it comes to equality of the sexes, women have always had a WNBA. Moreover, women refs in the NBA have always been part of their lives. And there have always been women at the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel. And women have not only had the right to choose, but also pregnancy via frozen eggs has always been an option, and cloning was never science fiction — it was fact.

In technology, they are truly different. They have probably never browsed the web with Netscape. They Skype their friends rather than hang out in the park because they don’t go to neighborhood schools. Bill Gates has always been the richest man in America. There has always been “TV” solely for the web. Celeb selfies are better than autographs. Good feedback means getting more than 30 likes of Facebook in a single afternoon. They have no need of stashing dirty magazines where mom won’t find them, either.

To them, Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan and Tiny Tim have always been dead people.

But the most troubling thing of all to me is this dreadful fact, which is No. 4 on this year’s list: “When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.” What’s even worse is most of the time you have to explain who John Lennon was. And that leads to having to explain who The Beatles were.

At that point, I give up and just try to decide what to have for the early-bird special.

Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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