I am thrilled to be back at Lawsonry again, and I am even more excited to return to the classroom as an adjunct professor this fall. Since I began teaching a few years ago, I have made a point to check out the Beloit College Mindset List before the new academic year. The Mindset List has been published about entering college freshman since 1998 as a way to explore the cultural trends that shape their lives. The authors of the list also hope to bridge the generation gap between student and professor. I usually skim the list, roll my eyes, and chuckle a bit but this time I took a serious look at it and was downright annoyed. Admittedly, I am not the target audience here. At 24, there really isn’t much of a generation gap between me and my students. However, looking at the list, it seems to be more focused on talking about “kids these days” who have not read up on each and every movie reference than a helpful guide for understanding young students.
At first glance, I noticed a couple of points I disagree with right away (that students will not get religious references and that they have no use for a radio), but two of the items about women on the list stand out. The Mindset List makes mention that “maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department” and that “women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.” While these are both true points, I can’t help but think about a history professor who, while tossing my paper about the role of women in World War II on my desk, rolled his eyes and proclaimed, “I guess feminism isn’t dead yet!” and would often make comments like, “If you think things are bad now, you should’ve seen them 20 years ago!” I would hope that the authors intend to imply that young women are entering college feeling empowered, but the wording (“a woman’s job”) combined with the other two references to the young women of the class of 2016 (visible bra straps are a fashion statement and not a faux pas and “good music programmers are rock stars to women of this generation”) don’t sound promising.
The rest of the list focuses more on which celebrities college freshman will not recognize than what they are actually bringing to the table. It reads like a list of crotchety complaints about youth. Their ignorance of television characters such as J.R. Ewing probably will not hinder them, so why spend so much time on these points? The only two lists in the last ten years that attempt to discuss what college freshman actually know are 2003 and 2007, but these short lists stick to slang like “bling bling” and “psych.” The class of 2016 may not quite understand the cultural relevance of some of the people on the list, but if they want to know they can certainly find out. They are incredibly resourceful and have access to a wealth of information. I have a feeling that many of my students are a bit more well-rounded than past generations may have been because of the Internet. A student in one of my classes last semester taught himself to fix cars using e-books and demonstrations on YouTube. He later shadowed a mechanic at a local business and was quickly hired. Stories like this would be better in bridging the generation gap and shedding some light on incoming college students than discussing what they know about Robert De Niro.
The Mindset List has been written by Ron Nief and Tom McBride since 1998. While I understand that they are trying to reach out to their peers, it seems counterproductive to write about the students without including them. For instance, I found many items on the list for my year that just did not apply to me or anyone I knew (“Google” has not always been a verb for me!). Perhaps it would be better to invite incoming freshman to collaborate on the list each year. I plan to present the list to my students this semester and ask them what they think. Giving these students a voice would certainly help the Mindset List achieve its goal, as the students can explain a little more about themselves, where they are coming from, and what they are bringing to the classroom.