Mindset Over Matter

One of the annual journalistic rites of the back-to-school season is the feature story about the latest Beloit College Mindset List, that famous compendium of fun facts about the technological, cultural, and political forces that have influenced the newest freshman class of college students.

The list was originally devised to help Beloit College professors understand their empty-headed young charges, but has since become the little-known institution’s most important source of publicity. It’s less expensive than fielding a championship-contending football team, and doesn’t entail the risk of a recruiting scandal. At any rate, we always look forward to these articles, as they always provide ample material for grumbling about these fool youngsters, a favorite pastime of ours, and often feature a revealing tidbit or two.

This year’s list includes the usual observations about the relatively recent technological innovations that the incoming freshmen take for granted. It is noted that the new students “have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of ‘electronic narcotics,’” leaving baby boomers to lament that the youngsters don’t know the old-fashioned pleasures of pharmaceutical narcotics, and that they have grown up with MP3s and iPods and “never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all,” meaning they also don’t know how to lay a needle down on a 33 rpm record to hear music the way God intended. The list doesn’t note that this year’s freshmen grew up with very little new music worth listening to on any device, but perhaps that just goes without saying.

The cultural changes cited on the list are just as depressing. It is noted that the “ditzy dumb blonde female” stereotype has largely faded from entertainment, which could be considered progress, but that “it has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.” The freshman “have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous,” and the prototype reality show “The Real World” has been on television their entire lives. They’re apparently a very irreligious lot, as “The Biblical sources of terms such as ‘Forbidden Fruit,’ ‘the writing on the wall,’ ‘Good Samaritan’ and ‘The Promised Land’ are unknown to most of them,” although we’ve noticed that this sort of ignorance is not a recent phenomenon.

The political influences on the youngsters have also been baleful. “Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp,” the list notes, and “They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future.” It is unclear how conscious of politics they have become, however, as the list also notes that “If the miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.”

Despite such generational handicaps, we suspect that the students entering academia will somehow muddle through to the day when they will read of the latest Mindset List and shake their heads sadly at the young whippersnappers who have followed. In the meantime, we take some consolation in know that we’re not professors at Beloit College.

— Bud Norman

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