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The Times Are A-Changin

Each August since 1988, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college.

In other words, it looks at what students entering college this fall, most of whom were born in 1991, know.
Or don’t know.
Here’s some of what’s on their list.
          *For these students, Pan American Airways, Michael
          Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, and Freddie Mercury
          have always been dead.
          *They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
          *Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
          *Magic Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
          *Tattoos have always been chic.
          *Rap music has always been mainstream.
          *There has always been a Cartoon Network.
          *Their parents could always reach for a Zoloft.
          *Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia,
          Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always
          been independent nations.
          *Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship
          *Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
          *There have always been flat screen TV’s.
          *Everyone has always known what the evening news
          was before the Evening News came on.
          *They have never been Saved by the Bell.
          *There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
          *Official racial classifications in South Africa have always
          been outlawed.
          *Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly
          winding down.
          *Migration of once independent media like radio, TV,
          videos and compact discs to the computer has never
          amazed them.
          *Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I
          can’t get up!”

          *There has always been blue Jell-O, chocolate-chip
          cookie dough ice cream, and Berry Berry Kix.
          *Most communities have always had a mega-church.
          *And someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth
          a war?”
As the good folk from Beloit College make clear, the goal is not to make a chronological listing of things that happened in 1991. Instead, it is to identify the worldview of 18 year-olds in the fall of 2009. 
Another value of the list was noted in an Associated Press article on the Beloit release: “It’s among the reminders that different generations can hear the same reference and think two completely different things.”
In an incident too recent to make this year’s list, two police officers in their 20s stopped Bob Dylan in a New Jersey shore community last month (July) when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood.
“When he gave his name they had no idea who he was,” said Tom McBride, an English professor at Beloit who helps compile the collection. “That’s a pretty dramatic example of how references change over time.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all? The reminder that culture – along with its many references - changes very, very fast. And those of us attempting to speak into that culture must learn to keep pace.
So the next time you make a reference to the Jolly Green Giant, remember that people will not think of a big guy picking vegetables.
They’ll think of Shrek.
James Emery White
For the full list from Beloit College, visit http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/.
“For Class of ’13, the times are a-changin’,” Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press, as carried by The Charlotte Observer, Tuesday, August 18, 2009, p. 12A (www.charlotteobserver.com).

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