About that Beloit List

This link is flying around the internet and being talked about on NPR: The Beloit List. It is a list of facts about the Millennial generation’s cultural situation that is supposed to show how amazingly unaware “they” are of things that “we” older people take for granted. I’m only linking to it to mention that I find it somewhat annoying, even at the present moment when I am in a really good mood. What is annoying about it? I think what’s annoying about it is that it purports to help educators understand their students when really all it does is emphasize how young they are and celebrate the cultural touchstones of older generations. It is more about “us” than “them,” and aims to get a chuckle at the expense of young people.

13 comments on “About that Beloit List

  1. Interestingly, I don’t take this list that way at all. If I remember correctly, the list was initially created in order to help professors to understand why their students were giving them a blank look when they referenced some popular culture tidbit that was relevant to them, but completely foreign to their students.

    Frankly, I think the older lists were more startling. But I do think this can be useful as a reminder of the differences in how our new students view the world.

  2. “They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as the Joker”.

    Eh, 1989 was a long time ago, and Nicholson has done more movies since. The late Heath Ledger will be remembered as the Joker now.

    Learning about JFK from Oliver Stone is better than from a good many generic U.S. History textbooks, too, for that matter. 😉

    I’ve always been partial to this Cicero quote:

    Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?

    ” Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?”

    I saw a similar list (forwarded as an email) directed at people who “grew up in the 1980s”, but it was filled with some inaccuracies…example: berating “kids today” for being lucky for having a 24-7 “Cartoon Network” while us “old” folks had to wait until Saturday morning for OUR cartoons. Um, no, I remember getting in cartoon viewing both before and after school as well during the week as a kid.

    My Ex was born in 1980, and I was born in 1971…I noticed quickly that nearly all my 80s movie/pop culture references common to my peer group were completely lost on my Ex.

    Most aggravating in the late 1990s were the looks of almost pity and disbelief from the young ‘uns (undergrads) when I would talk seriously about Socialism as a grad student…that unjustly condescending “Dude that’s so 1989” look.
    No doubt most High School grads today still get the American Triumphalist version of the History of the Cold War.

    A College education is just as much about unlearning ingrained provincial prejudices as it is about learning new knowledge never before encountered; sometimes it event takes a little grad school.

  3. John, I like your Cicero quote. I don’t really understand people who aren’t curious about what happened before they were born, and I suspect that more students are interested in the cultural past than the compilers of the Beloit list assume.

  4. Thanks for articulating something I found off-putting about the list, but that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The tone of it felt to condescending to me–very “kids today!”. I looked at the list from the year I was born and found it very off-putting.

    I’d love to see a companion list made by these students about their professors.

  5. I’m with Mary Beth on this one. The list is better some years than others, but many of the items aren’t about past-pop that the kids don’t get, but about current stuff that’s nbd for them, but that we older staff and faculty might still think of as new and/or cutting edge.

    Entries like, “Fox has always been a major network,” are important to at least keep in mind. I teach history of advertising, and I still find myself referring to “The Big Three,” even though I make an effort not to. As much as it’s important to teach kids about the time(s) before they were around — as a history teacher, that’s the whole point, eh? — it’s important for us to remember that our own views are based on when we came by them.

  6. Yeah, I kind of come down on the “useful” end. it’s more to remind us newly old f**ts that our world view is premised on assumptions that people 20+ years younger than us don’t have. we need to be reminded of that.

    perhaps the discomfort comes from realizing you’re on the oldster side of the divide now?

  7. No… My discomfort comes from a sense of sympathy for youngsters whom I felt like the list is getting a laugh out of through common ageist themes. Some of the references are to baby boom era culture and are not really significant other than to establish a bond with other baby boomers for whom they are reference points. Who cares when a person was introduced to Jack Nicholson? I don’t. Someone for whom Jack Nicholson is important though might get a sense of generational solidarity from the observation that the younger generation doesn’t share “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as a reference point in common with “us.” I am growing really tired of that kind of thing.

    That said, I do recognize how what it says could be useful.

  8. Such lists make young’ns defensive – and for good reason. They are neck deep in “information” but they are poorly informed.
    But haven’t twenty-somethings always been so indifferent to the world’s narrative? I have to say no – youth in the 60s, 70s and 80s (my time as a twenty-something) were much more engaged, inquisitive and skeptical.
    I’m afraid this generation has been tamed. They are docile, passive consumers, easily manipulated. Rebellion is only a pose, another fashion choice.

  9. That may be true, but boomers as a generation had their failings as well. I never see boomers praising the new generation for the qualities they have that the boomers didn’t. I think the boomer generation is rather full of itself. Why the focus on how the newer generations are inferior? I hated hearing that as a Gen Xer. We don’t have such an obsession with generational difference and the “generation gap.” Generation gap? We don’t need no stinking generation gap!

    Also, I think it is ignorant in a way to talk about the qualities of a generation without attention to the social conditions that make the new generation what it is. A generation is not like a child that’s born with a certain set of genes that give it its unique personality. A generation is a solely a reflection of the conditions in which it came up. So if there’s anything that disturbs you about the Millennial generation, the proper response is self examination. The responsibility is with the generation that gives the world to the next generation, not with the generation that receives it.

  10. Then what will this generation give to the world? They seem to have embraced the changes in the workplace. They accept all the platitudes and jargon – the vision statements, “buying into” ideas, customer-focused blah blah blah. I think in years past we saw through it. We knew it was just a way to get fewer employees to do more work for less pay. I’m afraid young people entering the work force no longer see or care that the emperor has no clothes.
    I think I did enough self examination while standing on the unemployment line, thank you very much.

  11. Dennis, these changes in the workplace were brought about by formerly idealistic baby boomers. It’s far too early to tell what the new generation will bring to the world. Just as it was with the boomers, we have no way of knowing what their generation will represent in 20 years.

  12. Yes, introduced by Boomers but resisted by other Boomers. Now, embraced and celebrated by a young generation that doesn’t know the past, as the list pointed out. After World War II, union membership rose to an all time high. So did the number of working class people who were able to grasp a little of middle class life – home ownership, kids to college, etc. No coincidence. The Reagan years kicked the hell out of that progress. Now we are back to haves vs. have-nots and the gap widens. I want the younger generation to understand that they’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled.

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