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Understanding The Millennial Mindset    

  By: Katie Petrick
   Published : October 17, 2017

At last, the final class of millennials has entered college. Yes, the last of that generation now roams the college campuses, attending classes and likely a lot of protests.

In the classroom for more than a month, professors have had ample time to see these students and gauge their understanding of the culture and history. Likely the professors have been flummoxed a time or two at the blank stares they have received.

Perhaps, having read this year’s Mindset List would have helped these professors to recognize the lack of depth in historical references the students can engage. This year’s Mindset List marks the 20th anniversary of providing the professoriate and American society a glimpse into the references unknown to the last of the children born in the 1900s.

The list began in 1998 by academics Tom McBride and Ron Neif of Wisconsin’s Beloit College, when they recognized that certain references being made in the classroom had no meaning to the students. Drawing national attention, the list’s continued purpose serves as a “way of reminding professors, teachers, and counselors to avoid hardening of the references.”

The initial list, with the first of the millennials, included the recognition that these students only know Michael Jackson as white and that popcorn has always been cooked in the microwave. This year’s list is distinct in the amount of technological-related references, but is also telling of the level of education that students are previously provided. The two go hand-in-hand to understand why this generation is consistently critiqued.

“These kids really are getting younger every year, so those old Watergate and Monica Lewinsky references just won’t quite hack it anymore, unless of course you are prepared to explain them,” McBride said.

There are certainly components of history that need not be restated in detail, but Watergate, the biggest political scandal of the 20th Century, should be known to students by the time they reach college. Unfortunately, the education of the government schools does not focus upon things such as American history. And so at the college level, these students do not see true education as the primary focus.

“It’s no longer the case that college can be exclusively about learning how to learn,” said Charles Westerberg, a sociology professor at Beloit College. “It also needs to be a place where students are seeing clearer pathways forward for their careers … considerable shift on how we understand our responsibilities.”

Westerberg, who began assisting in creating the list in 2016, explained that these millennials “will often think of themselves as consumers, who’ve borrowed a lot of money to be there.” These same millennials have always viewed cell phones as video games primarily, and they’ve always had emojis to cheer them up. This final class of millennials, the class of 2021 (though more than likely it will be at least 2022 before they leave), can tell you all about Pokémon and will use Wikipedia as an acceptable source of research. But they know Bill Clinton only as Hillary’s aging husband and will read college syllabi (with all of the disability, non-discrimination, and other policies) that are longer than actual reading assignments.

This is the future. The authors claim the list is “meant to be a conversation starter.” Let’s hope it does more than that.

Some notables from this year’s list:
  • They are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.
  • In college, they will often think of themselves as consumers, who’ve borrowed a lot of money to be there.
  • There have always been emojis to cheer us up.
  • Donald Trump has always been a political figure, as a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican.
  • They may choose to submit a listicle in lieu of an admissions essay.
  • Once on campus, they will find that college syllabi, replete with policies about disability, non-discrimination, and learning goals, might be longer than some of their reading assignments.
  • Globalization has always been both a powerful fact of life and a source of incessant protest.
  • Men have always shared a romantic smooch on television.
  • Wikipedia has steadily gained acceptance by their teachers.
  • Family Guy is the successor to the Father Knows Best they never knew.
  • Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.

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