Watergate under the bridge for Class of 2013

September 10, 2009

Are the cultural references you make in class met with blank stares from students?

Help is at hand from US academics, who have devised a guide to help bridge the generation gap between students and lecturers.

The "Mindset List" sets out for befuddled academics the historic and pop-cultural references their students are - and are not - likely to grasp.

It is the brainchild of Tom McBride, lecturer in English literature at Beloit College, a small liberal-arts school in Wisconsin. He used to cite the similarities between Richard Nixon and Richard III as a way of making William Shakespeare's history plays more relevant - until he realised the reference was having the opposite effect on students who were nine years old when Bill Clinton left office.

Dr McBride's list points out that to those beginning their university courses this month, the European Union has always existed, while the Soviet Union never has; Freddie Mercury and Pan American Airlines have always been dead; tattoos have always been trendy; and official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.

Furthermore, for today's students, Northern Ireland has always been peaceful and televisions have always had flat screens.

News of the list's relevance has travelled, and the military has asked for permission to use it to help senior officers better relate to newly enlisted men. Clergy who work with young people have also expressed interest, and a book is in the offing.

But the idea has divided opinion among UK academics.

Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, said the list was "highly problematic".

He said: "It suggests that various trends are timeless truths. If Dr McBride's students have such false beliefs, then they should be challenged.

"University is a place where we should learn and expand, not confine discussions and knowledge."



From the latest Beloit College 'Mindset List':

- The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.

- Rap music has always been mainstream.

- The KGB has never officially existed.

- McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.

- Women have always outnumbered men in college.

- Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania and Estonia have always been independent nations.

- Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.

- Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.

- Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the evening news came on.

- Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.

- Someone has always been asking: "Was Iraq worth a war?"

- Two Koreas have always been members of the United Nations.


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