You are going to think I am obsessed with today’s kids when you read this column, and probably I am. Every time I turn on the news I hear another thing that sets my teeth on edge, like they want to be addressed in non-gender pronouns. As a recovering English teacher, calling one person “they” is completely incorrect, and referring to him or her as IT is just plain rude, in my opinion. So, I took a look at the Beloit Mindset list the other day. I haven’t looked at it since the granddaughters have passed the age, but thought I’d see what the professionals think about what today’s youth think.
These kids were born in 2001. As such, 9/11 is to them as Pearl Harbor is to us old guys or the Kennedy assassination to you less older guys. The Mindset list was not as interesting to me this time as in the past. Most of the items were “there has always been” and most of that was electronic or political stuff. For instance, “They have outlived iTunes” and “There has always been an American Taliban.” No “they will never know” things like “They will never know John Wayne” or “They will never dial a phone.”
The first Mindset list, that of the graduating class of 2002 (those freshmen were born in 1980), listed things like “As far as they know stamps have always cost 32 cents.” Today they might ask, “Why do I need a stamp?” Another one was “They have always had an answering machine.” Today’s kids carry their phone with them and never talk on it. In fact, the list suggested that the primary use for their phones is to take pictures.
A mindset list for my college freshmen group would have been things like “They have never been without radio” and “Russia has always been the USSR.” Maybe even “There has always been nylon.” The professors for my group were born in the 1920s and earlier, so they were seeing a bunch of young people who had grown up in a world very different from theirs, both socially and technologically. The oldest of them had gone from the Wright brothers first flight to impending space travel in their lifetime, not to mention Victorian morality to Elvis.
I’m sure about some of the things my elders insisted I learn I thought, “What the heck do I need to know this for?” But at one time or another I have used and been glad to know most everything they taught me (including algebra). I can still milk a cow, make jelly, and clean a chicken, although I haven’t been called on to do so for awhile. I doubt that many of today’s college freshmen know any real survival skills (unless they can ask Siri) because they have been born into a world where they don’t have to do anything and that has made them unaware of what has been done in the past.
They have a robot to change the channel on the TV. (Alexa, find a Western!) I remember being just a little surprised that anyone would need a remote to flip through the channels. Now, of course, I can’t live without it! They don’t turn pages in books anymore, just scroll on their e-reader. They can buy nearly any type of food already prepared. Consequently, no one can even pop corn these days. In my day, I was surprised at pre-made pie crust! They will never have the experience of letting a pot boil dry because they were so engrossed in a book they forgot what they were doing. Fun times!
Our Alaska kids are a little more aware of old skills. Most can build a fire and shovel snow. Even catch a fish and clean it, maybe row a boat. Run a snowmachine and/or an ATV. In a pinch, cook something and pick berries. At the same time they also know all the modern stuff necessary to fit into a different society if need be.
In full disclosure, that last paragraph was written to mollify my Alaska granddaughters who took particular offense to the column about Millennials not wanting to learn to drive. And in all honesty, most Alaska kids are a little more astute about everyday things because they need to use those skills more often than someone whose only tough decision is what time do I need to be home for dinner? They learned early it is easier to find a spot second turn on the right just past the bridge than 35708 East Travelers Rest Road, especially when Siri is asleep in half the state.
We still have planets to visit, oceans to explore, diseases to conquer and books to write, and a coming population that doesn’t know how to do anything but take selfies. I worry a lot in my obsession.