A MINDSET SAMPLER: Excerpts From Our Talks Around The Land

by Tom McBride

Here are a few excerpts from our talks around the country–from NCAA to NASA, from Greek system organizations to councils on financial literacy, from universities to doctors’ associations—and many more in between. Have talk, will travel! Hire us, and you’ll be glad you did. We’ll custom design our presentations for your specific group.

For North Texas State University: 

THE Beloit College Mindset List is an international phenomenon.  According to TIME Magazine “Mindset List” is part of the “American Lexicon.” The Seattle Times calls it “irreverent and insightful.”

Editors in England say the Mindset List is essential.  Brian Williams at NBC News says it is indispensable.  Editors in India and New Zealand ask us to help them create lists for their constituencies; and a bride marrying a man 16 years her junior in Nashville asks us to create a mindset list for her husband-to-be so she can better understand him, and possibly include the list in their nuptials.

It has been used by groups as diverse as MTV and NASA, and the Texas Highway Patrol to assist them as they make their case to a generation with a new set of values, definitions, and measurements of accomplishment. It has been used by all the military services where an officer once explained that “failure to communicate between a 22-year-old second lieutenant and an 18-year-old recruit could have dire consequences.”

And there are, annually, folks who criticize what we do and suggest that we are too far to the left or the right. While many look to the list for its wit and as a guide to aging, we are deadly serious about the transition that goes on in the first year of college.  We also deny having created any of these critics ourselves just to promote our work.


For The Executive Council for Alpha Gamma Rho:  

LET me say a few words about what brings me here. Along with my partner Ron Nief I’m the co-author of an annual list about entering college students: about what has “always” or “never” been true in their rather constricted world views. They have, after all, only lived for eighteen years. So for them “Amazon” has always been a river second, but first it has always been an on-line shop where you can get the latest available CD of Homeland. They have no experience at all with such technologies as 8 track tapes or 45 RPM record players; even a CD player is to them as an old Victrola might have been to their parents. We call this annual list the Mindset List. In working with this concept we’ve become amazed at the power of mindset: those solid cement fixtures of the mind that change very slowly. We’ve learned that in addition to mindset having dominion over people based on their ethnic backgrounds or political assumptions or home regions, there are also generational mindsets. Different generations have experienced different things. They’ve learned different lessons. And then there is the factor of biology: as a generation ages it becomes more hardened in its own mindset and more likely to disapprove of the mindset of the young. After all, the young have the world that the old are starting to lose. So there is an envy factor as well. We hear from thousands of people each year. Some of them tell us how baffled they are by today’s young people. Why are they always fiddling with their phones?


Well, as a result of our inquiry into mindset, we’ve also learned a lot about both contemporary trends and past history. Our first book, The Mindset Lists of American History, is a study of how 10 different generations of 18 year olds saw and lived through the United States; it’s also an inquiry into what has changed and what has not.


And this brings me to the Greek system, to fraternities. In my discussion tonight I want to do the following. I’ll identify six current trends that are affecting today’s young people—Generation Y, as they are sometimes called—and focus a bit on how these trends might affect fraternity life: recruiting, interactions, and rationales.


Some of these trends are easy to spot. You can see them quite easily if you walk around a city or read a few stats or just observe campus life. But some of these trends are subtle. They are so embedded in our daily assumptions we don’t always pick them out of the air and examine them. Tonight I want to examine those more tacit assumptions as well, for they too are related to so much of how we live, including the formation and maintenance of fraternities and other organizations.


I will preview the six trends briefly now. The first three trends are the rising costs of college education, the changing definitions of masculinity, and the emergence of electronic tribalism. The last three, the more covert ones, are the increasing potency of information; the increasing criticism of conformity; and the increasing ambivalence about memory. I will bring in fraternal life throughout this exposition.


For the Jump$tart Coalition on Financial Literacy: 

IN conclusion, let me add that in this talk on financial literacy among today’s young people, I have left out later chapters of The Mindset Lists of American History, although these too are full of historical information that may be linked to our four principles of financial literacy. I thought it better if I focused on more olden times, the eighty years between the 1880s and about 1960. So the tour is, for example, from typewriters to ballpoints.  Why concentrate on less recent times? Because the further back we go, the more we see that while circumstances change, these fundamental principles of economic life do not. The sooner young people learn about them and get comfortable applying them, not only to their grandparents’ lives but also (above all) to their own, the better.


All the applications Ron and I have discussed today, plus much more, are available in our on-line Financial Literacy Guide, the Internet address of which we will provide you, to The Mindset Lists of American History.


Many of us learn these ideas the hard way. We graduate from high school or college with no obviously marketable skills. We trade our bikes for ice cream cones. We might start a business and then flounder because either no one wants what we’re selling or because we can’t make it so that customers can afford it or get it. Or we find that they like what we’re selling but not the way we package it. Or we find out that we are not the only economic actor in town and that what others do has a tremendous impact on what we do, or don’t do, or can do, or can’t do.


How can we make sure that today’s students start learning these lessons early? One answer, we would submit, is by engaging their imaginations with the history of their ancestors—those previous generations who, like today’s students, might have thought once upon a time that they too would be eighteen forever. A historical education in financial literacy is, among other things, giving the young and restless a little reality testing.


For NASA: 

TAKE the year 1955, when Bill Gates, John Roberts, Maria Shriver, and Steve Jobs were all born within months of each other. In our book The Mindset Lists of American History we come reasonably close to their exact generation because our chapter six, for the generation born three years earlier (in 1952), is called “Magazines Have Always Been Mad.” Taking our cue from that chapter we would find that Gates, Roberts, Shriver and Jobs grew up in a nation where Dean Martin and the Rat Pack were getting less cool every year, where a man named George Jorgensen had a sensational sex-change operation and became Christine, where zip codes were transforming the American postal service, where Bob Dylan’s use of an electric guitar was thought to be both treasonous and inauthentic, where “womyn” was spelled with a “y” rather than an “e,” and where prominent gurus told them that groovy was better than greedy. This was life as experienced by the young Gates, Roberts, Shriver, and Jobs (all of them, by the way, mid-Boomers).


Out of this mélange of social information came Bill Gates, a prophet who bet on the idea that software, rather than IBM cards, were the way to enter and store data in the future; John Roberts, a nomad who went against the grain of prevailing liberal jurisprudence; Maria Shriver, whose own Kennedy-related family had primed her in the values of civic heroism; and Steve Jobs, who did not so much predict the future, as Gates did, as adapt to it with lovely, slim, and ergonomic designs. We don’t know how much, or even whether, Christine Jorgensen’s sex change operation influenced them; or whether the new spelling of “womyn” or the rise of zip codes did; or if the preference for “grooviness” over “greediness” had any effect on them. We do know that they grew up in a social realm where times were most definitely changing, as the supposedly radical Bob Dylan proclaimed in song. They grew up in a time where possibilities were in the ether, in the air they took in. So it should not be shocking that Gates in his Seattle garage thought that “do not spindle or mutilate” cards didn’t have to be around forever; that Roberts thought loose Constitutional construction was not necessarily going to be around forever; that Shriver decided that the notion that the disabled had no rights was not going to be around forever; and that Jobs thought that computers need not always look like big TV sets with typewriter keyboards in front of them.

To get in touch, call us at 608 312 9508 or 608 770-2625; or email us: mcbridet@beloit.edu or niefr@beloit.edu 



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