WE R HISTORY: A Study Guide to THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORYby Tom McBride •
A Guide to THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
WeRHistory is a guide to discussion of the past and do-it-yourself history. As co-authors, we want our readers to explore the underlying message of THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What 10 Generations of Americans Think is Normal. As the first chapter says, “History Has Always Been Us.” Each of us does our bit for history every day. We make personal decisions that alter our individual history and collective decisions that make history. We are all part of the historical parade from birth to grave. We are all historical personages and actors in a historical drama. We not only are history; we can best discover this by “doing” our own history: making our own historical inquiries: about our time, about other times–and about our own lives and families.
WeRHistory includes ten questions for each of the book’s 10 chapters (excluding Introduction and Conclusion)—or 100 questions in all. These questions will prompt thought and discussion about what it felt like to grow up in a historical period. They ask readers to contemplate the values of earlier times with the preferences of more contemporary times. They even suggest how readers can contribute to each chapter by finding famous or obscure persons of their own and placing them in the unique features of each high school class.
DO YOUR OWN MINDSET LIST
Above all, we especially want to recommend a project that will help readers understand that history is a living and ongoing thing and not just something to be read about with facts to be memorized: that, in short, history is our histories. Any reader can do this project, but in schools it would run something like this: Assign students the task of compiling their own, personal Mindset Lists. Ask them to interview their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and older siblings and friends in order to discover what was “always” or “never” true for them as they were growing up. Ask them to combine national with family history, so that they are able to find links between national trends and events and their impact upon families in terms of lost jobs, found jobs, new technology, moves to new places, new purchases, new tastes, and so on. These can range from why Grandfather lost his job to when the family first purchased a Japanese car to how the new Interstate highways affected the family farm. In terms of their own Mindset Lists, such items might be expressed as “Granddad has never bought a non-American car,” or “Uncle Earl has never worked in a steel factory in South Chicago,” or “Interstate 90 has always existed where the family dairy farm used to be.” The key is for readers to discover that history is not some abstraction but that history consists of them. History is personal.
Last, we suggest that at the outset readers learn how both to read and write Mindset List® items, as with the following suggested instructions:
Can you write a Mindset List item of your own? A typical List item is found in Chapter 1: “There have always been telephones, talking machines, and light bulbs.” This means that those born in 1880 have “always” known this technology and have “never” known a time when it didn’t exist. Now try to write one for yourself. Find a technological social, or political fact that has “always” been true since you were born and write it in List format. Or write a Mindset List for a member of your family: parent, grandparent, uncle/aunt, sibling or cousin. Or write one for a close friend. Again, blend personal with national social history.
An Ancestral Version of This Project: THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN FAMILIES
Here is also a variation on this project. It would include both the process of genealogy and three types of synthesis achieved by the class as a whole.
*Teach the members of a class (no more than 15-20) how to use “Mindset List” lmethodology through a careful study of McBride and Nief, THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY (Wiley, 2011).
*Assign them the job of interviewing their parents and grandparents about what it was like for them to grow up. Make sure class members have at least 25 questions in common to all interviews.
*Assign class members the job of writing “Mindset Lists” for their parents and grandparents, as though they were subjects of THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY. Students will ideally weave family and personal history with national social and economic history and examine ways in which the two “histories” overlap, collide, or connect.
*Help students become familiar with major genealogical sites (Ancestry, FindaGrave, MyFamily, GenealogyBuff, and so on).
* Help them trace their own late ancestors via these sites.
*Then assign class members to detail what sorts of questions they would have liked to ask their late ancestors, and to imagine what sorts of answers they might have gotten. Have students document these indicative questions and subjunctive answers. Then assign them to write a second set of “Mindset Lists” for their late ancestors.
*Combine all these results on a common web site so that students may give each other suggestions, view each other’s results, and offer comparisons and contrasts to each other about their findings.
*Once everything has been documented and posted, subdivide the class into three committees to do final phases of the project. The first will write a “chapter” of a book similar to THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY. This chapter will portray a particular generation of Americans growing up with particular attention paid to what was “always” or “never” true for them back then: what in the subtitle of THE MINDSET LISTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY has always been “normal.” A second subcommittee will draw up a chronological chart that will detail what various ancestors of the class—both living and dead—were doing at about the same time down the years. This will supply an overview—or panoply—of life in the United States as lived by diverse persons. Finally, a third subcommittee will imagine themselves in thirty years and draw up their own answers to questions that their own children or grandchildren will be likely to ask them. What will their Mindset Lists look like if some future generation were to do this course project?
–Tom McBride/Ron Nief
WeRHistory Questions (10 For Each Chapter of the Book):
High School Class of 1898 (born 1880) WOMEN HAVE ALWAYS RIDDEN BICYCLES
This class saw the first real liberation of women as they were permitted to dress in looser clothes and join the men on the bike craze.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1898: Youngsters their age have always had about a one in ten chance of graduating from high school.
1. Plump Rooms. Chapter 1 describes domestic taste during the late nineteenth century as stuffed and overcrowded. Sofas and chairs were “plump” and rooms were crowded with chairs, sofas, tables, lamps, family pictures and so forth. What social values are on display? (You might google some photos of home interiors of the period to help you get started.)
2. Do-It-Yourself Toys. Children born in 1880 often adapted very ordinary objects, like wheels, balls and boards, as toys. If you had had to do that when you were growing up, what routine objects might you have picked and how might you have played with them?
3. Dire Prophecy. As the telephone became more common some critics predicted that it would mean the end of face-to-face house visits. Has this prediction panned out?
4. Beecher’s Bread. Do you agree or disagree with Henry Ward Beecher’s dictum that if a man cannot live on bread and water he is not fit to live at all?
5. Corporate Trends. What is the apparent difference–in values and lifestyle–between a “cowboy” and a “ranch hand”?
6. Immigration Disputes. Do the tensions about immigration in the late nineteenth century have a familiar ring today?
7. Immoral Ticket-Splitting. Why do you think some people in the late nineteenth century thought “ticket-splitting” (voting sometimes for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats) was immoral?
8. Immortal West. The authors write, “No doubt the West will be forgotten by the next generation.” This was as of 1898. Has such a prediction come true?
9. Hardy Piety. The authors say that women in the late nineteenth century were sometimes supposed to be “hardy” but were always expected to be pious and domestic. Can women be hardy, pious and domesticated?
10. Do It Yourself. The authors point out that among famous people in the class of 1898 were comedian W.C. Fields, general Douglas MacArthur and author Helen Keller. Find another famous American born in 1880. How would you locate him or her in the historical trends detailed in Chapter 1?
For RUM HAS ALWAYS BEEN DEMONIC
High School Class of 1918 (born 1900) RUM HAS ALWAYS BEEN DEMONIC This class grew up in a world of moral fervor with those who thought that America should be booze-free forever and that just one more war could end wars forever.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1918: Their fathers might have tossed a few camphor balls in the gas tank in order to pep up the old Tin Lizzie.
- Potent Idealism. This class grew up in a time of great idealism: about ending alcoholic consumption in the United States, giving women the right to vote, and intervening in a European war in order to make all future wars impossible. What are the pros and cons of non-negotiable idealism?
- Auto Anxiety. This was also a time when more and more people came to travel in automobiles. Imagine that you had never traveled anywhere before without walking, running or riding in a horse-drawn wagon, and you have a chance to ride in a “horseless carriage” that can get up to twenty miles an hour. What would the experience have been like for you? (You might look at photos of early autos—they’re pretty primitive by our standards—in order to conceive yourself in this situation.)
- Castigation/Mastication. One of the great health fads of this era came from a man named Fletcher, who thought a key to good health was chewing food sufficiently. He said, “Nature castigates those who do not masticate.” What do you think of this idea?
- Corsets and Hats. Fashion was strictly demarcated during this period. A woman’s waist could never be too small—thus the mandatory wearing of corsets—and hats were required for all occasions except for the bedroom. What was behind such rigid formality?
- Current Repressions. You and I might consider being forced to wear a corset or a hat repressive. Will your grandchildren look back at your youth and find repressions that you had to endure?
- Public v. Private. The electric chair was thought to be a progressive step because it was so much more humane than hanging. It also made public attendance at legal executions by the state much less likely and made capital punishment a much more private affair? What are the pros and cons of this development?
- “Moral” Schools. Schoolchildren during this period of the early twentieth century learned in school from an all-purpose book called the McGuffy Reader, which taught them how to spell, do sums, deal with grammar—and also how to read highly moral stories. Should schools today teach morality as much as spelling?
- Ethnic Slurs. This was a time in which it was really OK to make ethnic and racial slurs—against African-Americans and the Irish, for example, even in public. Why have such slurs become less acceptable today?
- Washington v. Du Bois. The two great black leaders of this time were Booker T. Washington, who thought “Negroes” should accept segregation and build their own separate societies on the basis of excellence and hard work, and W.E.B. Du Bois, who thought that black people could never truly advance, no matter how hard they tried, unless they were integrated into the mainstream of American life. Take one side or the other and try to build a case.
- Do It Yourself. Adlai Stevenson, who ran twice as president of the United States; Hyman Rickover, who “fathered” the atomic submarine; and Spencer Tracy, the great Hollywood actor, were all members of this generation’s class. All were born in 1900. Find another famed American born around this time and integrate his or her growing up and subsequent career with what you have learned about this generation overall.
High School Class of 1931 (born 1913) THEY’VE ALWAYS BEEN SPOILED BY ZIPPERS
This class grew up in the first great era of mass consumption and modern conveniences—along with elders who thought the whole shift was dangerous and decadent.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1931: You could get your dental work done at Bloomingdale’s.
1. Decadent Technology. The chapter title, “They’ve Always Been Spoiled By Zippers,” denotes that older people during the period between 1918 and 1931 would sometimes think youngsters were having it too easy because they didn’t have to button up their clothes. These older people thought zippers dangerously decadent. Can you imagine yourself as an older person reproving the younger generation for being spoiled by some new technology that makes life too easy for them? What might such a technology be?
- Ironic Technology. “It seems that everyone has been taking the train to Detroit in order to build the cars that would make trains somewhat obsolete.” Can you think of other examples in which the use of one technology builds a new one that makes the first technology obsolete?
- Indirect Election. This was the first generation to be able to elect United States Senators directly. Before that, state legislatures chose them, so their election by the voters was indirect. What was the thinking behind this method?
- Little-Box Stores. This generation was the first one to experience large, national stores and mass marketing. They were among the first to enter large supermarkets and department stores. How would your life be different if, for example, you had to buy your pens at a small, local pen store operated by a single owner, or if you couldn’t buy books anywhere except at a small bookstore and so on?
- Seminal Catastrophe. This generation was born right after the Titanic sunk. Yet they heard plenty of tales about it. Were you born after a famous catastrophe, who told you about it, and why did they tell you?
- Sports Novelty. The forward pass, for this generation, has always been an innovative way to move the football. Why do you think it was so relatively slow in being developed? What other innovations in sports strategies can you think of, and have they also been slow to develop?
- Business Necessities. During these times every business had to have a typewriter. What does every business have to have today if it is to be taken seriously?
- Generic Packages. As the first generation to experience mass marketing, this generation was also the first generation to experience products where “packaging” was just as important as the product itself. For instance, it wasn’t just a matter, any longer, of how good the soap was; it was also a question of how it was wrapped and even what it looked like when out of the package. What are some examples of persuasive packaging today?
- Preferred Age. Members of this class were eighteen when the Great Depression unleashed its most furious force. If you were growing up during a time of great economic calamity, what age from 1 to 18 would you prefer to be—and why?
- Do It Yourself. Famous members of this class included Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks, and Mary Martin. Find some other famous member of this class and place him or her in the distinctive features of this generation; or if you have a grandparent or parent who grew up during this time, write a mini-bio of him or her and place him or her in the context of this generation.
High School Class of 1944 (born 1926) THE SHADOW HAS ALWAYS KNOWN
This class was the first radio generation and listened eagerly every week as the enigmatic Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) exposed gruesome villains.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1944: Radios have always been bigger than most toddlers.
- “Normal” Miracles. This was the first “radio” generation, but because they grew up with it, it seemed normal. What new technologies have you grown up with that, however miraculous they may seem to older people, seem normal to you?
- Burma Shave. One of the great advertising campaigns of this generation involved the automobile and a shaving cream. This was Burma Shave, and the company advertised its wares with small signs along the side of the road, with each sign containing part of a funny little poem, which ended with the words “Burma Shave.” How would such an advertising campaign work today? Would it succeed or fail?
- Martian Invasion. When members of this class were twelve, Orson Welles, the famous actor, broadcast a fictional “documentary” on radio about the landing of Martians on the East Coast. Those who tuned in late took it seriously and began to panic. Could this sort of thing happen today?
- Amazing Sightings. When members of this class were six, the infant of the great aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped and killed. Yet many refused to accept the death of the child, so there were sightings of him still alive and, in time, there were even those who claimed to have been the former Lindbergh baby, all grown up. Are there such “sightings” of famous dead people today, and why do they persist?
- Fallen Idols. While this generation grew up, they saw several fallen idols. Andrew Mellon, the secretary of the treasury, had been thought an economic wizard, but the Depression turned him into a heartless and corrupt old incompetent. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, had been thought a great humanitarian for his work feeding the hungry after World War I. He too, thanks to the Depression, became known as a cold-hearted do-nothing. Charles Lindbergh came out against the United States’ entering World War II and was deemed a fanatical anti-Semite. Can you think of fallen idols in our own time? a good thing or a bad thing?
- Body Odor. During this generation’s growing up it was always OK for men to talk about “B.O” in public? Why wasn’t it OK for women to do so?
- Homey Facades. During this period, as the auto became more pervasive, so did gas stations. Some of them were designed to look like English cottages. Examine the facades of such chain outlets as McDonalds, I-Hop, Starbucks, and Motel 6. Do they also look homey and welcoming?
- Fright Nights. This was also a period of very scary movies, including King Kong, about a giant ape climbing the Empire State Building, and Frankenstein, about a repulsive and frightening creature assembled by a crazed doctor and brought to life with electricity. Check out these films. Do they seem laughable and “creaky” today?
- Loving Hatred. This was also the time of the great murderous gangsters, such as John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. It is said that youngsters growing up then hated to love these outlaws but also loved to hate them. How do you explain this combination of feelings?
- Do It Yourself. The late coach Joe Paterno, economist Alan Greenspan (still pronouncing) and screen legend Marilyn Monroe were members of this class. Find another famous member of this class and locate him or her in the context of these times; or if you have a grandparent or parent who grew up during this time, write a mini-bio of him or her and place him or her in the context of this generation.
High School Class of 1957 (born 1939) FLOURIDE HAS ALWAYS BEEN CONTROVERSIAL
Having grown up in a period of post-war prosperity unlike any other in history, this class, the first teens to have disposable income all their own, endured the both the real perils and paranoid fears bred by a very Cold War.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1957: Chips and dips in their special dish on TV trays have replaced popcorn in paper sacks on Saturday night.
- Influential Events. This class was only two years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Second World War began for the United States. Can you think of a major event that occurred when you were also just two or three years old? How much do you remember of it, and when did you first begin to sense that, whether or not you could recall it, it was going to have an effect on your life?
- Patriotic Advertising. In those war years advertisements had to be patriotic. It wasn’t enough to advertise the product. You also had to show how it was helping win the war. Are there any products today that use patriotism in their advertising themes?
- Women Football Players. Because the men were away at war, women had a chance to play professional baseball, as dramatized in the film A League of Their Own. At a time when women are making headway in many major sports, including basketball and tennis and even hockey, why has it not happened in football and baseball…or is it just a matter of time?
- Enemies Within. Although fluoride in toothpaste is now quite non-controversial, there were fringe groups in the United States during the 50s who thought it might have been a Communist plot to poison the population. Are there, today, some conventional practices that are nonetheless attributed to various enemies of the US?
- The Demise of “Live.” A key word during the days of early television was “live,” which meant that the program was being carried in real time and not on film. Most network television was “live” then—including two-hour dramas and plays. Is most TV today “live”? Why or why not?
- Portable Then, Portable Now. During this period was developed “45 RPM” record players (45 revolutions per minute), or portable record players. Yet by our standards these players were big and not at all “portable” based on what we mean today by the term. Why is advanced technology is getting smaller and smaller now? Is this a good trend or a bad one?
- Ideal Husbands. A poll taken in the mid-1950s revealed that girls in that period thought people such as President Eisenhower (then in his 60s) and the actor Tony Curtis (then about 30) would become ideal husbands. If such a poll were conducted today what might be the outcome?
- Generational Identity. The generation that grew up in the 1950s in the United States is now sometimes called “The Silent Generation,” and that hasn’t always been a compliment. The proposition is that this generation scared no one, was overly eager to conform, never mocked its elders and just wanted to be nice and inoffensive all the time. How would you characterize your own generation?
- Historical Retrospective. The authors write, from the perspective of the summer of 1957, “There’s that Negro woman down in Alabama who won’t give up her seat on the bus, and there are those Negro students in Arkansas who need the whole army to protect them in high school.” Are you hearing about anything now that might be seen much more positively—or negatively–in the future?
- Do It Yourself. Find another famous American born in 1939 besides Gaye, Oswald and Yaztremski. How would you place him or her in the context of the trends detailed by Chapter 5? Or write a mini-bio of a member of your own family who is part of this class, and try to place him or her within the features of this generation.
High School Class of 1970 (born in 1952) MAGAZINES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MAD
This class read a magazine called Mad, lived through the nuclear absurdity of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) and drove their parents mad, too.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1970: Trusting no one over thirty, their generation’s anthem has always included “I hope I die before I’m old.”
- Mood Disorders. During this time, as an increasingly rambunctious and rebellious generation became even more so, their parents could always pop an often prescribed pill called “Valium” in order to tranquilize themselves. Do you believe that taking powerful medicine for mood disorders causes people to lose their “true selves”?
- Radical Purity. Bob Dylan famously “betrayed” his groupies and fans at a rock festival when he allowed the usage of an electric guitar, for his followers saw this as lacking purity for a generation that had gone green and hated users of high technology as phony, greedy, and “corporate.” What sorts of purity do people demand today?
- Words in Transit. This was a period when language was changing in witty but perhaps disturbing ways. “Acid” was the term of LSD, while “laid” was the term for illicit sex and “stoned” the word for a drug high. “Hanging out” was doing nothing and not being ashamed of it. What “ordinary” words today have come to mean something very different?
- The Greatest Week Ever. When men landed on the moon in 1969 President Nixon called it “the greatest week… since the Creation.” Can you think of an event that, if it happened today, might prompt the American president to say, about it, what Nixon said about the moon landing?
- Memorizing Numbers. When members of this class were just eleven, some of them needed to learn their zip codes—a new and more efficient feature in the post office’s sorting. Soon they also needed to learn their area codes. Think about the United States a hundred years ago. What numbers and letters would Americans back then have needed to know, and why?
- Parenting Strategies. The narrative of this chapter is as much about the parents as it is about the kids, but that’s because this was a generation defined by increasing conflicts with parents who were viewed as stodgy and hypocritical and “no longer with it if ever they were.” Is today’s generation much less in conflict with their parents?
- Tragedy and Death. This generation grew up during two events that have come to be called “The Kennedy Tragedy” and “The Day The Music Died.” The former occurred in 1963 with the assassination of President Kennedy and to a lesser extent in 1968 with the murder of his brother Robert. The latter occurred in 1957 with a plane crash in Iowa that killed Buddy Holly, an early and now legendary rock singer, and several other famous musicians of the time. But different generations have come to have different ideas about what these terms refer to. What is “The Kennedy Tragedy” to your generation, and what is “The Day The Music Died” to your generation?
- Meaningfulness and Phonies. Two of the most-loved books for this class were The Diary of Anne Frank and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Both are about young persons under pressure: Anne Frank was trying to find meaning and distinctive identity while hiding anonymously from Nazis in Holland. Holden Caulfield was looking for things in New York City while surrounded by what he called “phonies,” who were more interested in promoting themselves than in understanding him or trying to comprehend nature (such as where the ducks go in the winter). Do such phrases resonate with your generation? Are you compelled to look for “personal meaning” and are you and your mates constantly on the look out for uncomprehending “phonies”?
- Obsession With Image. During this generation’s time of growing up one national network began a news program called Today (still going strong) and a late night comedy program called Tonight (also still going strong). TV began to influence our lives from morning to night, and some observers say that television has promoted a world where “image” is more important than reality. Do you think the concern with “image,” along with its power, could have been part of pre-TV generations as well?
- Do It Yourself. Find another famous American in this class besides Costas, Swayze and Barr and try to place him or her in the context of the times. Or write a mini-bio of a member of your own family who is part of this class, and try to place him or her within the features of this generation.
High School Class of 1983 (born in 1965) THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE GRATEFUL DEAD
The first latch key generation, this class lived through scandal, divorce, stagflation and the growing likelihood that Mom would want a career all her own.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1983: The “typical family of four,” headed by a working father with a stay-at-home mother and two children, has always been the exception.
- All-Volunteer Military. “They’ve never needed to worry about being drafted.” This was the first generation for which there has always been a strictly voluntary army. Is an all-volunteer army a good or bad thing for your generation?
- Gender Strictures. “Women have always worn pants.” The main objection to this trend was apparently rooted in the belief that the two sexes should be strictly distinguished and that is both dangerous and decadent to head down the road of mixing them up or fusing them. Is this idea still alive today?
- Beatles and Voting Rights. This generation was the first never to be able to see the Beatles in live performance but they were also the first to be able to vote before the age of 21. Was there a connection between the Beatles and their own right to vote?
- Commercializing the Counter-cultural. This generation grew up in the aftermath of the Sixties, and many of the themes of the Sixties became commercialized as they were growing up. Tie-dye jeans, once a symbol of revolt and authenticity, were sold en masse in stores. Earth-colored shoes, which seemed to celebrate the Sixties generation’s love of “going natural,” were commercialized. The simplicity and “back to nature” of Sixties values was sold through the mass marketing campaigns of “Pet Rocks.” Can you think of examples today where unconventional ideas have gone commercial?
- Martians and TV Shows. This was also an era in which TV shows and sit-coms were less and less about the traditional American family of a mother and father and two children, probably because this traditional American family was becoming less common. If you were a Martian newly down to earth and watched popular TV shows today, what inferences would you draw about the American family?
- Loud History v. Quiet History. Although conservative Ronald Regan was president during this period, something non-traditional was also happening: women were going to work in unprecedented numbers. Can you think of examples today where something traditional may be happening in our politics while something non-traditional is happening in other institutions?
- Sun Belt Presidents. This generation grew up with presidents from what is now known as The Sun Belt. Johnson (Texas), Nixon (California), Carter (Georgia) and Reagan (California again). Since then, presidents have continued to come from the Sun Belt (both Bushes came from Texas while Bill Clinton came from Arkansas). Barack Obama is the first Frost Belt president elected since John F. Kennedy. Is this just a coincidence, or is there more to it?
- Cures and Side Effects. The class born in 1965 grew up when America was in a pretty bad mood, thanks to an economy that was both sluggish and inflationary, the loss of the Vietnam War, and the drop of American prestige as it was bedeviled by oil-producing Middle Eastern countries as a result of long gas lines and the taking of hostages. What have been other times in American life when people were mostly in a bad mood, and why—and what about the present time?
- Common Foes. As members of this generation were just being born there was unified opposition to the Vietnam War, but as they grew up, and the war ended when they were about eight years old, these groups lost their common front. Black civil rights groups no longer worked with white labor unions, and members of the women’s movement didn’t trust men to help them with their cause. Is a common foe necessary for a united cause?
- Do It Yourself. Find other famous persons other than Rock, Parker and Downey who were members of this class and see if you can place them in the features of this time. Or write a mini-bio of a member of your own family who is part of this class, and try to place him or her within the features of this generation.
High School Class of 1996 (born 1978) MICHELANGELO HAS ALWAYS BEEN A TURTLE.
In love with video games, comforted by Mr. Rogers, and instructed by Yoda and Miss Piggy, this class came of age in a second American Gilded Age.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 1996: Game Boys have made many a cross-country auto trip with their parents more tolerable.
- Mystery or Clarity. For this class, “Unlike the Artist Known as Prince, a computer has become less mysterious with every passing year.” Prince has done well with his projected mystery—it has arguably made him more popular—yet computers have done well with their clarity of use and lack of mystery. What are the roles of “mystery” in a society, such as the present one?
- Censorship and Choice. This generation grew up with especially bitter conflicts about school policy, such as vouchers, testing and banned books. These conflicts reflect different opinions about whether students must attend the school the state says they should, about whether schools should teach students so that they can do well on standardized tests, and about whether students should be exposed to sex and racism in books. What are the pros and cons of school choice, teaching to the test, and regulation of what students are allowed to read?
- Teen Fears, Teen Desires. This was also the generation that grew up with those “turtles on the half-shell”: the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles with the names of famous Italian artists. These characters seem fantastical, but they were very popular. Check them out on youtube. Why were they so popular with kids and teens?
- Four Gurus. Pay special attention to this chapter’s discussion about this generation’s “gurus”: Miss Piggy, Yoda, Mr. Rogers and Dr. Felix Huxtable. Whom, if anyone, would you identify as your generation’s philosophical guides as you were growing up?
- Decreasing Repression. “Discussing condoms in mixed company has always been less and less embarrassing.” This seems to be a long way from the days when women were barely allowed to ride bikes and when men were discouraged from even discussing body odor in public. Has American society become less and less repressive with every passing generation?
- Intervening Parents. This was also the first generation whose parents tended to be obsessive about their activities and their safety. They rode as infants in carefully tested car seats and were made to wear helmets while biking. They were also, according to some observers, overly scheduled with violin lessons, soccer games and drama practice. How does this accord with your own experience as a child? What might be good and bad about such active parenting?
- Live Wars. This was also the first generation to grow up with cable TV news with its constant live coverage. When they were thirteen they could watch the Iraq War “live” all day long. Is live televising of wars and riots a good or bad thing?
- Rock Lyrics. This generation was also the first whose elders worried about rock/rap lyrics, especially ones that promoted racism, sexual violence or self-destruction. Is this concern is justified?
- American Creativity. This generation grew up with a lot of creativity on display. Ronald Reagan made conservatism not a hidebound compulsion about he past but forward-looking optimism about the future. Dustin Hoffman was a great male actor who played a woman impersonator. And Claymation raisins sang, “I Heard It Though the Grapevine” in order to sell a commercial product. “Creativity” might be defined as putting together stuff that doesn’t normally go together, like conservative optimism, men who pass as women, and raisins that sing. What are examples of such creativity in your own generation?
- Do It Yourself. Find another famous person besides Aiken, Bryant or Holmes who is a member of this class and try to place him or her within the features of this generation. Or write a mini-bio of a member of your own family (perhaps in this case an older sibling or cousin) who is part of this class, and try to place him or her within the features of this generation.
High School Class of 2009 (born 1991) THEY’VE NEVER DIALED A TELEPHONE
This class, the first fully digital generation, learned to type at a computer keyboard as soon as they could stand, never wrote in cursive, and may now be cursing an economy that has gone on a long, long recess.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 2009: They can’t figure out why anyone would bother to print out a whole set of encyclopedias.
- Inconvenient Answering. “With Caller ID they’ve always known who’s been waiting on the line.” This generation has grown up with Caller ID, but once upon a time people answered the phone without knowing who was on the other end. How would this have made life different?
- Quirks of Words. This generation has never actually “dialed” a telephone. Yet the term “dial” continues to be used, even though we now push buttons in order to “dial” phone numbers. We continue to say, “Roll up the car window” even though there’s no hand crank. We continue to “write” stuff even though “writing” has traditionally meant taking a pen or pencil in hand. How do you account for why these old words continue even though they are now technically outmoded?
- Customer Self-Service. “They have met customer service, and it is they.” This generation is used to pumping its own gas and shopping on line without the need of help in the form of other people. Is this good or bad?
- Multiple Tasking. This is also the first multi-tasking generation. They can “walk and surf” at the same time. What are other, even more elaborate, examples of multi-tasking, and what are the pros and cons of such a development?
- Transient Information. “Memory has always been doubling.” What are the implications when information doubles or triples each year but population (and the number of brains) only doubles every century?
- AIDS Cure. When members of this generation were born, the great basketball star Magic Johnson revealed, to a shocked nation, that he had acquired AIDS. Everyone expected him to be dead by now, but he has survived and even flourished thanks to expensive medical care. Suppose AIDS could be vaccinated against, so that your chances of getting it were about the same as your chance of getting polio? Would that make a profound difference in your life and in the life of your generation?
- Necessary Taboos? “Some of their friends might be disabled but never handicapped.” What do you think of taboos on politically incorrect language?
- Gender Neutrality. “Chairmen have always been chairpersons and actresses have always been actors.” Is gender-neutral language good or bad?
- Major Catastrophes. This has also been a sort of “9-11” generation, as they were in the fourth grade when their parents picked them up early from school one September day after planes piloted by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center. Was 9/11 a “Pearl Harbor Moment” for this generation, or is the comparison invalid?
- Do It Yourself. Find another well-known person besides Spears, Curtis or Greenberg who is a member of this class and try to place him or her within the features of this generation. Or write a mini-bio of a member of your own family (perhaps in this case a contemporary sibling or cousin) who is part of this class, and try to place him or her within the features of this generation.
High School Class of 2026 (born 2008) THEY’VE NEVER NEEDED A KEY FOR ANYTHING
This class will be known as the first “virtual” generation, which means they will rarely touch a newspaper, sign their names, miss out on computerized travel more real than the “real” thing—or need a key for anything.
From the Mindset List for the Class of 2026: Carpal thumb syndrome is a universal malady that afflicts mostly adolescents.
- Virtual Everything. This chapter is about the generation just born, and it therefore speculates about future. What sort of world will this generation live in? One answer might be a virtual world, in which electronically generated experience takes the place of “real” experience. For instance, can you imagine a world in which the following might be true: “People have never had to leave their houses for anything.”
- A Sign-less World? Following this same “virtual” theme, would you like to live in a world where road signs are no longer necessary because everyone now has geographical positioning systems that tell them exactly where they are and precisely how to get somewhere else?
- The Rule of Narrowcasting. It’s widely expected that the new generation will grow up in a world where “broadcasting” no longer exists but where “narrowcasting” is the rule: There will be an almost unlimited number of cable channels and websites, each one catering to ever more specialized tastes. The big “mainstream” networks, such as NBC and CBS, might no longer exist because their programming was just too general. Would you like to live in such a media universe?
- Specialty Channels. Following from the previous question, this chapter speculates that there will even a “specialty” cable channel that airs nothing but weddings and funerals. Would this be a good idea or a bad idea?
- Corporations Everywhere? “When they bought their first car, they had to choose a corporate logo for a license plate.” Would you approve of such a development?
- Minority Majority. Before the middle of the 21st century a majority of Americans will be black or brown in what is called a “minority majority.” Do you see this as a threat to the traditions of America—after all, none of the Founding Fathers were black or brown—or as a fulfillment of the promise of America?
- Virtual Silence? “You can tell the brand of an electric car by the odd artificial sounds they are legally required to make so that people can hear them coming.” Please assess the accuracy following statement: “With a more virtual world comes a quieter world.”
- Underrepresented Males. A trend already underway is the possible underrepresentation of males in colleges and universities. A prediction of this chapter is that the government will be awarding special incentives to males to study harder and go to law and med school. What are the implications of a society in which most doctors and lawyers are women?
- Elderly Exasperation. A recurring trend of this book has been how exasperated the older generation is with the younger generation. The old frequently think the young have it too soft. Imagine yourself in thirty years with your own children or grandchildren. What sorts of things might you tell them about your own younger life that allegedly made you much less spoiled than they are?
- Do It Yourself. The authors have made a lot of predictions about the future in this chapter. What are your own predictions, and how might you justify them as possibly sound? Finally, here’s a related question: Imagine yourself in about 2025 telling a young teen about the most important and far-reaching trends of the early 2000s. What would they be? 9/11? The Great Recession? The Arab Spring? The Rise of China? What?
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