This week I’ve been sitting through the English department orientation for new Teaching Fellows, thinking and talking about the class of 2013. I have to admit that I’m starting to feel like I’ve been blessed with a strange double-sightedness. While most people who know me are unsurprised that I’m strangely fond of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” and enjoy Top 40 radio (yes, radio) for the reason that it’s just so darn catchy, I’m noticing that there are a bunch of songs that I would also sing along to appearing with an alarming frequency on LiteFM stations everywhere. (Case in point: I spent last night discussing the songs that I tend to belt out at traffic lights when the windows are down. This tends to be embarassing. One of those songs is “How Do You Talk to an Angel?” I not only identifyed this song on a restaurant radio, but traced its origins back to the one (or so) episode run of The Heights, the Melrose Place spinoff that only someone far too young to watch and understand Melrose Place would be interested in remembering.)
I entered college 10 years ago, in 1999, and while I feel connected in some ways to the First-Year students (or Newbies) that I’ll be meeting and teaching on Monday, in other ways we couldn’t be more removed from each other. As I was watching families lug comforters, plastic stacking units, microwaves, tvs, clothes, and the various contraband items that our new students have stowed with their possessions to their dorm rooms, I could remember a similarly disgustingly hot day in August when I was dropped off in a strange place, to live in a strange room, with a stranger, and told that the other nearby strangers would help shape my adult life. But, unlike the Newbies, I have the advantage of knowing how that all worked out and how right or wrong these statements were. In some cases, they were mostly right, but it’s actually pretty complicated to try to fully agree with any of those first week statements after you’ve lived through the whole fun/messy/odd college experience.
Another thing that startles me at the beginning of every school year is the fact that while I’ve lived through a good number of technological, social, cultural, and political changes, for my Newbies, things have always been certain ways. Every year Beloit College posts the “Mindset List” for each incoming college class that gives a general summary of what life has “always been like” for the students entering college. And while I can definitely see the damage #20 has done to them (high-stakes educational testing) in the classroom, I really didn’t realize what this group looked like culturally until I read the list. A good deal of my shock might come from the fact that I was 10 years old (or 9, if you count in the late birthdays) when this class was born and I was just starting to become aware of the world around me. I remember when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV. I was in a school full of fifth-graders and people told each other Magic Johnson jokes at lunch and thought they were up on current events. I remember the advent of blue Jello, though I still wish they would re-focus all their efforts into only making red Jello. I remember “discovering” salsa and the early days of its presence in my parents’ house. And while I was briefly caught up in the early Berry Berry Kix hype, I still think it’s too sugary and pretty disgusting. Especially when it’s stale. And I would probably bet good money that my brother would still eat it should a box come his way.
So, what’s my point? Well, I’m not sure exactly. I don’t feel old remembering the world both before and after these changes. But I feel oddly in between my students and something else in the world. We are definitely of different mindsets and awarenesses; like my parents and other people who aquired portable technology later in life I have a stringent set of rules and expectations regarding its use. But in other ways we’re very similar. I’m glad I don’t have to use a card catalog anymore. But I’m also glad that I had to go on that fieldtrip to learn how.