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A year in the life of the Mindset List

September 13, 2010

It was only a few years ago that the annual August release of the Beloit College Mindset List caused the collapse of the campus computer system. This year, almost a million hits on the website prompted hardly a ripple. Therefore it is time for Tom and Ron to extend thanks to the College community: faculty and staff who were interviewed and pretended to know who we were, students who looked quizzical when people pointed to their wrists to prove a point about wristwatches, and the cursives and the non-cursives who argued the importance of script, and to ISR and the staff of the library and Communications and Marketing for their constant support throughout the creation and promulgation process. Special thanks to Prof. Bob Elder and his FYI class who participated in a number of discussions.

Each year there are reactions that catch us off guard.  This year the surprise came with the dramatic international interest in the list.  It was published around the world and prompted interviews from Europe to Singapore and Quito to Johannesburg. A half hour discussion with South African Radio got into a question of how the schools there will teach about apartheid to a generation about to enter university with no first hand knowledge of it. Officials in Singapore and Colombia have requested permission to create similar lists for their schools and countries.

And then there was Mr. Castro alleging that we had "proved" the US was a failed capitalist state. Diplomatic sources in Havana indicated to us that the press reports on which El Presidente based his comment were not accurate. Being attacked from the left and by a Wall Street Journal columnist and New Yorker blogger who also took us, and the List, quite seriously, while we were supported with editorials in the American Thinker left us confused. We suggested that Fidel come to Beloit and sit down with us and have a beer so we could straighten things out.

A few of the old familiar experiences have been there too.  Ron has adjusted his title from “emeritus” to “former” given the number of people that turned the Latin into something that sounded like a disease. Tom and Ron have squeezed into two chairs on a CNN platform so small that it required them to hold onto each other’s chairs to keep them from falling off. And then there is the annual experience of getting into the guts of a live on-air interview only to find out that the host of the program is reading from a two-year old version of the list. It was fun to sit in the broadcast studios of WGN Radio in the Chicago Tribune tower and watch a late night audience assemble outside the street level windows mouthing suggestions. We won’t comment on east coast producers who never heard of central time when setting a schedule for interviews.

Other than Fidel—and that was pretty high level criticism you must admit—the attacks were low key...not like the year we used a date for Harry Potter’s birth that was only accepted by half the Potter-heads in the audience. This year’s arguments focused on whether students first knew of Michelangelo as a computer virus or a Ninja turtle (known by Ninja-nuts as TAMNTs). It was Tom’s job to explain that they would get their references straight once they got into class.

Finally, an exciting development this year is the introduction of the Mindset List concept in the AP history program at Beloit Memorial High School.  Tom and Ron are working with teacher Gary Stuedemann and utilizing the Mindset daily Facebook quiz and other material as he gives history students the chance to build their own list working with family members, and then discussing and comparing developments. The hope is that it will spread to other schools.

Thanks again.