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A Guide for the Class of 2021 Mindset List

Teachers and counselors alike have used the Mindset List over the years, sometimes as the basis for one-on-one chats, and at other times for class discussions and even personal essays. This year’s List is no different. The annual Lists are wonderful icebreakers for counselors and professors and students. They stimulate intergenerational conversations. Here are some suggestions relating to this year’s List.

  1. This year’s List states that the class of 2021 is the last of the Millenneals. The next class will be the first born in the 2000s. How would they compare themselves with the first class born in the 20th century? Ask your students to do a little research about the college class of 1921. What unforeseen events lay ahead for that class? What unforeseen events might lay ahead for the class of 2021? What was “normal” for the class of 1921? By way of contrast or similarity, what is “normal” for them today?
  2. This class is the first class, in effect, to grow up with nothing but smartphones. Phones have always been “phones”: that is, used rarely for talking to someone and much more often as a video game or research library. Ask your students how this has changed the world—not just their world but the world. How does daily life change when one doesn’t have to go “find” a computer in order to look something up, play a game, or send a message? Does such a former world seem positively “ancient” to them?
  3. This year’s List asserts that they don’t just think of themselves as students but also as consumers. Ask them if they agree with this proposition; and if so, why, and if not, why not? What are the implications of a world in which a class is evaluated less on the knowledge it supplies than on the career it will aid? Is this a good or bad thing? Might, for example, it force colleges to develop better educational “products”? What sorts of products?  
  4. This year’s List states that for the class of 2021 they have always had emojis to cheer them up. There are now thousands and thousands of these, and it seems there must be one for every emotion and mood. Is this a good or bad thing? Might emojis be replacing face-to-face expressions of emotions and the accompanying need to “talk things out”? Will emojis eventually cause an atrophy of emotional intelligence, or is that too fanciful an idea?
  5. John F. Kennedy, Jr. has, for the class of 2021, always been dead. Ask them to discuss what they know about the whole Kennedy saga and whether or not understanding the role of the Kennedys is integral to grasping the history of the late 20th century? Has there been any figure in their time that has matched the youthful inspiring idealism of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s? In preparation for this discussion, you might suggest they ask their grandparents about the Kennedys!  A little intergenerational discussion is excellent prep for these projects.
  6. “Whatever the subject, there’s always been a blog for it,” says item 30 on this year’s List. This suggests that they have grown up in a world where knowledge and opinion has been extremely decentralized and varied. Does this suggest that in a sense all knowledge is equal? Are there some things that an educated person must know? What are those things? Or is education just a matter of learning a specialty? Or is it just a question of learning how to learn? If so, what does that mean, exactly?
  7. Tell them what items on this year’s List you yourself, as an older person, found most astonishing—and why. Get their reactions.
  8. Ask them to summarize the composite portrait of their generation drawn, implicitly, by this year’s List and whether or not they think it’s accurate.
  9. Item 58 of this year’s List states that women have always “scaled both sides of Everest and rowed across the Atlantic.” By now of course “firsts” for women are common, and it is sometimes observed that it is much more interesting for older generations than it is for the younger ones, who have found such firsts as “normal” and not much to get excited about. What are the pros and cons of such an apparently jaded attitude towards the first-time achievements of women?
  10. This year’s List (item 16) notes the triumph of Watson, the IBM’s fabulous bot, which outperformed a human competitor on the quiz show Jeopardy. Now it seems that Watson is being programmed to diagnose medical conditions—so Watson will truly become Doctor Watson. Do today’s young students worry about entering professions in which they can be replaced by machines? What do they consider to be the most “machine-exempt” professions, and what are their interests in those? 

These are suggested topics only. You may well invent your own. Creative uses of each year’s Mindset List are extremely welcome and beneficial. These topics, again, can be used as subjects for chats, discussions, or essays (the latter can of course be exchanged in class and then discussed openly).

We welcome your own expert comments. Tell us what you did, what we got right, and what we got wrong. Good Luck!

Tom McBride, Ron Nief, Charles Westerberg

August 2017


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