Today’s freshmen have zero memory of anything that happened before 2000. Most can’t recollect life before 2004. And when it comes to politics and news, don’t expect them to remember anything before Obama winning the presidency.
This short living memory it tough for those of us who teach American government. If we want to reference politics that students remember, then we need to remember how little they have in their living memory.
Beloit College puts together an annual “mindset list” to remind professors how their students differ from past generations. Here’s my own list of how their memories (or lack thereof) shape today’s college freshmen understanding of politics and current events.
Prepare to feel very, very old.
Today’s college freshmen were five years old on 9/11. Growing up, Osama Bin Laden was always the biggest bad guy on the planet. They have always lived in an age of terrorism. What have they never feared? The Soviet Union. The Cold War is merely something that reminds them of 80’s movies they’ve seen on Netflix.
I like to reference famous quotes, but here’s some that today’s freshmen never heard live (if they’ve heard them at all):
Read my lips: no new taxes
I am not a crook
I did not have sexual relations with that woman
You’re no Jack Kennedy
Giant sucking sound
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall
“btw whos mr gorbchv?” they ask in a text message.
Mother Teresa died before they were born. A few remember Pope John Paul II. None have seen Billy Graham give a sermon.
When you mention religious scandals, they think of Catholic priests not televangelists. The Catholic Church has always been reeling from its pedophilia crisis.
They never heard a president call for a war on poverty or a war on drugs. What they have seen, however, is America always at war. And bombs, like their phones, have always been smart.
Iraq and Afghanistan have always had U.S. troops on the ground. South Africa has never had apartheid. Russia has never been a superpower. China has always been a growing economy. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese control. Japan has never been an economic threat.
They’ve never seen candidates fight over flag-burning, welfare reform, affirmative action, nuclear disarmament, or federal flat tax. As long as they can remember, same-sex marriage, medical marijuana, and doctor-assisted suicide have always been legal somewhere in America. Same-sex marriage has always expanded to more states, not restricted.
The Christian Right was just known as “social conservatives” or the “Tea Party.” Liberals have always described themselves as “Progressives.”
A decade of prosperity? That’s impossible! They’ve experienced two major recessions already.
Most presidents are African-American. At least, that’s how they remember it.
Finally, don’t expect things to get easier. My son recently saw me typing on my laptop.
“What are you doing,” he asked.
“Just writing an email,” I replied.
“Oh email! That’s like a text for the computer?” he asked, mildly pleased with his knowledge of ancient technology.
He’ll be sitting in a college classroom before the 2020 presidential election.