Holy crap! Where did the time go? You mean, when I spent a large part of my graduate career (and definitely all of the ABD section where I felt I was barely treading water) hiding my head, ostrich-like, in the sand, time was actually passing by? I don't feel any older! I didn't want to get older! How does this work?
Recently, thinking about what I can expect my students to know, and what they need to know, and what cultural references they should get (for some reason Mayberry and I Love Lucy were in constant replay on my parents' cable channels while I was visiting, but Welcome Back Kotter was nowhere to be found, so let's just retire that particular imitation, m'kay professor? You know who you are ... or would if I had the guts to tell you this personally.) I did some math. Whoo boy. This proves my point that you should avoid certain numbers at all costs. It appears that our incoming freshmen, if 18, were born in 1990. Nineteen-friggen-ninety!?!?! I remember 1990! My oldest niece was already born in 1990! What the hell.
There's this college that puts out a list every year of what students grew up knowing about; go check it out if you like. It's kinda terrifying. But I realize --- and am shocked by --- how much certain current events shaped me that they never experienced. Whereas my sense of "falling into history" and becoming aware of momentous events is tied to the fall of the Berlin wall and the Tiannamen Square massacre, both of which I remember watching on tv and were about the time I started reading newspapers and news magazines, theirs is probably 9/11, which happened when they were middle-schoolers --- and which marked the start of my second year of this Ph.D. program. (sigh)
I pity the historians; from what I hear, most public schools still peter out on history around WWII, just like when I was in high school (people have suggested to me it's on purpose; it allows high schools to avoid presenting deeply polarizing histories like the Vietnam war that parents might get all up in arms about the way they are taught), but all of this really important stuff has happened since then.
More annoyingly, I know quite a few profs and teachers who are still teaching as though the civil-rights movement and civil-rights era segregation were recent memories, even though our students would have been toddlers at the time of the Rodney King riots and, I would argue, grew up in such a different racial climate that it is difficult to even recognize privilege and racism today if you set the segregated South as your baseline. (I could say more about this if you're interested, or just go read Patricia Hill Collins's Black Sexual Politics.)
More pertinent to me than what the Beloit College Mindset list includes, our students not only don't remember the Cold War but barely remember the Clinton scandals. The Simpsons is older than they are, the original Law and Order show is exactly the same age as them, and MTV is almost my age (you could argue that MTV got to its "we never actually show videos anymore" stage right around these kids's birth, but they might have had another patch of non-suckiness in the late 90s when I had already given up watching.)
Disney Channel moved from premium to basic cable when they were 6, and Cartoon Network first aired when they were 2. Combined with Nickelodeon (which has been around even longer --- 1979, with 1984 or so marked as a nationwide cable channel), our students have been able to consume immense quantities of programming without any of it being anything you have heard of (or would want to). This means that they have had access to a vast swath of kid-specific programming on multiple channels. This may explain why the studies can say they watch 32 hours of television a week or whatever the number is and still have never seen or heard of anything I mention. More insidiously, I would argue, this proliferation of channels allows them to create a media cocoon around themselves, which may account for the increased immaturity and dependency we keep hearing about from college freshmen (this could, indeed, however, be a result of the "hey, you kids! get off my lawn" effect.).
MTV's The Real World, and the attendant plague of reality television, debuted in 1992, again when our students were just toddlers. (Survivor, that interesting combination of colonialism and precursor to torture film, was a bit later ---- 2000). They started first grade when South Park debuted --- and perhaps saw it then too --- and they weren't even 10 years old when the Columbine massacres occurred. I'm sure that made a big impression on them, or at the very least the attending hysteria and school crackdowns impacted them directly. (BTW, because either Parker or Stone grew up in Columbine these two things are forever associated in my mind, for better or worse. I only bothered to watch the first couple of seasons --- and The Simpsons must have been irrelevant for a few years now as I don't know anyone who watches the new episodes any more. Anyway.)
One thing from the list linked above that I did find important was that these students have always had their privacy invaded and threatened, and therefore have no concept of what that means. On the education side of things, NCLB passed in 2001, which means our students have had about 7 years of their k-12 schooling fucked up by those stupid tests; that has to be showing up in our college-age students by now (and to think I just shuddered and buried my head in the sand and said, "that doesn't concern me! It will be abolished by the next president who will fix all the shitstorms this current chucklehead is unleashing! Just wait for 2004!" Sigh. My bad. I feel myself trying to do it with the financial meltdown mess too.)
There were more things I wanted to look up, but forgot in the process of looking up all these. Instead of waltzing down nostalgia lane watching all those "I Heart the 80s" shows on VH1, I should be taking notes on some sort of "Remember the 00s" documentary. Sigh. And I haven't started on the weird feelings I am getting watching all the 80s clothing and fashion come back and recognizing actual trends I had participated in; that's just too depressing to get into right now.
What about you? What cultural benchmarks have I forgotten ---- either what our students would know, or missed out on?