To college freshmen, what has always been true, or never been true

By Dave Andrusko

Going back all the way to 1999 [!], one of the most popular stories we periodically run is what Wisconsin’s Beloit College calls its “Mindset List” for the incoming freshman class. It’s a way of tracking the “cultural touchstones” and coordinates through which 18-year-olds compile and navigate their beginner’s worldview. This year, the baton was handed over to Marist College School of Liberal Arts, which is located in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Beloit’s (now Marist College’s) Mindset List is an attempt to find a common realm of language, references, and idioms so that faculty and students alike can dialogue. It’s an recognition (or admission) that because the life experiences of each generations are so very, very different, members will have their own “cultural literacy.”

As you would anticipate, the findings are ever-changing and inevitably fascinating. (How could they not be?) Here’s how this year’s results begin for the class of 2023:

Born in 2001 the incoming class of college students never shared the earth with Joey Ramone, George Harrison, Timothy McVeigh, or Ken Kesey.

Among their classmates could be Billie Eilish, Sasha Obama, or Duane “The Rock” Johnson’s daughter Simone.

[Just to help people–like me–out, Billie Eilish is a 17-year-old “American singer-songwriter, model and dancer”; Sasha Obama is the former President’s daughter; and “The Rock” is a former wrestler turned actor. ]

Here is a sampling of “the compilation of what has always and never been true for the class of 2023”:

  1. Like Pearl Harbor for their grandparents, and the Kennedy assassination for their parents, 9/11 is an historical event.
  2. Thumb, jump, and USB flash drives have always pushed floppy disks further into history.
  3. The primary use of a phone has always been to take pictures.
  4. The Tech Big Four–Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google — are to them what the Big Three automakers were to their grandparents.
  5. Snapchat has become their social media app of choice, thus relieving them of the dilemma of whether or not to friend Mom.
  6. They may well not have a younger sibling, as the birth rate in the U.S. has been dropping since they were in grammar school.
  7. YouTube has become the video version of Wikipedia.
  8. Face recognition technology has always been used at public events
  9. They have grown up with Big Data and ubiquitous algorithms that know what they want before they do.
  10. A Catholic Pope has always visited a mosque.
  11. Cal Ripken, Jr., has always been retired.
  12. Euthanasia has always been legal in the Netherlands.

On first blush, there are not a lot of “cultural touchstones and experiences” in this 60-item-long list that would necessarily “shape” a worldview favorable to defending the defenseless. The only item is the “giveness,” the “it’s-always-been-that-way” legality of euthanasia in the Netherlands. However, as we have discussed pretty much on a daily basis for forever, there are cultural clues everywhere that are nudging the younger generation into the defenders-of-life camp.

Here is a distinction worth elaborating. Pro-abortionists operate on a dual track, neither of which is a long-term winner. On the one hand they hysterically lament what they say will be the effective reversal of Roe (were it only so). This Chicken Little approach typically evokes only eye-rolling on the part of younger feminists who despise being reduced to “victims.”

On the other hand, the abortion crowd is arguing that the sure guarantor of the “right” to abortion is for women to “tell their stories.” This will somehow “normalize” abortion by making it seem such a part of the cultural fabric that it would be impossible to pull on this thread without the whole garment coming unraveled.

Predictably, this attempt to make abortion morally neutral quickly evolved into a passionate insistence that abortion is not only devoid of moral and ethical considerations, but also so sacred that even to raise questions is an act of treason. Abortion, they say, is a positive good, not a “tragic” decision.

At the risk of stating the obvious, pro-abortionists are glorifying selfishness.

The problem here is that is not where the American people are. The more pro-abortionists angrily demand that abortion not be evaluated in a moral framework–indeed be celebrated– the fewer people find them (and their arguments) attractive.

Pro-lifers, by contrast, can and do appeal on many grounds. But the common denominator is a combination of realism—we know crisis pregnancies present a profound challenge—and idealism—we will help you not to make this terrible mistake but if you do, offer a shoulder to cry on and offer a path to healing. The latter is profoundly appealing to almost everyone, but particularly to younger people.

I would argue that love, selflessness, and our responsibility to the powerless is a language whose vocabulary ultimately wins out six days a week and twice on Sunday. Why?

Simply because these qualities represent transcendent values that will thrive whether we write with a quill or compose on a word processor. They embody our best qualities, rather than appeal to our worst instincts.

They are our common heritage as members of the human family.

And, in their heart of hearts, I suspect even our opponents know this.