Since When is My Past "History?"

Since When is My Past "History?"
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

My family and I were sitting outside a coffee shop at my alma mater, Ball State University, last weekend. We were watching a steady stream of teenagers come and go, when an innocent voice said, "Do those kids' mommies and daddies know they're out so late?"

I thought it was one of my own kids talking, until I realized I was the one who said it.

"When did they start letting little kids into college?" I asked my dad, a Ball State professor.

"They didn't," he said. "Those are regular students."

"Since when? They look 12."

According to my dad, the little whippersnappers have always looked this young. Which logically means my friends and I looked that young when we were 18. I'm not buying it. We never looked that young.

It didn't help matters when I realized that their parents are probably around my age.

To try to understand this year's incoming freshmen, I turned to Beloit College in Janesville, Wisconsin. Each year, they release their annual Beloit College Mindset List (BCML).

The BCML is supposed to "…identify a worldview of 18-year-olds in the fall of 2007." It gives faculty, administrators, and even military recruiters insight into the experiences of today's youth, and what's going on (or not going on) in their young minds.

What's most depressing about the list is that events I experienced firsthand are now officially considered "history." This was only slightly less painful than when I first heard the music from my high school years referred to as "classic."

As I read the BCML, I was stunned at some of the things these young punks have never known. Things that I saw, watched, read, and did.

First on the list, they never experienced the Berlin Wall. Or saw it on the news. Or watched it come down.

I was lucky enough to watch this historic event on television, on November 9, 1989. I was with a German friend, and we were returning to her house for dinner. Another German student breathlessly met us at the door and shouted, "Die Wand kommt unten! Sie reissen die Wand herunter!" (The wall is coming down! They're tearing down the wall!) We sat and watched history being made with sledgehammers, jackhammers, and 28 years of pent-up anger.

Ugh. This all happened one college freshman ago. It hardly seems fair.

"My dad's actually got a piece of it. That's probably the only reason I do know about it," 18-year-old Matt Riese told WEAU TV in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

There's nothing like having one of your generation's defining moments reduced to a Trivial Pursuit answer.

But the list goes on, and it chips away at my sense of youthful vigor. "Pete Rose has never played baseball," the BCML tells me. "Nelson Mandela has always been free," and "Russia has always had a multi-party political system."

What gives? I was around for these things! Pete Rose was my boyhood hero, I watched Nelson Mandela being freed from prison, and I remember what I was doing on February 7, 1990, when the Communist Party's Central Committee agreed to give up its power. (For the record, I was ironing my shirt, getting ready for work. Not that you care. I just like to brag that I know how to iron my own shirt.)

According to WEAU, some freshmen thought Mandela, ". . . might be the owner of Sears, while others thought he was just a big politician."

"I'm not going to go out of my way to learn about things that don't pertain to me necessarily. That's the generation we live in right now," said Riese.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present our future leaders. God help us all.

"Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympic venue, not the scene of massacre," "China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation," and "U2 has always been more than a spy plane." So much for the trillions we spent on the Cold War. We couldn't hold a little back for some modern historical education? I'd even teach the class myself.

Me: "This, students, is a 'record.' You played it on a 'record player.'"

Student: Ooh, I heard about those. My grandfather had one of those. I think he's your age.

Me: You get an 'F.'

I suppose I could always wash down this bitterness with a nice, cold bottled water, which has always been around. In fact, so has Jerry Springer, Dilbert, and the World Wide Web. Rush Limbaugh has always been lying on the radio, HumVees have always been available in civilian models, and microbrewed beer has been available everywhere. Well, one out of 70 ain't bad.

Still, I shouldn't feel too bad about it. I can only imagine what reactions my freshman list might have caused in 1985's .

"13 TV channels?! When I was a kid, we only had the one!"