Modern-day students live in a ‘now’ society, but now is constantly shifting. What’s ‘now’ right now—Kanye West’s rude interruption of country crossover Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards—has already begun sliding into the archives of our minds. It will appear in media outlets for days to come, and will be revived on end-of-year lists recapping the wackiest moments in pop culture, but it’s already passé to a lot of people, particularly young people.
A week is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in a student’s life. My tenth grade history teacher once wisely told our Western Civ class, “Every year of your life will feel shorter.” Ten years later, I see he was right. For today’s students, the media—and particularly the Internet—is helping to stretch time even more. The number of events, exchanges, videos and emoticons that a young person experiences in a given week is far greater than it was for me ten years ago. But each digital transaction seems to hinge on the present, or better yet, the future. What about the past?
Beloit College publishes the Mindset List every fall. It’s an “effort to identify the worldview of 18 year-olds” entering their first year of college. The list is made up of cultural phenomena that have existed during these students’ lifetimes. For example, the class of 2013 has “never used a card catalog to find a book.”
As Time Magazine rightly notes in an article on the list, a lot has changed since 1991, the year most of this year’s college freshmen were born. “In 1991 the world watched a black motorist named Rodney King be beaten by L.A. cops, all of whom were acquitted; a majority of whites still disapproved of interracial marriage. Ask yourself, Would the people we were then have voted for a mixed-race President and a black First Lady?”
We can look back, and pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come. But to keep moving forward, we have to keep looking back—not only at last week, when outbursts by Rep. Joe Wilson, Serena Williams and Kanye West got us thinking about topics like race, sportsmanship, egotism, manners and musical talent—but farther back, decades and even centuries back.
The Internet has a reputation for showcasing the next big thing in an ever-refreshing browser page. But today’s young thinkers should remember that the Internet is a limitless store of information, and it has a very good memory.
Check out our article “Web Sites for Researching History” to delve deeper into the past online.
Stay tuned for our On This Day Challenge, launching next week, where students will improve their online research skills and general Web savvy by writing articles about historical events using online resources. Students will post their articles to findingEducation, our collaboration tool for teachers and students, and we'll be selecting the best for publication on findingDulcinea.
Sign up for findingEducation to get notified about the challenge launch!