Henry Bleattler still remembers the day the Berlin wall fell. He was fresh out of college, on shift at a Chapel Hill restaurant when a call from the kitchen grabbed his attention: the walls were coming down. He and his co-workers stopped to watch it on television.
"It happened so fast...we were all stunned," Bleattler said.
Bleattler is now Dean of Media, Culture, and Arts at the King's College, where he teaches classes in cultural studies and humanities. Teaching about the fall of the Berlin Wall has always been interesting for Bleattler, who experienced it, but for students, it's just another history lesson.
Every year, students and professors have less in common, both historically and culturally. The differences leave professors searching for references, allusions and even jokes that make sense to their audience.
"It isn't sad, its just interesting and funny in a way," said Bleattler. "But it also reminds me that I am getting older."
For the past 14 years, the former Public Affairs Director of Beloit College and humanities professor,Tom McBride have chronicled the cultural context of incoming freshman, releasing their findings in a non-scientific compilation appropriately called "The Mindset List."
According to this year's list, incoming freshman never lived in a world where alternative rocker Kurt Cobain was alive or an NFL team played its home games in Los Angeles. They have no need for radios and they get a lot of their news from Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."
For them, Martin Lawrence has always been banned from hosting Saturday Night Live, And while the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi hit Lost, for them it's Breaking Bad, a gritty crime story driven by desperate economic circumstances.
This year's freshmen might have a hard time remembering when suitcases had to be carried instead of rolled, or when an airline ticket was a booklet of pages separated by carbon paper. For them, Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.
The students also are accustomed to seeing women in position of leadership. They came of age at a time when Madeleine Albright was serving as the first female U.S. Secretary of State, and women have held the position for most of their lives.
"In general, there was always the complaint that it was too slow for women to get to positions of responsibility," said Nief, who teaches at Beloit College, in Wisconsin. "Now the question is, 'What took so long?'"
As recently as just a few years ago, Bleattler would quote a line from the 1986 movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to note an absent student. In the film, Bueller's teacher (played by Ben Stein) called for the absent Ferris Bueller by simply repeating his last name in a monotone voice.
Bleattler used to mimic Stein to note an absent student in his own class, which once incited class-wide laughter. But with each passing year, he noticed fewer and fewer students laughed. He eventually stopped quoting the line.
But some cultural knowledge gaps are more serious.
"I remember the year I asked if anyone knew who Machiavelli was and everyone's hands shot up," Bleatter said. But what he thought was a rare case of cultural literacy turned out to be mere familiarity with the latest TuPac album, titled Makaveli.
The Mindset List indicates that most freshmen are less likely to identify with a specific religion. Biblical references such as "forbidden fruit," ''the writing on the wall" and "good Samaritan" are unknown to most of them.
"When I teach Shakespeare or Milton there are a lot of biblical allusions," said McBride, an English professor, "and I have to explain them all."
While some professors and teachers might use the list to prep for savvy pop-cultural references, Bleattler prefers to keep it spontaneous: "There's a little bit of stand up in what I do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.