I’ve spent over 2 years on the Berkeley campus now, and there is a melancholy thread that makes itself evident as you move from section to section, class to class.
People don’t talk.
I’ve wound my way through economics, history, math, and my own milieu of political science, and it’s across the board; people simply do not talk.
Whether it hearkens back to the kindergarten fear of saying something stupid or the high school fear of being shunned by the “cooler” peers, that’s just how it is.
A lot of the reason we don’t talk, however, is politics. I’ve never been one to censor myself. If you’ve ever been in a section with me, I’m the one who won’t shut up, constantly defending Scalia, Reagan, and whatever other conservative has been accused of trampling on all sorts of dispirited minorities.
But hey, that’s just me. I’m a loud-mouth. Most people aren’t.
Political pressure is huge. After all, professors are smarter than me, aren’t they? My GSI must be more learned in the area of international law than I am, so who am I to argue, to disagree? Better to just write down what he says and learn it.
I’m guilty of this attitude as much as anyone, I suppose. Doesn’t make it right.
There is a campaign currently underway, spearheaded by David Horowitz, a conservative author and activist (you might recall his inflammatory ad in the Daily Cal about the fallacies of slavery reparations) to bring balance to the political classroom.
With a demand for equal time to conservative ideas and neutral literature, the idea is that in order to foster true debate and intellectual rigor in the halls of the university, we must impose balance upon ourselves. For every article by Paul Krugman, let’s throw in a book by Milton Friedman.
The merits of this idea are up for debate. Whether or not a demand for quotas or an artificial creation of balance will have any rooted impact is yet to be truly tested; frankly, I’m left unconvinced.
But the motivation behind it, the need for a vibrant and living academic spirit could not be truer.
We need people to speak up. I’ve had GSIs come up to me and say “I disagree completely with your stances, but the fact that you’re in my section makes my job a lot more fun.”
Unanimity is boring.
This is not meant to be a rally cry or a spirited outreach. More than anything, I’m simply expressing frustration.
We all came to Berkeley because we, on some level, embraced the challenge of a higher education, of broadening and expanding our views with peers who were among the brightest in the nation.
This does not just mean sitting on a bench in Sproul arguing with the man passing out leaflets about how we mispronounce the name of Jesus, as fun as that may be.
Professors are equal to the task. Challenge them, parry with them, and I’d bet nine out of ten would love the battle.
I often wish I had the drive and guts to talk to a professor after a class, arguing with an egregious point I felt he or she might have embellished.
More often than not, I’ll just say “eh, not worth it” and head out for some lunch.
Maybe it’s simply the mid-life crisis of a college student. More than halfway done, and stagnation is the aroma all around. Two years of, “yeah, well, that’s an interesting idea Ethan…anyone else have comments?” and not a single hand raised.
Horowitz has his idea, one which would change the institutional canon from the top down. But that’s not the only problem.
A culture of assent and unquestioned acquiescence pervades college campuses around the country. We can read all the books in the world by conservative thinkers, LaRouchian economists, and socialist demagogues, but unless we’re actually interested in talking about it, none of it matters. Sections will still be boring, ideas festering without being kindled.
Tell me I’m wrong about this, please. It’d be a step in the right direction.