Monday, August 2, 2010

We Shall Overcome

Outside our classroom, we could hear faint unison chanting from another part of the campus. After telling us about his own protest experience, our baby-boomer professor announced that he was cancelling that afternoon’s lecture to support the strike. And he encouraged us undergraduates to do so too.

“You need to fight against the establishment,” he said.

“Dude, you are the establishment!” I wanted to reply.

But I didn’t. I was a timid homeschooled girl who desperately wanted an A in the course. So, I picked up my books and headed past the throng of students. This dispute between the university and the teaching assistants’ union had nothing to do with me, so I didn’t see any reason to get involved…especially if it meant holding a dorky-looking sign in public in broad daylight.

This senior-year moment was indicative of what I noticed throughout my college years. Instructors at every level wanted to relive their youth, but they couldn’t get the student body motivated, even when there was strong sympathy towards the cause of social justice. Why march when you could be browsing on your laptop? (This was before the iPhone, you know.)

So I could identify with Ashley Thorne’s “Beating the Apple Tree: How the University Coerces Activism” (Academic Questions, Summer 2010). Promoting activism (just like conducting research) takes precedence over teaching for many faculty members. But passionate speeches, designed to rally the students into action, fall flat when students respond with bored stares. Activism has become a stale course requirement.

Someone must have forgotten that these people aren’t even registered to vote, unless doing so involves free pizza.