Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Expect Them to Participate in Creating Peace

"There will always be discrimination, no matter what you can't fight it."

"Human nature is just lazy. They aren't going to fight unless something is affecting them directly."

"Eventually things will get better. It might take a long time, but things change."

These are typical phrases that either students utter in class discussions about oppression or how they end their papers. The students who uttered these phrases, by the way, are young and have not faced much in the way of hardships (struggling to make ends meet, facing racial discrimination, living in a war zone, etc.)

My job is to teach these students about other human beings who do confront, daily, hardships. However, when I do bombard them with facts and faces of those living under oppressive conditions, my students find it difficult to process. Sure, many of them are deeply and profoundly touched. Those students go find the Peace club or Amnesty; they take that concern and outrage and do something with it.

The majority of my students don't. I was reminded of that last night when a young woman raised her hand, after a rather technical talk on lobbying, to say: "look, we have all heard what you've said here: how many Iraqis have died, torture, etc. But, we'll feel bad for a little bit and then we are going out to the bar tonight or doing homework." Yep. That is about right.

In my WS class yesterday, a student asked the class: "Do you have to be directly affected by oppression in order to become an passionate activist fighting it? Why is that we aren't all out there fighting these institutions after reading about it and discussing it in class?" No one answered her question.

What is my job here at this liberal arts college. Some would say it is to "teach the facts." Well, at least that is what the Horowitz crowd would like me to do. But, guess what, I teach the facts. I show students how the gap between rich and poor is ever widening. I talk about the exploitive practices of Wal-mart. I can go on and on. The point is that I do this for a reason.

To educate in the liberal arts model is to educate a future global citizen. We are not charged with vocational training. We are not even charged with disciplinary training, so that students can pursue Ph.D.s in our fields. We are charged with making our students thoughtful, articulate, smart, capable of assimilating information from different perspectives in order to arrive at informed judgments, and encouraging our students to take leadership roles. It is the last of that list that interests me the most. Because these students are poised to be the next managers, diplomats, CEOS, lawyers, politicians, etc., we expose them to the lingering challenges across the globe: profound moral challenges that threaten peace.

I expect them to participate in creating peace.