BY Samuel Benson
One of the biggest changes in paradigm from the early 20th century to the present day pertains to the role of education in society, and nowhere is this change more evident than with regard to college. Attending college, for many, has gone from being a privilege to becoming an expectation.
This change is largely viewed as a good thing, and it certainly has its benefits. However, it has also contributed to the demise of one of college’s most important attributes immersion of the student into an intellectual community of his or her peers.
To avoid any confusion, I should first define my terms. As I am using it here, the term ‘intellectual community” refers to a community, outside of the classroom, where students, through their own volition and communication with their peers, create an opportunity to debate freely any matter that requires exercise of the mind in an intellectual way; this might include politics, religion, philosophy or even popular culture.
The important part is that such an atmosphere has to be created, and therefore must be desired, by the student. Sure, there are clubs and organizations at almost every college that promote this very idea, but these ‘communities” are far from organic; they are, in their nature, only a pretense.
There are several factors playing into the absence of modern day intellectual communities, but three main reasons stand out. The first reason pertains to the era in which we live. It is safe to say that the early 20th century was a much more politically volatile time. Many of America’s youths found themselves caught between the harsh, poverty-stricken reality in which they lived and the desire for change fueled by the lofty promises of radical doctrines such as socialism.
The most interesting thing about this situation is that while almost everyone harbored a desire for change and certainly those of a like mind found occasion to band together there were so many different ideologies and beliefs floating around that fervent debates would spring up daily between ideological opponents. Intellectual dialogue, thus, came naturally.
The era in which we live now is much more politically stable, and while this is generally viewed as a good thing, political and, consequently, intellectual awareness and involvement have suffered.
The other reasons for the demise of the intellectual community have to do with how the college experience is defined by the university and the student. Universities now-a-days have the final say on how they want their students to experience college.
It was not always this way, however. In the early 20th century, colleges provided an education. The college experience was created entirely by the student.
Modern day colleges are increasingly assuming more responsibility for the student experience. They are trying, in essence, to take a load off the student’s back. In doing this, however, universities are constricting the student experience even more, making sure that it stays within the boundaries that they define.
The student, it can be argued, has to assume responsibility for his or her own experience at some point. Some do, to be sure. But the most important way for students to get started on their own path is for them to seek and attain the help of their fellow students. It is hard for them to do this, however, when their peers have likewise been programmed to rely on the university to provide for them.
In this instance the fault lies with the university. It is hard to imagine, however, that America’s universities are purposefully suppressing the experiences of their students.
Ironically, it is because universities are trying harder than ever to create a unique experience for their students that this predicament has even arisen.
The emphasis of this approach is not on creating an effective academic atmosphere, but rather on making the student feel more ‘at home.”
But college shouldn’t feel like home. College is supposed to be a place where ideas are challenged, horizons broadened. Even if those ideas pertain to the latest celebrity gossip or who should win ‘American Idol,” everyone has an opinion, and it is about time that universities and students stop suppressing it.
Benson is a member of
the class of 2013.