Despite the ability to keep relatively up-to-date on the current situation through reading newspapers, listening to NPR, and watching CNN, many students and professors are overwhelmed by feelings of ignorance about the broader scope of what has been happening, what is happening and what will happen in the Middle East and the world. There is a limit to the breadth of what one can learn through what is currently in the media. There is so much history, culture, politics, and economics that plays into this situation that people can’t really know or understand what’s going on without information from sources other than media coverage from Sept.11 to present. Granted, it shouldn’t have taken an attack on America for people to realize that they were ignorant, but for many it did, and we’re left feeling guilty and embarrassed because of our ignorance.
I urge you – both faculty and students – to join me in support of a program that would attempt to aid us in dissolving our ignorance. I call it Education Day. Certainly one day will not make us experts on world affairs, but it’s a start. It’s a start to seeing outside our purple bubble and outside our American bubble. It’s a start to what I hope will become a part of a Williams education, through semi-annual Education Days or reevaluation of the curriculum content or both.
The structure of the Education Day is flexible, but the main idea is that there would be no regular classes that day. Instead students would gather in groups about the size of a large discussion class to be educated, to educate each other, and to talk things through with professors. We have many brilliant professors here with extensive knowledge of the history, government, economics, and anthropology of the Middle East and its relations with the United States and the rest of the world. They are invaluable resources and we should take advantage of them. Although lectures might be a part of the day, they would not be the focus. Rather, students would learn and work through things in a Williamsesque, participatory manner.
As college students, we have an opportunity that many others don’t have. We can take the time off from life-as-normal to learn. I believe that as an institution of higher education, Williams owes it to its students and itself to have an Education Day. I can think of no education higher than that which will allow students to come to terms with their ignorance, speak intelligently, make informed decisions in their lives, understand the monumental issues associated with all that’s happening, and, potentially, do something to help the world.
The repercussions of Sept. 11 will not end when the last body is removed from the rubble or when the nation decides on a course of action. This is something that will be with us when we graduate and when our kids are at Williams. I honestly believe that taking the time to learn about this will prove infinitely more valuable than a day of regular classes.
Education Day is not the answer to all of our problems and it will not wipe away all of our ignorance, but it’s an important first step. Please speak to other faculty and students about this idea and then let the administration know of your support for it. What greater testament to the Williams way can you imagine than breaking with tradition long enough to provide students with the education they so desperately desire and need?