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The problems to society which originate in the students' rebelling are so manifold and have such far reaching implications that in a short presentation only a very small selection of them can be alluded to. I shall, therefore, concentratet (1) on the parallels to the German situation before Hitler; (2) on a few of the factors which contribute to the widespread unrest among relatively large numbers of students, black and white; (3) on the small group of leaders who, by making skillful use of the general unrest succeed in doing damage way beyond the importance of this group because of their tactics of intimidation and coercion and due to the publicity they receive; (4) the particular difficulies of some black students which are exploited by the SDS; (5) the fascination with extreme position, and (6) what all this does to the universities and higher education.
1. While history does not repeat itself, and while the present U.S. situation is radically different from that of pre-Hitler Germany, given these vast differences, some of the similarities between the present student rebellion and what happened in the German universities which spearheaded Hitler's rise to power are striking. To use only one example, German universities began to cave in when students coerced faculties to appoint professorships in Rassenwissenchaft, that is, professorships devoted to teaching the special aspects, merits, achievements, of one race versus others, rather than concentrating in their teaching on contributions to knowledge, whatever the origin of the person who made the contribution.
Then as now, these rebellious students were pictured as the new generation, disgusted with the complacency of their parents, fighting courageously for a better world. And what were then the mass media often depicted them as idealists, as young people concerned with the real issues of society.
After having stressed these parallels, and some others which I shall mention at the end, one must recognize the vast differences between the present student rebelliousness, and that of pre-Hitler Germany.
The danger I fear is rather an opposite one: that the disgusting behavior of a very small group of students -- the overwhelming majority of our students are sound, and wish nothing more than to take advantage of the opportunities higher education offers them -- will arouse a severe counter-reaction, so much so that their left radicalism may lead to a fascist type of backlash.
2. In order to understand this discontent one has to realize that so many more go to college than ever before, and hence many more are much less well prepared for this experience. Taking advantage of college, and being satisfied with this experience rather than being defeated by it, requires a considerable amount of self-discipline, and a high degree of satisfaction with what can be derived from developing one's intellect. Present day education both in home and school teaches very little self-discipline compared to even very recent times. The expectation is that education can hand over knowledge and skills, and this nearly instantly. There is widespread feeling that if students do not do well in school, this is the failing of the educational system, not due to their lack of application. What makes for adolescent revolt is the fact that a society keeps the next generation too long dependent in term of mature responsibility and a striving for independence.
It is an empty waiting for real life to come, which makes for student rebellions. This can be seen from the fact that most rebellious students, here and abroad, are either undergraduates, or those studying the social sciences and humanities. There are no militants among students of medicine, engineering, the natural sciences. They are busy with doing things that are important to them, they are working in the laboratory and at their studies.
In my opinion there are, today, far too many students in the colleges who essentially have no business to be there. Some are there to evade the draft, many others out of a vague idea that it will help them to find better paying jobs, though they do not know what jobs they want. And again many go to college because they do not know what better to do and because it is expected of them.
To make matters worse, our institutions of higher learning have expanded much too fast, have under public pressure for more education for everybody increased enrollment beyond reason. The result is far too large classes. Many classes in our large universities are taught by teaching assistants some of whom, out of their own inner dissatisfaction and insecurity, tend to side with the rebellion. All this led to the anonymity, the impersonal nature of student-faculty contacts about which many students rightly complain.
In addition because of such vast expansion in numbers, the old methods to give coherence to the college experience, and to offer students a life geared to the needs of the late adolescent age group have disintegratetd. This the fraternities and sororities used to do, which were group homes easing the transition from home to society at large.
Also, the old rituals which enhanced student, life and bound them to each other, and to their college college, such as football rallies, homecomings, etc., all have lost most of their meaning and have not been replaced by anything but the estimate the sit-ins and rebellions provide. The spirit of intimate comradeship that used to prevail in a fraternity house is now found by all too many students in their sit-ins, where they feel closely bound together, important as at no other time, doing things together which they deep down know they do also for the emotional satisfactions they derive from such being together, whatever high-sounding issues they think are motivating their actions.
The reason we didn't have student revolts before is partly because only those went to college who wanted to be educated, and partly because those students who had to put themselves through school, by the very fact that they could do that, of their own strengths, could prove their early manhood -- at least to some degree.
I think many of the rebellious students are essentially guilt-ridden individuals. They feel terribly guilty about all the advantages they had. And there's also the guilt of their exemption from the draft, which is a serious guilt. All too many who now go to college have little interest, ability, and use for what constitutes a college education. They would be better off with a high level vocational education which is closely linked to a work program which gives scope to; their needs for physical activity and visible, tangible achievement. The complaint of many of these students is that nobody needs them. They feel parasites of society, and hence come to hate a society which they think makes them feel this way.
I would suggest a youth service program (civilian peace corps, or such) of a couple of years' duration where young people work on socially significant projects while earning pay for it, and receiving at the same time, higher vocational training. After this period only those would go to universities who really wish to do so, while the rest would feel a much greater stake in a society that they helped rebuild. This would also do away with the exemption of college students which, in connection with the war in Vietnam, is behind so much of the student unrest. For example, if I am exempt from service when others are not, I can live in peace with myself only if I am convinced this is a vile war.
Were it not for the widespread student discontent which I discussed above, the very small group of leaders of the student rebellion would find scant following, and if they should break the law, without such followers, they could be readily death with. It is the mass following they can arouse because of the widespread discontent which alone makes them dangerous. I therefore think we should concentrate in our thinking and planning not on these very few, but on what needs to be done so that they won't find ready followers.
There were always a small percentage of persons bent on destroying society, and on fomenting a revolution. In previous generations they were the Wobbles, later there were the campus communists. The reason why the present brand of campus revolutionaries, who are of anarchist and nihilist persuasion, are so much more dangerous is that they can point to success after success of their disrupting tactics. The greatest danger, then, is presently the readiness with which violence is afterward excused, and the seemingly convincing arguments which are bought forth to justify it before and after the act. Worst and most dangerous of all, there seems to be a tendency in our society to legitimize the results of violence so that, as Kant put it, the God of success afterwards serves as advocate for the violent action that preceded it and suggests its future use.
Speaking of the small group of leaders of the radical left, if has been observed that most of them come from well educated, very liberal families. from my own observations I would like to add that those whom I got to know might be characterized by having had their intellectual abilities developed very highly at much too early an age, but at the expense of their emotional development. Very bright as they often are, emotionally some of them remained fixated at the age of the temper tantrum.
It is one of the weaknesses of university faculties that, as persons committed to it value most highly intellectual abilities, they are captivated by the intelligence of these students to the degree as to be ready to excuse, or make little, of their disruptiveness and intellectual arrogance.
Essentially these militants must want to destroy the universities because they do not want to be students. Because to be a student means to prepare oneself to do something more worthwhile in the future. The militant student's cry is for action now, not preparation for action later. In this real sense he is no longer a student at all, since he clearly rejects knowledge as a precondition of any meaningful activity. Truth, moreover, is no longer sought, but "revealed"; the concept for free speech and free thought is demonstrated as much in his actions as in his rods. Were he ever to capture the university, it would cease to be a university at all.
In their inability to think things out because they cannot delay action for thought, both right and left extremists, the militants of all colors, are brothers under the skin. This is among the reasons why in history it happened that the young followers of the extreme right can very easily become those of the extreme left, or the other way round.
There is a reason why former Nazis could easily become active in the Communistic government of Eastern Germany.
It is their hatred of society that makes it so easy for the small group of militant leaders to make common cause with another small group that provides temporary leadership for some of the rebellious: outright paranoid individuals. I do not believe the number of paranoids among students is greater than their number would be in any comparable group of the population. They become dangerous again because of their high intelligence, which permits them to hide more successfully the degree of their disturbance from the nonexpert. Having worked professionally with some of them for years, I know that student revolt permits them to act out their paranoia to degree that no other position in society would permit them.
(4) Paranoids always make a persuasive appeal to any group of the population who rightly or wrongly feel persecuted, and they seek out such groups because they are most likely to view their paranoia as true understanding of this group's particular predicament. Which brings me to the particular problems of some of the black students who, fortunately, seem to recognize ever more that the SDS is using them, rather than helping them. They are not quite as successful to see through the motives of some of the paranoid student leaders.
All students find the transition from home to college difficult. In past times this was blamed by the student on himself, and most of them therefore tried to do something about themselves and sooner or later succeeded. Today both white and black students tend to blame the faculty for the difficulties they encounter in adjusting to a different way of life and study.
When, because of lack of background and preparation--though intellectually able to make the grad--the black student has difficulty in adjusting, he feels that the very place that promised to make him equal fails to do so. Disappointed, he rages against the institution that makes him once more feel interior. And efforts to help him by means of special programs only makes this inferiority even more obvious. The many black students who are well able to hold their own with the best of the rest feel hey must not desert their fellow black comrades and hence feel obligated to make their burden their very own.
I believe the answer to this problem does not rest with the colleges and universities. If we want to bring a large number of black students into our universities, as we should, I am convinced we have to start much earlier. I believe from high school age on, it would be necessary to educate a larger number of them, together with white youngsters from culturally deprived background, in true prep schools, so that they will enter college in every respect as well prepared academically and socially as the rest of the college population.
(5) There is a fascination in society at large with sex and violence, with drugs and insanity which both influences the student militants and provides them with a noteworthiness which they exploit to the full. If students protest because of an idea or position and do so in orderly and rational form, they do not receive much public attention. But if they shed all their clothes and walk around naked, this makes news all over the nation, whatever the case they may, or may not have had. It is part a dangerous fascination with youth and its extreme positions.
Here, too, is where the functions of political phraseology becomes operative. If someone advocates urinating on graves as the Fugs did, or if a few girls dress up as witches and put curses on professors, as they did in Chicago, if they would do so without reference to politics people would rightly wonder about their sanity; but if they do so as a condemnation of the Viet Nam war, or take clothes off while claiming to be demonstrating for some good progressive cause, they have the support of many of the older liberals and enlightened radicals, who will inevitably consider it all to be very socially significant.
(6) Perhaps it all has made too many headlines, perhaps it has been talked about too much for people to accept the fact: but the truth of the matter is that these rebellion can and do paralyze the universities.
And they do this not only because classes are interrupted and buildings occupied, not only because faculty must devote all their energies to calming things down, but much more so because all the time and energy which should be devoted to more lasting achievements has to be concentrated on preparing for and on forestalling new confrontations.
As in pre-Hitler faculties, so in our universities today we can see efforts of faculty members to remain aloof from it all, while others try to anticipate even the most radical student demands, so as to avoid confrontations. Worse, there are no efforts made to organize effective alternative groups of students. And most of all, many are so intimidated that they cave in even before the students exercise any pressures. It is the continuous worry about what the militant students may do next, the anxious efforts to give them no offense, which saps the universities of their strength so that they become paralyzed. This anxious avoidance of taking a firm stand gives not only these militants, but also many non-committed students the feeling that they have the faculty on the run, because these adults are not sure about their values.
If the colleges and universities would feel sure about themselves, take a determined stand against any coercion and intimidation--though always not only open to, but inviting, reasonable, non-coercive discussion about how things could be improved (and much improvement is needed, as I suggested all along)--then I believe student rebellions could be so reduced as to no longer threaten the universities and because of the consequences, possibly even all of society.
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