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.