There are two schools of thought about lectures. One group (many of whom enjoy sleeping late) contends that lectures are one-way informational streets that stifle audience creativity. These new educational left thinkers argue that no one person monopolizes knowledge on a subject, so it's useless to have hundreds listen to one--some form of interaction is better. They say that lectures teach their listeners only to be passive and accepting.
Others blast lectures as an essentially inefficient use of the time, for everyone involved. A lecturer could reach a lot more people if he published or broadcasted his thoughts. Or consider the listeners: you can't very well go to the middle third of a lecture, the part you're interested in, or read a newspaper during the boring parts. But you can skim a book, read a chapter, or even just read the table of contents. So the argument goes.
The other school, of which I, as a lecture reviewer, am a part, says that lectures fill a cultural gap that books or television can't meet. A lecture provides a chance to hear from people who could never make it into print or onto the air. Sure, 30 or 40 curious people will go and listen to Bob the Bagman, a twenty year veteran of Beacon Hill bumming, discourse on techniques of street survival--but who would publish him? (you can hear and see Bob this Sunday, Jan 16, at 7 p.m. at the Stone Soup Society, 313 Cambridge St.)
Nor does the stale conception of a lecture as an active speaker and a passive audience stand up under fire. Besides the standard question-and-answer period there are many new variations on the lecturing form that keep the audience from drifting off. At the Common Stock Restaurant, 39 Moody St. in Waltham you can participate in a "speakerless speakers series" every Monday night at 7:30, so-named because no one person coordinates the discussion. This week's topic covers nonviolent games, and the audience will be invited (don't ask by whom) to try several of the games.
Lecture-lovers score another point when they point out that even a large audience can participate at a lecture. They advise that what may be impolite on a small scale may be considered bold and even revolutionary when done with grandeur by a group en masse. Thus while it is frowned on to yawn, fidget and mutter when listening to a lecturer who you find less than stimulating, if you can get enough people to join, you have a demonstration. Demonstrations are not appropriate with all speakers, but Robert S. McNamara, president of the World Bank, and Secretary of Defense under Johnson, will speak at the Boston Sheraton Hotel this Friday at 1 p.m. His speech will follow a presentation of an award to McNamara by the World Affairs Council of Boston. Unfortunately, reservations are required (267-6674) for the $2 admission tickets. But you can make your feelings known outside.
At the other end of the spectrum, Irwin Silber, editor of the newspaper Guardian, will speak on "What Now for the U.S. Left" this Sunday at 11 a.m. at B.U.'s Morse Auditorium at 602 Commonwealth Ave.
Silber's talk is one of a weekly series given by the Community Church of Boston featuring various liberal activists as speakers. The talks follow a short non-sectarian service and the whole ethical experience is topped off with a question-and-answer period and then a hat passing. The lecturer for the following Sunday, Jan. 23, will be Margaret Furnham, the defense attorney for Angela Davis and Ella Ellison, whose topic will be "Rape, Racism, and Criminal Justice." On Jan 30 Maxine Klein, director of the plays "Tania" and "Fan-shen" will give her thoughts on "Political Theater." And on Feb. 6, Florence Luscomb, who has worked actively in the field of women's rights for most of her life will speak on the occasion of her 90th birthday concerning her hopes "For a Second American Revolution."
Another good source of weekly though-stimulus is the Cambridge Forum, a series of panel discussions on topics of public interest. The Forum selects a panel of experts that represent all shades of opinion on the topic of each discussion.
The presentations are held in The First Parish Church in Cambridge, at 3 Church St., in Harvard Square. This Wednesday's talk, "Should We Forego Private Property Rights In Order to Protect the Environment?" will feature Don K. Gifford, vice-president of Cabot, Cabot and Forbes, Robert Paterson, the deputy director of Massachusetts state planning office, State Senator William Saltonstall, and Lawrence Susskind, associate professor of Urban Planning at MIT.
The topic of the Jan 26 Forum discussion will be one that Jimmy Carter will probably be thinking about at just that time. On that date Richard L. Garwin, an IBM executive and a member of the President's Science Advisory Group under Nixon and Johnson and John F. McCarthy, Jr. a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT will debate the merits of the B-1 bomber. (Oddly enough, Garwin will speak against the bomber, and McCarthy in favor.) Roger Fisher, the creator of the television debate program "The Advocates" and a professor at Harvard Law School, will serve as moderator.
"Should We Teach Religion in the Public Schools" will be answered on Feb. 2 at the Forum by several Harvard educators and clergymen, including Ben-Zion Gold, the director of Hillel at Harvard-Radcliffe, and John Mansfield, a professor at Harvard Law.
Walter J. Leonard, the University's affirmative action officer, will deliver a memorial oration at Cambridge's third annual Commemoration of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Cambridge's Main Library, on 449 Broadway (a short walk from the Science Center). Leonard was a close personal friend of King and will discuss their relationship in his speech. Saundra Graham will also speak during the program, which will include a slide show on the history of blacks in Cambridge.
A half-day package of seminars held this Saturday at Science Center B will aim at teaching anyone who attends--but especially non-scientists--the ins and outs of recombinant DNA research. Cambridge City Councilwoman Saundra Graham, MIT biologist Alan Silverstone and Everett Mendelsohn, Harvard professor of the History of Science, will conduct workshops from 9 till 1 on DNA research and how it could affect society. The Biohazards Action Committee, a group that wants to go slow on recombinant DNA research, plans to have this first teach-in on the subject touch on all the relevant political and scientific questions.
The subject is a complex one, and is also especially controversial because although the Cambridge City council last week extended its moratorium on DNA research one more month, Harvard and MIT are going ahead with facilities designed to house this type of research. A report by a select committee set up by the Cambridge City Council delivered at least week's council meeting recommended that the research be allowed to continue under certain safeguards.
If you're curious about science but don't enjoy heavy political ramifications, or if you always wanted to be a pilot when you were little, a discussion of how airplanes fly at the Museum of Science this Friday at 7:30 may fit the bill. The discussion is the first in a series that the Air Line Pilots Association will present at no charge above regular museum admission. If you haven't been to this museum yet, you ought to. There are enough gadgets to twirl and buttons to push to make you feel as though you are discovering most of modern physics yourself.
On the subject of science for the curious layman, Professor Klaus Biemann, director of the Viking Molecular Analysis Team will discuss life on Mars and other characteristics of the red planet, this Thursday at 8 p.m. in room 6-120 at MIT.
The Role of Jews in the American Revolution will be analyzed by Richard Morris, Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia, at 8 p.m. in B.U.'s Sherman Conference Auditorium, at 775 Commonwealth Ave. Morris will also discuss the Jewish experience in America and Jewish contributions to U.S. society.
The Center for Marxist Education will sponsor a discussion on "The World in 1977" by Dr. James Jackson. The lecture will be held this Sunday at 8 p.m. at 550 Mass. Ave. in Cambridge.
With a somewhat different view of the world in 1977, Paul H. Boeker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, will expound on "International Investment and Foreign Policy," on Monday, Jan. 17 at 4 p.m. The Center for International Affairs will sponsor this talk, which will take place in Room 1 of the CFIA building out on 6 Divinity Ave.
In sum, January does not rank high among Boston's most tantalizing intellectual months. There are no names coming who are renowned enough to drag the Spartacus Youth League (or anyone else, for that matter) out of their hibernation to march and shout. But if a craving for listening to others talk comes over you this lecture-scarce reading period, try out one of the above.