The state of college discussion
March 23, 2002 9:51 AM   Subscribe

The state of college discussion has been on the down-turn. I thought it might just be at my small college in the Midwest where people don't really have much to say. Everyone's liberal, everyone believes in equality, everyone believes that the government should help the poor (and I do too), but no one seems to be able to argue these points or give any reasoning for their own beliefs. Here at MeFi we engage in debate on many subject matters, but recently debate has gotten a bad name. This generation, for the most part, seems not to want to engage in it because it is somehow seen as pointless or destructive. I say bring it on... what is the college experience if not a contentious, interesting one? What would our parents think of us?
posted by Hammerikaner (24 comments total)
Sorry, forgot to mention that this is a NYT article and requires a login-password.
posted by Hammerikaner at 9:52 AM on March 23, 2002

Boy. There was a hard article to write. Cut and paste, rework, repeat. Why did the author not look for actual students to interview or survey? Was there any evidence backing any of the hypotheses there, besides what the author read in recent books and one Atlantic article? No. That's about as lazy a piece as the Cornell Review/women-as-whores one discussed here earlier in the week. Sheesh. It's not that I object to the hypotheses right off, but that they aren't examined much - which is ironic, in an article arguing that students don't examine their views much.
posted by raysmj at 10:20 AM on March 23, 2002

"...and by the Internet, which instead of leading to a global village, has created a multitude of self-contained tribes — niche cultures in which like-minded people can talk to like-minded people and filter out information that might undermine their views."

i just liked that quote

anyway, i don't really know about that, i jusy graduated from UT and there were lots of people on campus with different views. i do think that people have realized there are whole areas that shouldn't be argued though, religion, sexual orientation, race etc. but there are other things that people are active about anti-corporation, civil liberties etc. i think we're just less inclined to argue about things we don't know much about or that don't really matter. i'd like to see some of the specific topics that the writers think people used to argue about that we're not doing now, the writer didn't really go into that much.

that's just my opnion though, feel free to disagree :)
posted by rhyax at 10:29 AM on March 23, 2002

argument is useless when nobody has anything to gain but that which they aren't going to let lose anyway.

And even if you win, you're still retarded (as the special olympics competition joke says)
posted by Settle at 10:33 AM on March 23, 2002

Man, Settle, that joke is funny! Even if you win, you're still retarded! I just can't get enough of those retarded jokes!
posted by pardonyou? at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2002

Hmph. Didn't read the article (I refuse to give my info to the NYT), but I can figure out what it says... there was recently a similar sounding article in my campus newspaper, entitled, "Where have all of the activists gone?"

From my POV, I'm not pissed enough about anything to march on my capital right now. I'm very concerned with my own life and the way that I do things, and I'm concerned about thing that affect my life, like the CBDTPA... and I let my government know how I feel by voting and writing letters to my congressmen. I send them Certified/ReturnReceipt, which seems to get them past the Intern Letter-Filtration Unit, and I occasionally get a non-form reply.

I guess I don't see the need to make a big, dramatic protest. One of my friends -is- an activist, and -does- organize marches through downtown portland for various causes. It doesn't seem to change anything, though.

A guy I knew in community college (We'll call him Jim, here, because he's got a rather unique name and someone might know him) used to be a full-on studded-leather punk jackboot-wearing activist. If there was a protest, he was at the forefront of it. WTO, the homeless marches here in downtown, animal cruelty protests, you name it.
I ran into him a month ago, and didn't recognize him. He had his hair slicked back and he was wearing slacks, a nice shirt, tie, and *gasp* suspenders. Turns out he was heckling the Mayor once, and the mayor's PR dude pulled him aside and had a chat with him... and ended up hiring him for an entry level position. So far, he says that he's managed to influence more people and create more change by working at a job and making money then by living in homeless shelters and marching with signs. He also feels better about what he's doing, because he's not trying to destroy the status-quo anymore, he's just trying to massage the system into giving the output that he thinks is best for society. I still remember him saying, "Some I win, some I lose, but I -never- won with what I was doing before."

Public opinion doesn't seem to be susceptible to revolutionary change anymore. Common citizens seem to be so bombarded with information that they simply shut out anything that they don't want to listen to. That's why I beleive that protests don't seem to do anything. The only thing you're doing is blocking some mid-level manager's commute home, which is -not- likely to influence him towards your issues. More and more people from my generation who are politically savvy are volunteering their time towards building things and working hard with or from inside different organizations to build towards a better world.

So where/what do we need to protest about, if we can do better by working from the inside?
posted by SpecialK at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2002

i do think that people have realized there are whole areas that shouldn't be argued though, religion, sexual orientation, race etc.

And why shouldn't they? In fact, if something doesn't involve religion, sexual orientation, or race I don't think its worth arguing!
posted by Keen at 11:39 AM on March 23, 2002

A Michiko Kakutani article; quelle surprise.

I can't prove it, but I think the entire article is unadulterated BS. It's only been ten years since I was an undergrad, and we had continuous "noisy dorm and dining room debates." Admittedly, we debated and argued for the sake of debate and fun, not in some attempt to Help Change the World (was that ever really the case, even in the late '60s?), but I'm having major trouble believing that in just a single decade, the entire college Zeitgeist has deteriorated to the point where all the students just sit around either talking about the latest Buffy episode and/or organizing canned food drives 24/7, while any discussion of actual issues has become something to be feared.

(Disclaimer: I went to NYU; we're all nuts anyway.)
posted by aaron at 12:08 PM on March 23, 2002

message to poor....get a job.
posted by billybob at 12:18 PM on March 23, 2002

message to poor....strong of heart....strong of spirit....get out of the way before I beat you down with my ***s
posted by Settle at 12:38 PM on March 23, 2002

My kid is home for spring break. I had him read the articule and give me his opinion. He agreed with it for the most part. He said most of the debate he has is after class and in the drom. And he says they are not really debates, more of a round-robin discussion on nothing really deep.
posted by bjgeiger at 1:21 PM on March 23, 2002

was that ever really the case, even in the late '60s? (to Help Change the World)...actually yes, that was the idea with a huge semi-amalgamated bunch of people. Of course it didn't turn out that way, but things usually don't turn out as imagined.
posted by Mack Twain at 2:30 PM on March 23, 2002

Most of our parents, just like most of future generations, were trying to screw anything that moves in college and study as little as possible.

College. It's a lot like high school!

bjgeiger, I'd respect you a lot more if you could spell. Are you drunk?
posted by mark13 at 2:47 PM on March 23, 2002

Well, mark13, if so, she'll be sober in the morning, and you'll be an asshole for the rest of your life.
posted by rodii at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2002

Boy, what an incredibly stupid article. What do professors expect -- do they want their students to repeat the same blunders of partisanship and ideological over-indulgence that have already been committed in the past? The article itself reeks of a pretty silly relativism; it basically suggests that we should be arguing in ways that we know are unproductive, because argument is in itself good, a point-of-view that doesn't seem to me very different from one saying that we should all 'affirm our own histories, because writing history is in itself good.' -- Why is argument good when it gets you nowhere? Isn't it just ironic and disingenuous to argue for argument's sake?

As a student now in an English department I can honestly say that it is simply harder for college students to argue with complete commitment about 'big issues' these days. It's not a choice we're making -- it's just a fact. Professors, esp. in the humanities, have failed to find a way out of the box of insincerity they've built over the last two decades. If they were to address these issues with students directly they might find out that students are aware of the problem and just as eager to fix it as they ought to be.

I guess I'm just pissed off to see yet another article in which professors bemoan the lack of student discussion. There's a weird passivity to it. Talk to students, not to the NYT.
posted by josh at 4:31 PM on March 23, 2002

First of all, there has never really been any interesting or relevant ideas come out of college students. College students are generally quite ignorant of the world, and are not original thinkers at all, by and large.

They are too young to have original ideas.

The Sixties radicalism was fostered by older people, and the younger people just imitated acts of older people whom they thought were cool.

As far as true debate on MeFi goes , best stay away from it, unless you want to be banned from MeFi.

An interesting observation from you regarding the marginalization of political debate. Since you are of college age, I will assume you read about the phenomenon elsewhere (e.g., Neal Gabler's essay). Yes, clearly political debate and strong political opinions are now slightly verboten in the USA, with the result being that monied interests better much have their way with our country.

The interesting question is what were/are the factors in the death of true political debate in the USA. I suspect that technology (eg., food/agri sciences, sanitation practices, etc) have so enriched our lives by practically eliminating hunger here in the USA, and lengthening our lifespans,
that we are no longer angry enough for political debate.

PLus we are socialized by TV, and sitcom characters are bred for specialized marketing purposes--political debate is an object of derision there, and so also it is now here in real life USA....
posted by username at 6:01 PM on March 23, 2002

As far as true debate on MeFi goes , best stay away from it, unless you want to be banned from MeFi.

Show me.
posted by rodii at 8:17 PM on March 23, 2002

username...I think you're underestimating college students ability to argue an issue coherently. I would argue that on many issues, they are the *best* able to argue an issue. For one, they are studying the subject all day while their parents have long ago forgotten what Whitman had to say about patriotism and don't care about what Postrel has to say concerning dynamicism.

And as for being "socialized", I think this concept is somewhat irrelevant to today's youth. We're smart enough to know that there's not an "us" to whom everyone claims to belong and a "masses" to whom everyone else belongs, in the same way that there is no such thing as an "upper class" and a "lower class" when you have 60% income bracket mobility over 10-year periods.

As for the article itself, here's my take on it as a member of the "non-debating class": We're satisfied with "agreeing to disagree" because *no one has ever changed their mind on a subject they feel strongly about because of a debate*. No one has ever been discussing God or affirmative action or any such hot-button issue and said "Wow, I guess you're right, sorry for my ignorance." We all want to know the arguments of the other side, but any change in one's opinion will not be immediate. In addition, I think we're capable of thinking more objectively. I just finished research into Supreme Court history concerning expansion of copyright law by Congress and its constitutionality, and my thesis ended up being that there's no precedent suggesting that the Court would restrict something like the DMCA on constitutional grounds. I highly dislike the DMCA as a legal concept, but I'm objective enough to separate this from my paper. Many comments from teachers today seem to be, as they were on this paper, that "there should be less reporting and more taking of a stand" which is simply not as common in our generation. We report facts and do our own analysis.

As for me personally, I believe that there is a truth or a better option in nearly all situations. The rub is that I don't think anyone can know 100% what that truth or better option is, so I don't pretend in a debate that I do.

Finally, concerning a dearth of activism, most activists now simply want to be activists for the sake of being an activist. We don't have any issues of the magnitude of Vietnam or Civil Rights that deserve debate.

Hope this sheds a little light.
posted by Kevs at 8:22 PM on March 23, 2002

I thought one of the more interesting points of the article was the way it highlighted the wealth of new opinions available to this (my) generation:

They live in a world that's very diverse, but it's a diversity that's more parallel than cross-stitched.

Seems like most 'boomers grew up having basically one in-depth point of view that they were familiar with; the one formed by their parents, their community, etc. On the other hand, my generation has had almost non-stop access to any numebr of opinions ever since we've been old enough to care.

Just as Kevs points out, we aren't "socialized" in the same way previous generations have been. Anyone think it jsut takes some time for new battle lines, so to speak, to be drawn?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 9:03 PM on March 23, 2002

Are we all so set in our ways that debating is useless?

Didn't you ever hear yourself out loud and wonder what the hell you are actually saying?

Arguing, even if just for the sake of arguing, gets you to at least think a little bit about what you are saying.

THINK people, think.
posted by szg8 at 9:50 PM on March 23, 2002

Some idealist wrote:
"As far as true debate on MeFi goes , best stay away from it, unless you want to be banned from MeFi."

Just do a site search on MeFi from google using words such as "banned", etc.
posted by username at 2:52 AM on March 24, 2002

This article's pretty lame -- it's nothing but a bunch of assertions with nothing to back them up. And the "millenial" generation? Does that mean we bring about the apocalypse? We bear the mark of the beast? Even given the alternate meaning connected with the year 2000, that term is far too derisive to allow anyone using it to be taken seriously. Besides, how do they think that debates on shows like Crossfire that took place when members of the generation in question were around 10 years old shape us?
posted by dagnyscott at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2002

"Millenial" is a derisive word? Since when? I thought it just meant that y'all came of age around the turn of the millenium. Sheesh.
posted by beth at 6:35 PM on March 24, 2002

No one has ever been discussing God or affirmative action or any such hot-button issue and said "Wow, I guess you're right, sorry for my ignorance."

Odds are pretty low that you're going to be able to argue for or against the existence of God and win anyone over to your side who wasn't already there, sure. But the act of debate is likely to ground you more solidly in your own beliefs.

And I have been in discussions with people who have changed their minds about affirmative action. If debate consists of "I think affirmative action is a good idea because it makes up for centuries of discrimination" vs "I think affirmative action is a bad idea because it's just a form of reverse discrimination" then sure, you're not going to get anywhere. But when two intelligent with different backgrounds and different bodies of knowledge come together to critically discuss and debate issues it's another story. How do minority beneficiaries of affirmative action fare compared to minorities in similar programs that do not have affirmative action? How do they fare compared to people who do not directly benefit from affirmative action? Do other people benefit from the diversity that programs such as affirmative action bring about? etc, etc.

This is a strategy I have found useful in many debates: bring statistics, studies, facts into the argument. Who knows, you may just find a few folks coming along with the, "Wow, I guess you're right, sorry for my ignorance" plea after all.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:13 PM on March 25, 2002

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