I have a real problem with people being treated as not mature enough, not smart enough, or not capable enough based on their age. It’s like ageism, focused on the young. There can be a lot of bias against young people across society structures. Universities are an example of this. They are centers of youth talent and individuality, and indeed the university experience outside of the classroom (the side handled by youth themselves, rather than older people) is often very vibrant, positive and tremendously influential on the lives of students. The academic side, however, remains in part very negative towards the young. We are told that we are not yet capable of formulating our own opinions, and that any we have are unfounded and not valuable. The academic university experience is supposed to mold the young student into someone who has eschewed their irrational, impulse based opinions and begun thinking on a higher level, one that is ‘critical’ in nature and separate from personal views and experiences. It is unfortunately based on the views and works of a certain, opposite demographic – scholars and professors who are often old, white and sometimes dead.
This isn’t the same everywhere. In fact, I’m very lucky to be a student at Glendon, because I’ve got the benefit of class sizes under thirty and lectures still no bigger than one hundred people. In all but one of my five classes my professors have treated me as an adult, with the right to my own opinion. The problem is the other course that happens to be the one with the most students. I’m currently writing an essay for a professor who insists that opinions are not something we should have at this point, because as undergraduate students we are incapable of formulating truly educated and valuable opinions. Arguments are all that matter; arguments made by people who have far more experience than we do, most who are much older than us, and of course much more mature and developed. Our goal in writing this essay should not be to make a point, but rather to describe the approach of other, far better and more credible people than us.
I understand where this is coming from. With more students in most universities, the last thing professors want to do is have to individually judge the quality of each student’s arguments. The problem is, standardized tests, essays that disregard the opinion of the individual, and a focus away from the student and towards old dead guys is killing the university experience. While some would argue the reasons for young people to attend university are all wrong (and yes, university should be chosen for reasons other than a better pay) the fact remains that few of those who enter university actually have a chance to develop their own opinion or practice creating and defending their own arguments because they are too busy trying to learn and write about the arguments of others. Individual opinions are stifled rather than encouraged, individual thought and argument is less important than general knowledge of other people’s thoughts and opinions.
This goes against everything I have come to value, against what I believed education to be. I believe opinions and the refining and protection of them is the core goal of education. Every individual you meet has their own opinions, and to refuse their value would counteract the very idea of individuality and autonomy within our democratic society. My professor would argue that opinions ought to be cut out of any academic paper, but I would argue that without opinions any paper you write will be without passion – a cold-hearted view on any given issue. To me, an essay is an argument supporting your opinion on any given subject, made through the use of logical sources. Opinion is the driving force, backed up by facts and examples from things like news sources, government documents, or scholars. The logical should combine with opinion to give it authority and validity, rather than replace it. There are good and bad arguments, yes; some will use better logic to back up the opinion, but the opinion at the heart of every essay is still unique and valuable.
I can’t speak for every professor or every institution. In fact, every other class and professor I have at Glendon is respectful of everyone’s opinions, and the other essays I’ve been required to write have been anything but what this one professor wants. At Glendon there’s a genuine consideration of each student’s opinions and arguments. Having this one teacher has made me so glad that I chose to stay away from bigger universities where I fear this approach is far more common. It’s hard to want to participate in class if, when you offer an answer, it is shot down for being a ‘dinner table opinion’ and obviously not worth discussion because you forgot to mention someone like Marx or another dead philosopher.
Scholars and books were never written to promote blind acceptance and regurgitation of their arguments, but rather to challenge the individual reading them to develop and refine their own arguments.
Undergraduate students should be encouraged to think for themselves, to have their opinions, and should be given the chance to argue for and support their own views rather than emulate the views of those who have long since preceded them. If students are allowed to think for themselves, write essays with their opinion at the heart and based on their own arguments, the overall quality of the academic university experience would increase. A student ought to be treated like a logical human being in their own right, rather than a carrying case for a mind that is not yet ready to think on its own. Lord knows there are enough problems facing the world today that require creative solutions – rather than regurgitating the decades and centuries old ideas of others, its high time universities encourage their faculty to challenge students to think and argue for themselves.
Obviously, if you find this post too opinionated, please feel free to disregard it for being completely worthless.