While many Temple University students spend their Friday afternoons getting ready for the weekend, some have been putting together what has become a popular forum for discussion of pressing national issues.
Students in Professor Ralph Young’s “Dissent in America” class, inspired by heated classroom debates about President George W. Bush and United States foreign policy, have held 11 teach-ins on Friday afternoons throughout the fall semester to discuss these issues.
Young proposed the idea of conducting weekly teach-ins to the students, something he has done in previous classes, after noting that many students were staying over an hour after class to carry on their discussions.
The Honors’ history class embraced the idea and decided to open the teach-ins to others.
Student Stefanie Woolridge designed several fliers to encourage faculty and students to attend the teach-ins.
“These forums are the best medium we have to educate,” said Woolridge.
“People who come want to hear and want to learn more. The academic approach is powerful because it provides historical perspective to help enact change.”
Students voluntarily plan the teach-ins by deciding what topics should be covered and doing independent research.
“I’ve been told by some of my students that they spend more time researching for the teach-ins than they do for their classes,” said Young.
Topics discussed at past teach-ins include national security, civil liberties, U.S. foreign policy, protest, dissent, the historical background and present implications of terrorism and Afghanistan.
Teach-ins have also stressed the importance of “blowback” in motivating foreign terrorism.
Blowback is a term coined by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to describe unexpected consequences of CIA actions.
Another teach-in focused on the operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The school, formerly known as the School of the Americas, trains Latin American military leaders in recruitment techniques as well as counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism tactics.
Some activists claim that these are the tactics of oppression; many graduates of the institute have been accused of participating in operations against dissident civilians.
Participants in the teach-ins have also researched the viewpoints of different government officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and presented them as a way to help others understand the motivations of the Bush administration.
“The students are just as important, if not more important, than I am in implementing the teach-ins,” Young said.
“They come up with their own ideas and do their own research.”
Interest in the teach-ins grew as the semester advanced. According to Young, 10 people who were not enrolled in the class attended the first forum.
However, at a recent teach-in, nearly 50 extra people showed up to participate in the discussion, and the teach-in spilled over to the history lounge.
“I hope that people become interested in finding out that the things they do have an impact on the world,” Young said.
“We don’t want to convert anyone, but we do want to talk out issues and hopefully make people enthusiastic enough to read things and find out on their own.”
Young’s students have become so dedicated to the teach-ins that they have decided to continue holding them next semester, starting on Jan. 24.
Young, the history department and the history honors society, Phi Alpha Theta, will be sponsoring the events.
Students in Young’s class see the teach-ins as instrumental to presenting people with factual information to make informed decisions about politics and society.
“The teach-ins are a really great forum for open discussion to get people thinking, and they’re not just a forum on Iraq,” said student Adam Squire.
“Rather, they help illuminate the world social system, its various inequities, and how they are interconnected.”
“It’s really important to educate people about what’s going on…by sharing information, we can plant the seed for change,” said another student, Courtney Mendillo.
Jessica White can be reached at SSparkleJ1@aol.com