The American Revolution was, on a grand scale, supported from within the halls of the American universities in the 1760's and '70's. University students (then much younger than they might be now) showed great patriotism in the form of wearing home-spun clothing instead of the imported British cloth, holding debates on various heightened political topics of the time, and one particular class (I believe it was at Yale University), even ostracized the lone Tory amongst them, affectively running him out of the school (though I am not encouraging this as a method to be used to get your point across). Many graduates would also go on to enlist in the militias and/or what became the United States Army, including two of my personal favorites: Nathan Hale and Benjamin Tallmadge.
Students were well known for their strong opinions at the time, and in that fashion not much has changed. Universities are still a place where feelings are expressed, points of view stated, and every side is convinced, without a doubt, that they are right. Groups gather with home-made signs and shout chants that are spun from the issues at hand. They want their voices heard, and they should. That, within itself, is not the topic of my thoughts today, but rather the disturbing lack of knowledge and education on the subjects for which they speak and protest that seems to run through these gatherings and across campuses in our country today. Where once students were encouraged to debate thoughts on the events that unfolded around them, many are now spoon fed the personal opinions of professors under the guise of academic freedom.
One of my favorite past times is people-watching, and a university is one of the best places to take part in it. For the most part, students come from all walks of life, often from many different countries, cultural backgrounds, and religions. They are "finding themselves" at that point of life and trying to find out exactly what they believe about the world around them. Some are already grounded, but many are malleable and whimsical in their belief system, ready to take anything as fact that is put before them, even if common sense proves otherwise.
I will admit, while I entered my university years with strong beliefs I went through that phase that we all do during that point. Being an artist and a writer I was surrounded by those that thought very differently than I did and I became intimidated by it. As time wore off the intimidation decreased. I won't say that I entirely learned to pick my battles appropriately, but I did learn to watch and study more than just the books put in front of me. There is no doubt: a student population is a fascinating study. Not only are they fascinating, but often a bit unnerving.
One summer I spent with my parents back home. While I was there, I took a temporary job at a retail store in order to put back a bit of money. There was a girl there, not out of high school yet and attended what was/is a good school in the area. The topic of Ben Franklin came up and I will never forget the look she gave me as she shrugged and told me that she really didn't know much about history. Fast forward to the next summer. I was taking classes and a girl walked into the room wearing a t-shirt with Kim Jong-il's face on it (this was before his death) and below his face it read 'diva' in large letters. I was just putting my bag down and opening my computer to make myself ready for the class when she entered and I couldn't stop myself from asking if she even knew who that was. I suppose at least she knew he was from North Korea, but it didn't seem to phase her in the slightest that he was a dictator and a notorious abuser of human rights. I suppose it shocked me just a little less when a few minutes later as the professor was speaking about America's evils that she was amongst the group of students with a vacant look in her eyes simply nodding in response.
These two girls are just examples of a growing problem in the country. Our young people are either entirely oblivious to the social and political state of our world or they never question anything that they are told about it. Communists and Marxists such as Kim Jong-il and Che Guevara have become pop stars to them, faces not to remember so that horrors won't be repeated, but to be made into a trendy t-shirt. Some of the loudest voices I heard screaming on campus made no sense, and if you asked them to explain to you what they meant, many times they could not. I fear it's because they really didn't know themselves. Professor so-and-so said this and Dr. such-and-such said that, but they never put the words to the test. If they get the news at all, it may be from a passing glance at one source, taking little time to compare stories or think on the views of the people reporting on them.
I had the privilege of speaking briefly on a radio talk show in the height of the town hall meetings in 2009. I was in my final year at university and had spoken to our congressman at our local town hall. Afterword the host approached me and I spoke with him that next Monday. One of the questions that he asked at the time was if students at my university (or students in general) thought much about the subjects at hand. The specific question was directed towards health care, but it really could be broadened to "Do young adults care about the social and political issues at hand?"
I answered this in two parts. The first was to note that often when people on campus found that I was politically aware and active, they automatically assumed that I was an Obama supporter and a liberal and/or progressive and/or left-leaning individual. I was often insulted by it, but it did bring about the general understanding that many of those that were vocal - not always informed, as noted earlier in the example of the girl wearing a man's face on a t-shirt that she really had no understanding of, but vocal - in the academic arena were much more left leaning. Young, impressionable, they were just the next wave of people that put little thought into their theories and to whom facts were easily moved about for their own meanings.
The second part was to say that my generation (the Baby Boomer's kids) are, by great numbers, very lazy (which is funny, as we live in a technology driven world that should provide countless opportunities for self education and very little excuse beyond a particular brand of apathy to allow oneself to be unaware of what is happening around them). If it feels good to them, if it sounds nice or pretty they are all in. They don't put thought into it, they react. I commented at the time that students had a bad habit of getting so caught up in school, tests, and papers that they would push off their responsibility to focus on the nation as well, thinking that when they graduated that they would have more time.
I finished my undergraduate program two years ago. Between work, writing, and some semblance of a social life I find that there is still little time if I do not make it. I will continue to stand by the words that I said that morning on air: When you wake up and you graduate (or you get to that place in your job that you can take a breath), and you realize that your liberties have been stripped while you were in school (or working), then what good is that?
The problem is that they don't pay attention enough to know it. It's the boiling frog issue. Cliche, yes, but true nevertheless. Decades of propaganda (cloaked under the title of academic freedom so that anything can be said) have filtered in since birth and I'm not sure many of them realize that they do not think for themselves.
All in all we live in a very different world than the one that produced the Nathan Hales and the Benjamin Tallmadges of the late 18th century. You see people gather to yell and to protest, but most of my generation have no clue of the rich history of protest that our country developed from. All they know is that they want something and they'll get it in any way that they can, even if it is at the expense of someone else. A man or woman that thinks like that is easily controlled. We've seen this throughout history, but they would never know it. They never care to.