When Ted Morgan walked into his “Movements and Lessons of the ‘60s” class in mid-April, he encountered a roomful of rebellious students who decided to take the essence of his teachings to heart.
“One of them said, ‘Professor Morgan, I don’t think you need to hand those test papers out,’ and I knew instantly what was going on since it’s happened twice over the past 20 years,” says Morgan, a political science professor and author of several books on the political movements of the mid-20th century.
What the class decided was to forego the test since they felt that merely regurgitating lessons they’ve absorbed—back to the person who taught them—didn’t do anything to advance their insights or share them with the general population, recalls Jenna Lopano, a graduate student in Morgan’s class.
“We were all prepared to take the test,” she says. “This definitely wasn’t anything that we’d decided in advance. We just didn’t see any way that this would prove what we’ve learned. We wanted to take those lessons outside the classroom and do something more meaningful and appropriate.”
Adds Dani Brody ’06, an English and political science double major: “Everything Professor Morgan taught us in his class about collective action and empowerment contradicted the notion of just sitting down and writing in a blue book. Why confine it to the classroom? Isn’t it better to do something to spread this information and contribute to a broader movement?”
Morgan heard them out, and negotiated a compromise: The students who refused to take the test would get a zero, but each one could compensate for the zero by writing a thorough evaluation of the collective decision and action as it applied to the classroom material on the 1960s movements, and by organizing, reporting on, and evaluating a collective action on campus designed to amplify those lessons.
“I could see the fear in their faces when I told them about the zero, and there were some sidelong glances,” Morgan says. “In the end, a few students decided to take the test, and the remainder opted for a demonstration and teach-in.”
Student demonstration time
The demonstration and march by the Students of the New Resistance took place at noon on April 29, as more than 20 students were joined by members of the Progressive Student Alliance and the College Democrats to protest the war in Iraq, draw parallels to the Vietnam War, and honor those college-aged men and women who died in the current war.
Carrying signs with slogans such as “Would you die for Bush?” and “No American lives for oil,” the students congregated by the flagpole in front of the University Center, then marched in a five-block area around campus. When they returned, they read off the names of the war dead, and were confronted by a small group of representatives of the College Republicans.
Kevin Frost ’06, vice president of the College Republicans, said he came to watch the protest and to challenge some of the statements made.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation,” he said. “For one, I think this whole comparison to Vietnam is getting really tiresome. There is no comparison between the two.”
Fellow College Republican Jeff Shaw ’07 took offense to the group’s characterization of the war in Iraq as unjust.
“It is a just war, and a good war,” Shaw said. “I don’t argue with their right to express their opinion, just with their premise.”
In one respect, Shaw shared common ground with Morgan, who stood nearby, observing his students as they chanted, demonstrated, and debated with their fellow students.
“I welcome the dialogue,” Morgan said. “In general, I think we’re way too factionalized on campus and in society at large. We don’t often talk to people we disagree with. You can’t have a democracy if people don’t talk to each other.”
Later that afternoon, more than 100 students jammed into Neville Auditorium as ‘60s protest music blared through speakers and images from both the Vietnam and Iraq wars flashed on a large screen.
The event represented the final component of the class assignment, which was to share with the university community the lessons they drew from their lectures and course material.
The teach-in featured comments by students, as well as brief lectures given by Ziad Munson, assistant professor of sociology; Raymond Wylie, professor of international relations; and Faramarz Farbod, a Moravian College professor who also teaches a course at Lehigh on the politics of dissent.
The well-attended forum illustrated that “education is not simply about analyzing the past, but looking at our present world and, even more importantly, the future,” according to the organizers.
“We’ve received true education, but what good is it if it remains safely within the closed-off walls of Maginnes?” Brody says. “College students at Lehigh and around the country need to be aware of the power they hold. The way in which we choose to use or misuse our education does have a significant impact on the world. We do have a choice.”
Posted on Wednesday, May 05, 2004