This “back to school” season got me to thinking about my own formal education, and the teachers and professors I’ve known who have or have not used their positions of academic influence to challenge the status quo, especially the economic status quo.
The current issue of Boston Review features Noam Chomsky’s essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux,” which is updated from his original 1967 treatise. “As the Vietnam War escalated,” notes Boston Review, “Noam Chomsky penned … a stunning rebuke to scientists and scholars for the subservience to political power. Today we face a similar array of crises, from wars to escalating debt. What are the obligations of intellectuals in this day and age?” Which is a mighty fine question.
“Intellectuals are typically privileged,” Chomsky writes in this month’s essay, subtitled “Using Privilege to Challenge the State.” “Privilege yields opportunity, and opportunity confers responsibilities.” How many academics rise to that challenge?
Several years ago, as an intern with Resource Generation (RG) (an organization that challenges and supports young people with financial wealth to leverage their resources and privilege for social change), I had the opportunity to present a workshop on the negligible percent of charitable giving that is directed at social change. We made our way to the campus of Tufts University, where we were greeted as that day’s guest speakers by sociology professor Susan Ostrander, who taught a “Wealth, Poverty and Inequality” course.
I recall being amazed that such a class even existed, and that such a discussion was happening. Who is this professor, I wondered?
Today, Professor Susan Ostrander is the head of the Sociology Department at Tufts University. She was kind enough to send me copies of the syllabuses from two of her current classes. They show that she continues to challenge, not just her students, but this society’s economic system as well.
On the first day of her “Wealth, Poverty, and Inequality” course, she asks the students, “Why are you in this course, and where are you in the class structure?” In the overview for her “Making Social Change Happen: Grassroots Activism and Community Organizing” course, she reflects, “People with access to privilege and power (like many of us at Tufts) can be important allies (as well as resource people) to this kind of social change!”
It is heartening to hear that Professor Susan Ostrander is continuing to challenge the status quo of the state. But Professor Ostrander is, unfortunately, one of few examples in academia that I can personally think of, though I know there are many more, who, as Chomsky urges, use their privilege to challenge the state.
I wonder what educational experiences other Classism Exposed readers have had? Did your teachers support the status quo or challenge it?