In March of 1965, the Students for a Democratic Society at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor held the first teach-in. About 3500 people attended lectures, movies, debates, and even musical events aimed at protesting the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Day Committee at UC Berkeley followed suit in May 1965, organizing the largest teach-in to protest the Vietnam War. According to The Free Dictionary, a teach-in is “an extended session, as on a college or university campus, for lectures and discussions on an important, usually controversial issue.” During the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, teach-ins appealed to college students and professors as an educational means to engage their own campuses.
The ’60s were turbulent times, when multiple cultural revolutions and protests were compelling people across the country to take action. Today, we are experiencing two drawn-out wars, a recession-turned-economic slump, international friction, and a global warming crisis–need I mention corruption and corporate greed? However, while 60s style influences remain visible in today’s fashion world and students on campuses follow the time-honored pursuit of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, teach-ins don’t seem to have come back into style in the same way. Environmental activists held the first National Teach-In in 2009 to raise awareness about climate change, but that’s about it for nation-wide teach-in protests.
Occupy Wall Street-inspired movements are springing up in numerous cities now, but what’s missing from all these movements, besides a rock-solid agenda, is the opportunity for education and dialogue. One of the founders of the Vietnam Day Committee, Stephen Smale, is still alive and teaching. Cornell West, another outspoken activist, continues to speak eloquently on controversial activities and to teach. There are plenty of professors in universities across the country who participated in protest movements. Isn’t their activist experience just as educational for students as their academic expertise? Seeing as snippy reporters keep pointing out that some protesters aren’t knowledgeable about the issues they claim to protest, why aren’t we holding teach-ins on Wall Street?
Teachers and students across the country need to start organizing teach-ins to protest current affairs in a synchronized fashion that forces national media and decision-makers to pay attention. Specific movements like the immigrant rights movement and Occupy Wall Street should exploit this tried-and-true method. Occupy Wall Street is an activist movement, but what it and other current movements need to take them to the next level is an educational component.
Today’s problems present a great opportunity for Wesleyan in particular to influence history, not only as a magnet for activism but as a forward-thinking educational institution. Our professors encourage us on a daily basis to engage in dialogue about what we learn and to challenge our own perceptions as well as those of others. Several professors themselves who use their skills to advocate for change.
Students at Wesleyan need hardly be reminded of our campus’s proud role in protest movements; that tradition continues to this day. To protest the war in Afghanistan, Wesleyan students walked out of classes and attended a teach-in on Oct. 8, 2001. Last February, when the owner of Javapalooza yelled anti-gay slurs at a student who brought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee into his establishment, other students participated in a teach-in organized by the Queer Liberation Front.
Where’s this semester’s teach-in? I for one would love to see a student – and teacher – led educational event that doesn’t rely on an outside organization to spearhead the effort. I can think of several professors who would jump on board, and we certainly have enough passionate students. We also have plenty to protest.
Historic teach-ins incorporated music and movies as well as lectures and discussions; we have an amazing array of talent in both areas. And who says Long Lane Farm can’t become the next Woodstock? In all seriousness, though, the times call for a teach-in, and we have access to people who can give us students a useful perspective on activism and the events that are now shaping our future.