After receiving (or perhaps more aptly, earning) a rather unflattering 4,5 out of 7 on my first paper for Gabriel Salazar (my 20th century Chilean history professor) I went to go talk to the big man himself about what my mistakes had been. To preface all this, let’s just say I was really nervous about talking to the contemporary Chilean history expert. But he was incredibly sympathetic and willing to talk about the problems with the paper.
The main problem was a the simplicity of the piece, which he kindly attributed to the language barrier (and my supposed inability to express my complex thoughts) rather than to stupidity or inside-the-box thinking on my part. He counseled me to worry less about reading all the sources and to focus more on analysis and developing my own ideas about the texts I’ve read.
I didn’t hit me until about fifteen minutes later on the bus ride home that I realized that he was basically telling me the same thing my fantastic AP United States History teacher, Mr. Robinson, told me every month in my book reports (for sophomore year at least…I would like to think I had figured it out by junior year): stop hiding behind the authors and write what you think.
By the time I graduated high school, I was writing somewhat original pieces and at least attempting to think outside of the box. But, sorry to say, when I arrived at college my creativity wasn’t always received as well and I, like most undergrads, was crushed under the weight of an educational system that insists on clearly(and distinctly) defining the roles of professor and student as “entity that generates knowledge” and “receptacle for said knowledge”. Much as I complained and railed against the system, I unwittingly conformed and started playing by the rules. Which begs the same question that I posed to myself in the last post, perhaps this time with a slightly darker perspective: would I really be willing to fight for an ideal if my life were on the line or would I fold under the pressure?
The beauty of this history class is that Salazar is granting me the opportunity to reclaim my lost intellectual freedom and to relearn how to stand on my own two ideological feet and challenge what the “experts” say (and more importantly, to develop my own theories about the material I’m being presented with). In short, to unlearn what’s been drilled into me for the past two years. Here’s to hoping I don’t blow it.