May 06, 2003

Tunnels, Oppression and Programming, Oh

Tunnels, Oppression and Programming, Oh MY!

Erin O'Connor posts a letter today from a student organizer of a "tunnel of oppression"--a travelling exhibit that attempts to educate people about the horrors of oppression through photos and graphics and multimedia hoo-ha. The letter was earnest, and asked for comments on how to better the program. In truth, the best way to do that would be to eliminate it utterly, as several commenters on Erin's site point out, with varying degrees of civility. But that is neither here nor there. To me, the most remarkable thing about the entire communication is this section:

I have helped in the organization and facilitation of the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire version of the Tunnel of Oppression for three years. I agree that it is probably a very unintelligent and mindless method of educating the general student population. However, life in Eau Claire consists of a mostly white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, suburban, upper to middle-class society. Most of the students that attend the University come from backgrounds that follow this same societal structure/pattern.

The Tunnel is aimed at the students that don't realize that life elsewhere is any different from the Suburbia that they grew up in. Ignorance is dangerous. The goal of any baccalaureate is the irradication of the ignorance that they still harbor, though in most cases the targeted ignorance is solely "book knowledge."

Look at the assumptions here. As one commenter on Erin's site pointed out, participants in the tunnel of oppression may tend to display apathy toward it precisely because of the organizer's attitudes, and wonder where they (the presenters) got their "special", enlightened point of view. I don't know this student, or his/her course of study or background, but s/he has certainly internalized the old "bourgeoisie bad" idea--the only things missing are the sneer quotes.

The writer admits to the stupidity of the program, but defends it because he or she has so little regard for the "white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, suburban, upper to middle-class society" types on campus that the only way "those people" can be educated about evil in this world is by dumbing everything down to pictograms. I'm surprised that the students at Wisconsin - Eau Claire are even capable of locating the exhibit, much less appreciating it. After all, with a background such as that, we should all be amazed that they've dragged themselves far enough from the primordial ooze to walk upright.

And get the misspelled Orwell-speak at the end. The goal of a baccalaureate is not the "irradication" of ignorance, it is the development of the mind. One may lead to the other, but please don't get this particular cart before the horse. Traditionally, books, lecture, and discussion have been more than adequate to the task of mental development and its corollary in the eradication of ignorance. I suppose the real question here is what has changed about college education that makes these approaches seem inadequate, and why proselytizing has taken the place of encouraging the natural intellectual curiosity of students.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 6, 2003 05:07 AM