Question: How can you tell if you’re in a class with a Lawrence University student?
Answer: That question goes back to Stanley Milgram’s “Obedience to Authority,” which underscored the banality of evil.
In my three-and-a-half years at Lawrence University, I have heard the terms “banality of evil” and “this is kind of like ‘Brazil'” literally dozens of times. The freshman studies program has enabled students to share a bond of common knowledge that joins us throughout our Lawrence careers. However, much like those experiments conducted by what’s-his-face in that book he wrote, the freshman studies program zaps students of acting and thinking independently, causing them to relate every other subject being discussed back to Milgram or Kafka or Calvino. Perhaps if the classes weren’t taught by professors with no real interest in the material whatsoever, the program could be used to encourage new and exciting ideas. As it stands, a freshman’s typical week is hogged up by three-and-a-half hours of superficial conversation about some of the most analyzed and rehashed works in literature plus a mediocre movie about a half-baked dystopia.
As tedious as the curriculum is now, most of the works therein seem downright obscure compared to the giant lump of clichés slapped together that defined the program during my freshman year. The 2005-2006 reading list featured a litany of authors never before read by students, unless they had had any middle or high school education whatsoever. For example, were you aware that Martin Luther King Jr. used the power of language to compel his audiences in his “I Have a Dream” speech? Even more shocking: were you aware that segregation was rampant in the south in the 1950s? Who knew?
Because MLK is read at some point by almost every high school student in the country, my fellow freshman and I had mastered our perfunctory righteous indignation while discussing the speech in a classroom setting and we performed well (my favorite quote from that class: “I just can’t believe people used to be judged by the color of their race”). This constant regurgitation of King’s speech from middle school to high school to now has sucked out any emotional core it once had and reduced it to a small number of mind-numbingly self-evident talking points.
The most egregious cliche on the FS list that year was one of the most widely read tragedies written by the most widely studied author in the English language: William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
“Macbeth” is a solid piece of work, but it lends nothing to its analysis if 80 percent of the students have already read the play and the professor leading the discussion has a doctorate in anthropology.
Though the rage that bubbled up inside me while being forced to partake in my umpteenth argument about free will as it relates to the Scottish play was palatable, my anger reached a new apex when the entire freshman class was required to attend a production of “Macbeth” at the PAC.
This wasn’t just any old production of “Macbeth,” mind you. This was a production of “Macbeth” – get this – set in modern times! What a novel idea! For days afterwards, class discussion was dominated by praises being sung about how clever it was that Shakespeare had been made more “relevant” to modern, finicky audiences through its modernization, because of course no one would understand the implications of the title character’s choices unless the guy is wearing jeans instead of tights (yuck!).
I mean, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shakespeare play set in its original period.
Of course, this all relates back to Stanley Milgram’s experiments described in “Obedience to Authority,” which unveiled the awful truth of the banality of evil.