Letters to the Editor

Classroom discussions at a loss from watered-down treatment

Cheating and grade inflation — two of the greatest perceived ills of Northwestern’s academic system — have been addressed recently on the Daily forum page. However, during the Winter Quarter of my final year as a student here the most distressing aspect of academic life at NU became apparent to me.

Using my final quarter as an undergraduate as an opportunity to grapple with some of today’s most important subjects, I enrolled in classes dealing with the Middle East, terrorism and Islam. The glaring academic shortcoming to which I alluded earlier was the failure of my professors to address issues from more than one point of view.

In both lectures and reading material, professors should feel obliged to expose students to arguments made by leading scholars on all sides of an issue. Only then can students completely understand all the facets of the issue and reach their own conclusions.

Following this line of thought, the unenlightening faculty teach-in on the war against Iraq would have been far more worthwhile had the views of war supporters been expressed, too.

In the classroom, meanwhile, professors often opt to assign one reading they think reflects the “middle ground” of an argument. However, when it comes to the spectrum of academic thought, everything truly is relative. What professors see as the “middle ground” could be interpreted by students as either a liberal or conservative position. Two passionate, opposing arguments typically convey the merits of both sides of an issue much more effectively than a single piece of writing summarizing both points of view.

In one course, the professor devoted two classes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She decided it would be best to study the issue by showing the class a film on the history of Palestine produced by the United Nations. Relying on the UN alone for a comprehensive and objective history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is comparable to relying solely on Newt Gingrich for an evaluation of the Clinton presidency.

Another professor devoted time to the controversial, multi-faceted issue of the connection between Islam and terrorism. Given the array of perspectives on issues such as the true meaning of jihad and the extent to which Islam and democracy are compatible, it seemed clear that students would benefit most from exposure to several arguments.

Instead, students were given only one author to read. We were then expected to spend a class session discussing the subject after being exposed to only one point of view.

In order to enhance students’ understanding of today’s most important issues and improve the overall level of NU’s academic system, professors would be well advised to heed the words of John Stuart Mill:

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this.”

Joseph Bubman

Weinberg senior

Kentucky Derby not paradise these days, closer to living hell

Daily columnist Jason Hill’s article on the Kentucky Derby seems like the sort of shtick one would likely find in a religious quarterly.

The Derby, to him, is an “escape (from) the outside world,” where midterms and papers mean nothing. Well, having lived in Louisville, Ky., all my life and having been to my share of Derbys, I can say that the infield, where he and his friends watched the event, is little short of hell on earth.

Imagine if you will, thousands of drunken people packed in like sardines under a boiling, Ohio River Valley sun. Then imagine a total absence of plumbing. Drunkards plus no plumbing equals pit of Satan.

While I, too, like to identify the Derby with hats the size of small refrigerators and cool-mint juleps, the sad reality is that it has mostly turned into one big, drunken debacle. Maybe that’s what people like. But I prefer the air-conditioned, bag-free environment of my living room in front of the TV.

Jonathan Volk

Weinberg Freshman

For Aaron Patterson, life after death row starts with activism

Last November, Aaron Patterson came to me in shackles. He wore a drab jumpsuit and couldn’t wave because chains leashed his wrists to a metal stool. A glass panel on Death Row divided him from fellow senior Kate Krepel and me.

After dozens of trips to South Chicago to find the truth behind a double murder Aaron and Eric Caine were convicted for in 1989, my three classmates and I drove to Menard Correctional Center in Southern Illinois. Our goal: to associate mug shots ingrained into our minds with three-dimensional, complex human beings.

At the prison, we encountered the determined man Hana Kim wrote about in Thursday’s nyou. Aaron possessed the demanding demeanor of “Lone Ranger” — his nickname while a gang leader during the 1980s — but also exuded an obstinate confidence in his innocence.

After pouring through case research and conducting interviews as a student in Professor David Protess’ investigative journalism class, I believed Aaron — and showed it.

“What are you going to do when you get out of prison?” I asked him through a one-way speaker.

He joked a bit but then talked seriously of working on behalf of other inmates and campaigning for political candidates.

Less than two months after our visit, and 14 years after the State sentenced Aaron to death, former Gov. George Ryan believed him too, and set Aaron free.

This past February, Aaron Patterson came to me again, driving his mother’s car. He wore a blue shirt, a black overcoat and a fedora-like hat that made people call him a preacher. This time, no glass separated him from me, and he gave me a giant hug.

Some people adjust to life beyond Death Row by easing into anonymity. Aaron adjusts by channeling his anger into power that effects positive change. Not only does he work for Protess’ Medill Innocence Project on Eric Caine’s behalf (who continues to serve a life sentence), but he is also turning a crack house into a computer-learning center.

Later, at a restaurant, I delightfully watched Aaron ordered a steak. We ate, seated side-by-side, until he had to go. After all, it was Election Day, and Aaron had a mayoral candidate to support.

Erin Chan

Medill Senior