Academia hasn’t “radicalized” me, it’s woken me up.

Society regularly miss-labels academics “radicals in the ivory tower,” especially those who work in the Liberal Arts, as they tend to be very aware of everyday culture and life. This wrath from society targets people, regardless of degrees or jobs, who voice unpopular opinions or who ask hard questions. And the more a person falls outside of the White Cis-Male Heterosexual Able-bodied Fundamentalist-Protestant paradigm the more likely he/she will be criticized and placed in the “radical” box. 

Put other ways: 

Talking about racism–that people who have skin racialized as non-White are treated worse–is not radical.

Saying that people should have a right to have the medical care necessary to live is not radical.

Suggesting that our society unfairly has and continues to scapegoat immigrants is not radical.

Being aware of and discussing both the good and bad of this world is not radical.

But, society says all of these (and many other things) are not only radical but inappropriate and unwelcome. Just this week on Facebook, for example, I have been called idiot, stupid, and ignorant and some have said I should never have been born. Those who are labeled “radical” are typically just awake.

College and graduate school have done more than I could have ever imagined when it comes to learning about how awesomingly diverse and weird and interesting and mysterious and complex our world is, how complicated society’s knowledge of history is and how much has been completely hidden by public institutions, how powerful and addicting reading and writing and thinking can be. Colleges continue to be special places in society because they generally, ideally provide safe places to learn, think, create, and challenge. Under the best circumstances, thinking is encouraged and even required. I always really push students to think differently – to “entertain thoughts.”  

Lately, more often than usual, the tremendous gaps between popular rhetoric about freedom and opportunity in the United States compared with realities the 98% face have been particularly frustrating. More frustrating is that because of perceptual blindness and fear-drive rhetoric many don’t realize, can’t realize, or don’t care, are afraid to care or say anything. Having these feelings and knowledge is not radical, it’s real, it’s based on evidence, and it means I’m–we’re–alive and care.   

“Radical” connotes different, weird, and bad – things that don’t deserve credibility or attention. Thinkers and creators–professors and artists and others, are simply very informed and aware of the world. We know how much we don’t know. We know that the social, political, and physical structures and mores of society are responses to hopes and fears at a given time, in a given place, to a given people.  

People blame radical real ideas on reading too much, writing too much, and thinking too much when people recognize what most try or want to ignore or don’t have the opportunity to explore and question. 

I leave you with two quotations:

Very, very firm convictions are what you have when you have no experience at all.

When our laws, our leaders, or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism.



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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8 replies

  1. An extremely thought-provoking post. It is well-written and expresses so much of what drives anyone who has stayed within the academic environment long enough to earn post-baccalaureate degrees. Knowledge drives us to think more deeply and for longer than the attention of most people who have not had the luxury of getting this far in education. It is not radical to dwell on the complexity of our lives and express new ideas. It is what we should come to expect from any professional.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s odd. I was often called stupid and ignorant because I happened to be cis, white, straight and male. Due to these factors (and nothing related to what said), my opinion was automatically invalid. Hold on! If I judged a black person based on that I’d be racist?

    Imagine if society treated the sciences like they treated the humanities – “Huh, I don’t understand it therefore it’s bullshit”.

    But no, you’re not more aware or know more or anything of the like. Once you fancy yourself way more knowledgeable than everyone, you will develop arrogance.

    Anti-intellectualism is a big deal, and our schools encourage it. Schools teach people to solve mathematical exercises and make them scoff at anything more than that. Parents worship it so don’t expect change.

    Don’t expect change by singling out StraightCisMaleWhiteAbleBodies. You might turn a blind eye to a rapist who doesn’t fit some of these labels.


    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Two thoughts in return.

      Given everything that is happening and not happening (take global warming / climate change, for example), I would suggest our society does treat science the way it treats the humanities – that it is “bullshit” and useless.

      Also, given how everyone is different and has different knowledge and interests, we all inevitably are more aware of some things and less aware of other things. As you say, anti-intellectualism is a big deal, and it encourages people not to think.


    • Most people I know believe in global warming. I don’t see people reacting to studying physics or chemistry or computer science or engineering with “that shit will make you a bum”.

      But yeah, anti-intellectualism is a bigger problem and I don’t see how it will be solved any time soon. Parents are content with their children just solving mathematical exercises, so who’s going to stand up?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post Andrew. Like I tell my students, never stop asking questions.

    Liked by 1 person


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