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Why do we have to sit through another damn political theory lecture?

October 28, 2010

I admit from the beginning that I am not your average University of Michigan Student. I am older than most of the students on campus (including GSI’s) and the extra few years that I have enabled me to examine things a bit differently. Recently I found myself talking with a graduate student at the University and we both felt that too often students fail to understand the gift that they have been given. They fail to grasp the honor that has been bestowed upon them to be trained in a way that for thousands of years, and some may argue even today, is unavailable to the mass population. I understand that sometimes it is difficult to wake up in the morning, to study all the time and to never have enough “me” time. On top of all that, we (in one way or another) pay to be subjected to this torture. So why?

By considering this premise I seek to answer a question that seems to be repeated over and over again throughout this semester: “What do all of these theorists have in common?” Below I supply one recurring theme that can be found in the words of almost all (sorry Halper and Muzzio) of the authors we have read up to this point in the order they were read. (Note: For the apology I used Socrates as the author as it is usually read with the understanding that these were the actions and beliefs of the philosopher)

Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for. –Socrates

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless. –Niccolo Machiavelli

The politics of difference is both a product of democracy and a danger to it. That is why education is so important –Michael Walzer

Prudence is but experience, which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto. –Thomas Hobbes

This least utilitarian of educations prepares you to make sense of the world and maybe to make meaning; for one way to describe the great struggle of our time is as the endeavor to become a producer of meanings rather than a consumer of them – in an age when meaning as advertising and marketing, as others’ definitions of pleasure and terror, is daily forced down our throats. –Rebecca Solnit

I attribute the little I know to my not having been ashamed to ask for information, and to my rule of conversing with all descriptions of men on those topics that form their own peculiar professions and pursuits. –John Locke

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today. –Malcom X

I realize this isn’t the most earth shattering blog post in the world but I think it is worth taking into account. If there is one thing that we have seen in the previous weeks it is that all of these authors can’t agree on any one entire political theory then what does it say then that they do all agree on the importance of an education?


  1. Madeline Smith permalink
    October 29, 2010 1:36 PM

    This is an excellent observation. Putting all those quotes together definitely makes a strong point. It is definitely important for all of us to appreciate the education we are receiving.

  2. tanoodle permalink
    October 30, 2010 8:14 PM

    I really loved this blog post! From these quotes, not only did I get the idea that all of these authors believe in the importance of education, but they also value the importance of learning from others and forming an education around a diversity of thought. Also, I am glad to see this post from someone who is older than most of us (who is also not a teacher or someone of authority). It really shows me how lucky we are and why we are here in the first place. Sometimes we all need to look past the amount of studying/homework we have and look instead at what we are gaining from this entire process.

  3. matteric9 permalink
    November 1, 2010 1:12 PM

    You bring up a point that we are all constantly thinking about. The importance of education is something that we can all appreciate and understand. Going to college immediately after high school is something that is much more common now then it was, even just 50 years ago, there were much less students in college then there are today. This trend in pursuing a college education proves the theory that an education is a commonly agreed upon between the political scientists and philosophers we have studied this semester.

    • dmalks permalink
      November 10, 2010 5:17 PM

      You are right in that it is very common in these days for students to go to college right after high school. I think because this is so common, we overlook the opportunity that all of us that went to college right after high school are getting the chance to take advantage of. I also think that it is very important for everyone at the University of Michigan and other schools to appreciate the education we are receiving.

  4. dbwein permalink
    November 3, 2010 3:24 PM

    I think you bring up a great point. First, as students, amidst all the studying and stressing of college life, we rarely take time to appreciate the education we are receiving. However, I think that our lack of appreciation for our education has in part to do with our own self-absorption, but also has to do with the way our education system is organized. I think that the intense focus on grades over actual learning hinders not only our recognition of the value of our education, but also obstructs our actual learning. Even though we choose our majors based on our interests, many times students end up focusing so much on what they have to do to get a good grade (to then get into a good grad school) that we loose sight of what actual learning means. But not only do we, as students, loose sight of the true benefit of learning, but the education system as a whole has lost sight of the true meaning of education and learning.

  5. Jameson McRae permalink
    November 3, 2010 3:47 PM

    I really liked this post because it was a voice from an older student who is wiser than most in the class. He has seen what college is like, and I see this post as a warning to not waste the education you are receiving here. I find the beginning to relate to myself a lot, so much time spent going to class and discussing the countless hours of homework I did for it. It is a cycle that goes on for 4 years for most and at times you just want it to be over with. This article made me realize that all of this work is for the best. I am receiving one of the best educations in the country, and I cannot take that for granted. As many people say knowledge is power, and that is very true. This article displays a good message that you must stop looking at college as repetitive and boring, but think about the positive side like how much power you are gaining throughout your 4 years.

  6. lrib12 permalink
    November 4, 2010 3:05 PM

    The format of the blog was great. You really got my full attention and understanding when you grouped all of the quotes together. Great way to put it in the beginning–yo ask the question of “why” this all matters. I certainly have to appreciate the “gift” of being a student here and taking courses such as this.

  7. Katelyn Salowitz permalink
    November 4, 2010 6:03 PM

    I just received an exam grade that I am less than happy with and feeling a bit sorry for myself for several reasons. One, I had two big midterms last week, I was tired, and I had studied a lot to do well on this exam. I even left the exam feeling like I had done well. I was wrong. So now I’m contemplating why I did not get the A that I wanted? Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Everyone has made them and unfortunately occasionally we make them on heavily weighted problems in exams. It is the story of our lives, right? Consequently, immediately upon receiving the exam grade, I instantly calculated how well I would need to do on the final and the upcoming paper that was due, in order to receive the A in the class that I want. Then, I get on the blog to contribute my comments to get the points I need to help myself get an A in this class and I read this post. I am complaining about being at one of the best universities in the country and that it is hard work most of the time. When truthfully, I have no right to even begin complaining when there are millions of people who would love to have the chance we do each day. Most of us will stumble and receive the occasional poor exam grade, but honestly in ten years none of that will matter for the most part. We will have our jobs, families and educations. Life will be good because we pulled through our four years here and learned from the best.
    So as the post mentioned these influential political theorists knew the value of an education and the benefits and joy it could bring. Consider Malcolm X’s quote, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” In my opinion, this is an excellent point. Consider the elections; it is not often that a person becomes elected into office without months or even years of preparation. Often times, the election of a candidate comes in part because of some form of higher education and experience that allowed him or her to grasp the necessary concepts to be in a leadership position. Take President Obama, he went to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, then worked as an attorney and was a US Senator. Some people may argue he had limited experience compared to many others, which is probably true, but regardless he had much more experience and education than the “average American.” Because of this, he is benefiting by living his dream of being President and also giving hope and joy to many Americans (although not everyone is an Obama fan). He is a perfect example of Malcolm X’s quote.
    Hence, it seems that we need to stop complaining, myself included, and acknowledge the benefit of higher education that we’ve been given and use it to make the world a better place. With this and greater understanding we can take political stands that will be taken seriously and express views that may otherwise have never been heard. Education gives a voice to not only political theorists or politicians, but to the average man, whether he is explaining algebra to his teenage daughter, or whether an aging professor is filling the minds of his students with the numerous political theories or biological concepts. All of these things are based on education and all of these improve our world even if it is only a small way. As a professor once told me, “The more you know, the more you’ll see.”

  8. November 5, 2010 6:29 PM

    I entirely agree. I myself tend to be a lazy person and usually take for granted my education. The opportunity we have here at Michigan is far greater then we realize. Although cliche “you never know what you have until its gone.” Are time here at Michigan flies by and we really need to take advantage of all the opportunities available to us before we depart from here. Like you said, none of these authors seem to agree on one theory, but they definitely would agree on the importance of an education and taking advantage of all your resources.

  9. Andrew Babat permalink
    November 5, 2010 6:35 PM

    I completely agree with this post. Most students, including myself, get stressed out and upset when we have long papers and exams. We forget how helpful the knowledge we are gaining from these assignments will be the rest of our lives. Instead of getting stressed out by our large workload, we should be appreciative for the education we receive.

  10. mikeking0717 permalink
    November 6, 2010 6:40 PM

    I really liked this blog post! It helps to put things into perspective for the new college student who may not have taken the time to consider how fortunate we all are. Regardless of our ideas, they can not be fully built without the firm foundation of education. Thanks for your contribution!

  11. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 7, 2010 4:55 PM

    This blog post really made me see education in a new light. As a freshmen, I often find myself lacking “me” time, and struggling to find the balance between work and play. Your blog encouraged me to take a step back and focus on the vast opportunities infront of me in college, and to try and take advantage of the resources around campus and not just the resources in the classroom.

  12. pacherry permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:03 AM

    I’m not sure where to begin. Over the last 12 days I have been so moved by the response to this post and knew that I wanted to respond and follow up in some way, but I was not sure how. Then, this weekend while at the DIA I passed by one of my favorite pieces; Tyrie Gyton’s “Caged Brain.” Often when I see this piece and apply it to where I am at in my life I feel that education is the key to unlocking my brain. However, after reading all of your responses I saw it in a new way this time. Is it possible, for all we pursue it, that education is actually the lock and not the key on our brains? Like many of you, I have been troubled lately over midterms and the grades I received on said exams. Then, for the first time, I googled (specifically found a digital copy and used the find feature) the answer to one of our reading quizzes instead of doing the reading and finding the answer for myself. I did it because I didn’t have time to study for my exam and do the reading and decided it was more important to study. (*Click goes the lock*) The reading was from Locke and I, a pre-law student focused on the American Revolution and the development of our constitution, skipped it. Since then I have gone back and read it because of the guilt that I felt over stealing from myself such a valuable opportunity. Therefore, my response to all of you and all of your wonderful sentiments is this; BEWARE!!! I understand that grades seem to be the end all for us and that is what grad schools or professional schools are going to evaluate us on, but you rarely get a chance to come back to learn all of the things that you skipped because studying for a test or writing a paper was too important. Perhaps this can also serve as a warning to professors everywhere. Don’t bastardize your passions that you are trying to teach to such wonderful minds as can be found at the University of Michigan by focusing more on tests (whose information we will forget within 24-48hrs) than on the precious gifts you have to offer in your knowledge. Maybe I’m just a bit romantic when it comes to education, but I think that everyone loses when the knowledge is not passed on as well as it could be.

  13. chris070310 permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:06 PM

    This is by far the best blog. I can honestly say I have tooken education for granted. The University of Michigan is by far the most diverse place I have been in my whole life. Here you see all types of cultures and genders working hard, so that in the future they may maintain a job of success. Being here has showed me that education is our only way of grasping the true person that relys in our future. Socrates once said you have to want success as much as you want air, because to be honest how can you live if you do not have success in your life for what ever cause. These philosphers may dispute about political theory, but they all become rather peaceful around the thought of education.

  14. jmrusso permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:08 PM

    After reading and analyzing this post I gained a new appreciation for how much effort is put in to a class by both teachers and GSI’s. When I first saw the title of the blog, I was like wow another person that has a similar feeling as me. This post helped me remember why I am able to come to school and receive a top notch education. Many students may feel that the school revolves around them, but actually, the students revolve around the school. The professors and GSI’s keep this university great. It seems as if students take it for granted that they are able to skip a class and still get a good grade. But the real question is, what are you actually learning? College is a gateway for students to learn a great deal of knowledge that helps prepare them for a life that is dictated around our education. The new real title now seems to be “Why don’t we sit through another political theory lecture?”

  15. adamhollenberg permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:35 PM

    I really enjoyed this post, as it allowed me to put my situation in perspective. There are many people that would kill to be in the position that I am in. Even so, I still sometimes am lazy, as shown by the fact that I am putting up these blog posts so close to the deadline. When I look at the big picture, and realize the opportunity that I have been given, I am nothing but thankful.

  16. November 9, 2010 11:40 PM

    The importance of education is recognized by all authors despite varying beliefs, being apart of different time periods, and even experiencing different levels of education. Yes, these authors have different philosophies and morals to which they believe how certain aspects of life should be experienced – however they never deny the importance of education. Amazing.

    Great post. Thank you.

  17. xiaoyzhang permalink
    November 10, 2010 8:54 PM

    Personally for me, I have to go to school because I’m Asian. This might sound funny but ever since I was little, my parents have always instilled a belief in me that education is the most important thing in the world. I know I exaggerate when I say that but it’s how Asian parents are. If you get anything below a A, it’s an extreme disappointment. For me, I don’t have a grade scale like most American students. It’s either an A or an F. There is no middle ground. It’s just how my culture is, and I know my parents care for me and want to see me succeed. But I think sometimes they go overboard. I remember my dad said during my senior year that if I don’t get into a top 25 university, then I would be homeless…

    But in general, I think that education is important. We need it to succeed in life and earn a living. I think that everyone knows we need to have education to succeed, but people don’t truly grasp how special it is. As students of UM, we have all the resources we need to be successful. It’s really up to us if we take advantage these resources and apply ourselves to become what we can potentially be.

  18. November 17, 2010 10:38 AM

    I really liked the blog post and with you being in my discussion, I guess I’m not surprised that you would write one that so many people enjoyed. I think, like you say, education is very valuable, while at times hard to see, it truly is. On the other hand, at times I do believe that what we are being trained to do here is not to actually learn, but to show that we can simply do it. When I say this, we are just showing some future employer that we can keep going with something, not give up and excel at it (get good grades). I don’t think this was the purpose of education, but often times I feel it has turned into this. I mean honestly forcing everyone to take the required classes (foreign languages, natural science, etc.) helps to create well-rounded people. However, in all reality many of these classes are just blow-offs for many people. Is it really worth it to help that one student who was greatly affected by a required class, that normally they never would have taken? I don’t know, but it’s something to think about.

  19. rickover09 permalink
    December 9, 2010 12:20 AM

    I agree that education is important, I mean otherwise, as stated in the post, why would we put ourselves through such an unpleasant time right?…At the same time I feel like people do not take it as seriously nowadays because of the changes our society has been going through. With our economic stature where it is who wants to bring on such debt. On top of that receiving a college education is not as promising as it once was (with those job offers upon graduation dwindling). I feel peoples values are shifting and that also has a lot to do with it, what they view as important has also changed, because of the situation we are in as a nation. They are taking other things to be that much more important, such as what and where the next meal will come from. I mean nowadays people have become more worried about fulfilling their everyday needs let alone worry about where their child is going to be going off to school, which is sad but the reality nevertheless. Again, I’m not saying education is not important ideally everyone gains from it yet with successful entrepreneurs on the rise I think it makes it that much harder for a freshman or undergraduate student, even while attending one of the most prestigious universities in the world, to focus on their studies and to realize how fortunate they truly are. I mean the guy that invented Facebook is a millionaire, why go to college if you can be that guy. Sad to say but who would actually put themselves through college if they could be well off without it.

  20. December 9, 2010 4:23 PM

    This post really put me back in my place. I constantly whine about the intense course loads and the sleepless nights I’ve already had in just my few months at the University, but i chose to be here. Education beyond the high school level is not required anymore; we are all here because we want to better ourselves, as all of the philosophers stated. Without education, we are nothing. Sure there are quick ways to get rich, but how often does that truly happen; legally at least?
    One thing college really has taught me, is how to intrinsically learn; and that will stick with me longer than anything I could ever learn in a specific course.

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