By Lizzie Kirshenbaum
Where you’re from, what dorm you’re living in and if you did the summer reading: these were probably the three most common icebreaker questions asked during first-year orientation. The reply to the last question? Well, I didn’t get past the third mind.
Last Thursday, the first-year class was sent to the Weis Center for the Performing Arts to hear Howard Gardner lecture on his book “Five Minds for the Future.” A contagious cough passed through a large section of the audience, and the remainder of the class felt frustrated with the lecture that was cutting into their study time. There was a clear lack of enthusiasm in the crowd as students questioned how long the lecture was expected to last. Upon his initial address to the students, Gardner spoke with a definite air of condescending humor. He began by insinuating that a majority of the students probably did not read his book and apologized for the mandatory element of his lecture.
At this point the room was still giving its attention and respect to him, so I was personally offended by his patronizing attitude. Additionally, Gardner delivered a summary of his book rather than discussing it more in depth. His presentation resembled something more similar to a sophisticated “Barney” novel than an intellectually stimulating lecture. As Gardner carried on dryly, the eyes of the students slowly began to close if they were not already fixated on a cell phone screen.
Upon reaching the question-and-answer part of the lecture, disorder erupted in the Weis Center. As the first brave student stepped up to the microphone, he politely rejected the notions set forth by Gardner’s book but did not ask any questions. This student’s courage to insult a man of Gardner’s stature in front of a crowd well over 1,000 people struck the first-year class with shock.
Some wanted to applaud this classmate’s intellectual courage to instigate a challenge. A great majority was merely amused with this student’s chutzpah to insult the work of a highly esteemed psychologist. Gardner maintained his poise on stage and responded respectfully to the student. He was not looking for a debate but was attempting to clarify the intent of his novel, which he felt the student had misunderstood.
The succeeding student interrogated Gardner with a rather verbose series of questions and as Gardner pointed out, she did not allot him time to respond. At this point there was a clear sense of annoyance in Gardner’s voice, to which the students responded with laughter.
My immediate thought was that an additional meeting of the first-year class would be held the following day to ridicule our immaturity. When no such meeting was called, I realized that was where the dividing line is drawn between high school and college. In high school, our teachers were responsible for molding us into mature, respectful learners. Our creativity was limited and our natural freedoms were curbed.
But in college, students are more motivated to speak on behalf of their beliefs and actively engage the world. One could say the comments made at the Gardner lecture were simply an act of freedom of speech, but one could also admit they might have been an act of insolence.
In retrospect, the first-year class probably should have maintained better composure for Gardner, but the outcome of that night has stirred much conversation among the students, many of whom have indicated their disappointment in Thursday night’s behavior.
Perhaps the result of the lecture spurred a slight growth in maturity of the student body, allowing for the first-year class to learn from experience, one of the points Gardner was trying to make in the first place.