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"The Responsibility of Students"
By: Nima Shirali

My years as an undergraduate student were spent in a competitive environment where fierce rivalry characterized university life. In fact, this type of environment is the typical North American learning environment in which every student is taught to achieve results or be crushed by fellow students. As far back as elementary school, I can remember teachers encouraging competition amongst students, both on the play ground and in the class room. When I entered university, I realized little had changed.

Being a “responsible student” simply meant being responsible towards one’s self. As a child I wondered why there was always more sports than trips to the museum. I wondered why the word “cooperation” was only used in the context of defeating the “other” team, class, or school. Combined with perpetual aggression and instilling of fear, both from students and teachers, my high school education taught me to be a forceful, assertive, hard-hitting individual who had been introduced to the basic skills of survival. The indoctrinators were confident of my readiness for the real world, of which school was a microcosmic version.

The sense of pride that resulted from my admittance to university was only meaningful because of the shame felt by those who had gotten rejected, mostly for reasons relating to social problems, not intelligence or competence. I felt proud because I had beaten “them”. The shame associated with their rejection gave meaning to the pride associated with my admittance. I had fulfilled my responsibility as a student.

I had succeeded in graduating as a proud victim of indoctrination. Why was I indoctrinated? For reasons of dominance, I had been taught to correlate success with the misery of others, with egotism, selfishness. As I walked past a homeless man, I remember thinking that I was not responsible for his misery, but rather he was responsible for my success. I did not even stop to thank him, for that was not part of my responsibility.

Having left the independent-minded kids who had gotten rejected behind, I started my university studies with the expectation of elevating my level of academic understanding. I was of the notion that I would be entering a “sanctuary for free thought”. Yet, the notion of this “sanctuary” was violently broken when I witnessed students being expelled for expressing their views, saw police arresting students for protesting racism, etc. I had wondered why students had constantly been effectively suppressed. I had wondered why agents safeguarding the power structure always overwhelmed a large aggregate of individuals that outnumbered the agents.

The answer I came up with was that it was because most students are fulfilling what they think is their responsibility. They are being “responsible” because they are obedient, dissociated, and disunited. As a result, a few mindless agents overwhelm many mindful students. Perhaps this was the plan all along. Perhaps I was taught to obey authority and compete against my fellow students so that if I reach the level of university, my skills and thinking would be used to serve, rather than to challenge, the system. The kids who were rejected were made into servants of the system. I had not realized I was being made into a more influential servant of the same system. In a system based on suppression, the more influence the power structure has on an individual, the more subjugated that individual is. Never had I thought entering a sanctuary of free thought meant becoming more subjected.

The true responsibility of students is to freely unite with one another to challenge the injustices that characterize human existence. The directors of the system know the powerful effects of unity. In every aspect of life, individuals are forced to be adversaries of one another. Workers are forced to compete for their wages and any attempt by the workers to unite is viciously suppressed. In similarity, children are taught to fiercely compete with one another in an attempt to ensure their disunity when they become students.

It is now the responsibility of students to come together. Being together helped stop the Vietnam War and helped many countries win their independence from colonizers. This is a time when student solidarity is needed and indispensable. The unjust and unlawful invasion of Iraq, the immorality of trading blood for oil, and the priority given to profit over human life are all reasons why student solidarity is especially important today.

When solidarity has been achieved, it is the responsibility of students to expose lies and defend the weak. As those who are clearly privileged, students must help those who are not. Having learned to write, persuade, and convince, students must join together in a collective endeavor that should be aimed to ameliorate poverty and the lives of the less fortunate.

Students must break the chains that have enslaved the world. They must organize, unite, and resist. It is a truism that individuals cannot achieve change when dissociated and alienated from one another. Together, however, they can form overpowering movements aimed to dismantle the roots of injustice.

Nima Shirali is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East Reconciliation Journal (MERJ),

Nima Shirali is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East Reconciliation Journal (MERJ),

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The following comments are for "The Responsibility of Students"
by nimashirali

Great piece
This is a wonderful piece. Students really need to not only work hard to "beat" one another, but learn to work together as well, share ideas and teach one another what you know. I only have one question:

"As I walked past a homeless man, I remember thinking that I was not responsible for his misery, but rather he was responsible for my success."

How was he responsible for your success? This doesn't make sense to me.

Excellent piece!

( Posted by: xeonman [Member] On: September 1, 2004 )

Thanks for the comments. What I meant when I said I wasn't responsible for the homeless man's misery was that out of selfishness, I didn't feel responsible to do anything about his misfortune.Therefore, because of egotism, I walked by and didn't feel any moral obligation to help.

On the other hand, "he was responsible for my success" means that his misery gave meaning to its opposite: my success. I meant for this to be a bit metaphorical and to use the concept of opposites to reflect my thoughts. In essence, something "good" can only be thought of as "good" when compared to something "bad". Something "tall" is only "tall" if we can understand the notion of "shortness", etc.

I hope this helps.

( Posted by: nimashirali [Member] On: September 1, 2004 )

us and them
First of all, the mechanics of your writing are really good. It is always nice to read something that is spelled correctly and makes good use of grammar. I felt that you repeated yourself too much when you returned to the role of the student as a competitor, but that is just me and my preferences.
Some of what you said rings true, and some doesn't. I would like to point out that you have defined the role of schools by accident. They certainly are traditional and conservative. They always have been. They represent our systems and support our societies, so they will be conservative. As for the competitiveness, we are seeing a lot less of that in teaching methods. There is a lot more of cooperative learning and group strategies taking place. Students are being encouraged to be more effective at synthesizing information instead of memorizing it.
I know that has nothing to do with fighting injustice, but you mentioned competition. One final comment. You mentioned Vietnam. The protests did work back then. For the same reasons they won't work like that today, because the powers that be have learned new strategy. Free Speech Zones and propaganda go a long way to quiet those who are trained from birth to be subservient.
The best parts of your article were the mention of the homeless man, and the idea that large groups of our society can be manipulated and controlled. Good stuff here.

( Posted by: brickhouse [Member] On: September 3, 2004 )

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