“What Will the Class of 1971 Do?”

Almost half a century ago, an apparent graduating senior at La Salle College in Philadelphia, who had been there for seven years, wrote an unsigned editorial for La Salle’s 1971 yearbook, the Explorer. The text is now in the public domain. I wish I could figure out who wrote it. (It’s not clear whether the photograph is his portrait.)

Here’s the whole thing:

Maybe the ivy has grown a bit more dense and the bricks slightly more weatherbeaten. There might be a little more grass in McCarthy Stadium, and there’s a lot less room to park in the morning. The hamburgers still taste raunchy, and the steaks are still more gristle than meat. But have the students changed from 1964 when I started here?

Page 43 from the La Salle College yearbook, 1971The graduates of the class of 1964 put on their Ivy suits, went for job interviews and were hired, and happily led meaningful existences ever after selling insurance, cars, and real estate. Some went to war and were killed; some went to graduate and professional schools. Most got married and had children. Some joined the alumni association, and some go to the meetings.

What will the graduates of the class of 1971 do? Many will shave their beards, cut their hair, put on brand new 1971 suits and be interviewed for 1971 jobs to put 1971 dollars into their 1971 pockets, and will happily lead 1971 existences ever after selling 1971 insurance, 1971 cars, or 1971 real estate. Some will go into the service to protect the 1971 country from the 1971 menace, and some will go to professional schools. Some will join the alumni association, and some will go to the meetings to spice them with 1971 things.

Where is the difference? People spoke against the president way back in 1964, but not as frequently (but then, Richard Nixon wasn’t president in 1964). There was organized protest in 1964, but organized protest wasn’t “in” back in ’64 as it is today. In 1964 drivers snarled at you when they cut you out on the road; today, they give you the Peace Sign while they still cut you out.

Which of the 1971 graduates will protest against sins against the ecology when these same people now work for the very companies polluting the air and streams, and dollars spent for ecology will mean less profit-sharing or perhaps the loss of a job?

Will the graduates of the class of 1971 grumble against intellectuals causing unrest when today’s graduates are running the country? Are the graduates of the class of 1971 a bunch of phonies who wear long hair and beards because this signifies a cause which they believe in, or because it’s “hip”? Will the graduates of the class of 1971 follow the example of their predecessors and lead meaningless existences in a dehumanizing society, or will they remember some of the causes they led protests for, remember that they are members of the Love Generation and the Woodstock Nation, and be genuine, feeling people, or will their humanity and sincerity sink into the corporate image?

Until now, no class graduating from La Salle has been different. The class of 1971 has yet been untested, but from all indication it will follow the way of the others, but damn, I hope not.

I almost don’t want to spoil that with my own commentary. But let me add some context.

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Describing a Lasallian Approach to History Education

My move to the Philadelphia area is basically complete, and I can now say publicly that I’ll be returning to La Salle University this fall as an adjunct instructor teaching at least two and possibly three courses. (I’ll say more about another new position in the area soon.)

La Salle was the first external institution to hire me during graduate school, making it the place where I taught my first training-wheels-off history courses. So it’s very exciting to be back.

One of my goals as I draw up new syllabuses this year is to do a better job communicating how my courses relate to the larger institutional missions of my employers. I think this can be useful not only to students—who benefit from explicit guidance about the various purposes of higher education—but also to faculty members and administrators, who can use continual reminders during this fraught time in the profession’s history.

To that end, here’s my attempt at a syllabus statement summing up the centuries-old religious educational tradition that its namesake university claims to uphold.

Screenshot:

lasallian philosophy syllabus statement

Text:

Lasallian Philosophy

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, a Catholic priest from an elite family, established the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in the 1680s, when basic education in France was relatively disorganized. Living together in religious communities, members of his order gave up wealth and prestige in order to devote their lives to creating schools for working-class and poor children.[1] Today, the Brothers’ primary mission is still to provide “a human and Christian education” to the world’s poor—and to enlist the rich as their allies. As their rule says, the Brothers seek common ground among people of all religious traditions in advancing “human dignity, solidarity among all human beings, and the integral development of the individual.”[2] La Salle University is one of six colleges and universities carrying out this mission at an advanced level in the United States.

In keeping with the Lasallian tradition, this history course is grounded in the belief that all humans—across time, space, and social boundaries—share a common dignity. We can recognize ourselves in each other despite our differences and conflicts. Because of this, all aspects of human history have the power to help us live more coherently and meaningfully. You should use this course as an opportunity to develop greater solidarity with other people, especially the marginalized, through acts of the reason and the imagination. In the process, you may grow into a greater sense of your own personhood.

This statement is one of several (covering student learning outcomes, course design, and basic principles of academic freedom) that I’ve been happily developing or revising this summer.

Of course, this is a statement about ideals. The reality will have to emerge in the class itself.