A student panel on “The Meaning of Patriotism” will conclude Yale’s series of teach-ins on the war in Iraq. The 12 teach-ins examined issues ranging from the archeological history of Iraq to the future of the United Nations, and marked part of a recent University tradition of planning teach-ins in response to major world events.
In times of crisis and tension, the teach-in has become Yale’s educational format of choice for dealing with controversial situations. During Vietnam and in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some of the most timely discussions of international and national affairs occurred not in classrooms, but at teach-ins, which typically provide an informal setting for a panel of experts to discuss current affairs with an audience. But the teach-in series, inspired by those held during the war in Vietnam, will not continue in the fall, Yale President Richard Levin said.
“This is the popular format in the Vietnam War era and often got very large crowds of students and many times involved outside speakers as well as professors from the campus,” said Levin, who spearheaded the effort to organize a series of teach-ins covering the Iraq war.
History professor John Gaddis, who organized the war and post-Sept. 11 series with professor Cynthia Farrar, said he thought the teach-ins provided an avenue for respectful debate.
Gaddis said finding a diversity of viewpoints was his main goal in organizing teach-ins.
“You never get a perfect balance, either within a panel or among panels,” he said. “We did try for a balance, though, and certainly a lot of differing viewpoints did emerge.”
In order to achieve that balance as the war progressed, Gaddis and Farrar scheduled new teach-ins to address the changing state of the war, and also worked with various interest groups to design debates and forums.
“From what I understand, there have been some teach-ins which lack balance, but the ones I attended were excellent,” said Matthew Louchheim ’04, president of the Yale College Students for Democracy, which co-sponsored a debate with the Yale Coalition for Peace.
But not everyone shared Louchhiem’s view. Biology professor Robert Wyman, who attended the first forum March 26, said he thought the discussion failed to address the heart of the issues. He said it was also hampered by the format, in which speakers were given six minutes to answer the question posed.
“You can’t cover anything in six minutes,” he said. “That right away destroyed any educational value.”
But Zachary Safir ’05, who has attended three of the teach-ins, said he believed the forums exposed audiences to many aspects of the war.
“I definitely feel like I learned something,” Safir said. “It helped me define my own personal view.”
Despite a politically tense atmosphere, Diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill, a panelist at the first teach-in, said the discussion remained polite.
“On a panel, I try not to express a political view, but a diplomatic view,” he said.
Gaddis said he and Farrar decided to end the series with a panel featuring six students because “teach-ins shouldn’t be left to just the faculty.”
“We saw the theme — ‘The Meaning of Patriotism’ — as one that would tie together recent events on campus with those that have been taking place in the wider world,” he said.
For some of the seniors speaking on the panel, the discussion will be a fitting conclusion to nearly two years of intense campus debate over international policy.
“Ever since Sept. 11, being around here I could feel it — everyone was testing their world views,” panelist Schuyler Schouten ’03 said. “It seems there is a lot of value in coming together, and I think at heart everyone on that panel believes deeply in liberal values.”