In defense of DS

Sam Cohen (“Redirecting Directed Studies,” Aug. 31) reprises some of the standard objections to DS that I have heard now for over a quarter of a century. I would like to respond to two of them.

Cohen complains that the “History and Politics” section “is really about political philosophy.” Really? What, then, are Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy and Tacitus doing on the syllabus? The purpose of the section is not simply to provide “context” or background to the study of the works, but to show how these books shape and inform our understanding of politics and history. The point is not simply to learn about these works but to find out what we can learn from them.

Second, Cohen complains that DS is a “wholly Western program” and would benefit from writers from “other traditions.” This year History and Politics has introduced readings from Alfarabi and Maimonides to show how the works of classical philosophy were transmitted through the Arabic and Jewish world. More to the point, however, no class can be about all things. To complain that DS doesn’t deal with non-Western works sounds to me like complaining that a class in biology doesn’t deal with the stars and the planets. As Isaiah Berlin — that great DSer — reminded us: Everything is what it is and not another thing. There is a profound truth located in that simple statement.

Steven Smith

Aug. 31

The writer is the Alfred Cowles professor of political science.

Liberal arts and political hostility

Like Alec Torres (“The one-sided campus,” Aug. 30), I would love to see more thoughtful discourse between conservatives and liberals. But Torres nullified legitimate points by the hypocrisy of his own hostility. While our campus does lean somewhat left, Yale students are generally not ignorant or hateful, and it’s important for everyone to challenge his or her own beliefs. More introspection and breaking down biases would no doubt make Yale — and the world — better.

In an age of party line gridlock, our politicians are too distracted by attack ads and races to deal with the real tasks at hand, like dealing with a coming fiscal cliff that might have frightening economic consequences. Even in government, people turn to derision and hostility over issues like abortion and gay marriage.

At Yale, too, we tend to see things in black and white. Deconstructing this mindset is difficult, but not impossible, and this is why we are lucky. Our liberal arts education teaches us to think critically and introduces us to different points of view — in short, it offers us a way out of the mud. As an exercise in tolerance, I would encourage those who oppose organized religion to take a religious studies course or attend a religious service. Those who favor traditional gender roles should take a course in the WGSS department. Yale’s academics, in theory, and I hope in practice, facilitate provocative discussions in a diverse community of leaders-in-training; we should not miss out on the opportunity to grow from interactions with our peers. Both Sex Week and Rick Santorum can be healthy parts of our intellectual community.

A demagogic volley of opinions in the News simply adds to the cacophony of competing echo chambers and in my experience, hateful intolerance is not a problem specific to Yale. Rather, it is one that a place like Yale can solve.

Emily Hong

Aug. 31

The writer is a junior in Pierson College.