We need to get angry.
The air is stale in every classroom I walk in. Even as I walk into a class that’s already full of students, I find myself wondering if the room has been sucked of all its energy and learning atmosphere – if an energetic atmosphere was ever there to begin with.
The prison we seat ourselves in for 30, 90, 120 minutes or more is mind-deterioratingly dull.
Rebecca John echoes my observation in her article in The Cornell Daily Sun. “I’ve been sitting in on way too many classes where the texts we read are erased of their revolutionary potential and read as though they were as bland as an assembly guide,” she writes.
I’m confident in suggesting that it is the same with or without a book, in lecture or on the web and during discussion classes or in online class forums.
How can 15 students discussing the federal shutdown in a sociology class be so timid and unresponsive? After reading about the BP oil spill, how can 100-plus students in a journalism class not speak out about its ghastly consequences? How can they not be pissed?
Earlier this week, I discussed how we have become desensitized to mass shootings. What goes on in the classroom, or rather, what doesn’t go on in the classroom, makes me wonder if we’ve become desensitized to everything else too. With that I say to you, “What the hell?!”
Anger: It’s a gift.
I have two reasons to write about this.
The first should be clear already: We can’t remain complacent and unfettered by the information we’re given in the class. No, standard classroom teaching is certainly not the best way to spark emotional conversation and heaven forbid if classes turned into rallies, but this room that we walk into day after day to learn – that’s it. That’s what we have to work with.
We’ve got to decide to start reacting, start voicing our opinions with emotion and start being angry.
Secondly, anger is a gift.
It has been scientifically proven that angry people produce a greater volume of ideas and more creative ideas at that. I think we can both agree that every classroom can use a bit – let’s not kid ourselves, a lot – of new ideas, especially creative ones.
Becoming overwhelmed with emotion while reading a passage from a book, discussing the latest breaking news story or even talking about historical events should be a goal of every student.
By getting emotionally involved in our work, we allow ourselves to get angry and to be upset, and as a result we produce something meaningful. Isn’t this what should be happening in the classroom?
It boils down to what boils us up.
In a series of studies recently published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Matthijs Baas, Carsten De Dreu and Bernard Nijstad collectively understood that:
“First, anger is an energizing feeling, important for the sustained attention needed to solve problems creatively. Second, anger leads to more flexible, unstructured thought processes. This flexibility involves the use of broad and inclusive categories and the increased ability to find new connections between categories. People who feel angry […] are more likely to rely on broad, global cues when judging information. This kind of global processing tends to be associated with literally seeing the ‘bigger picture.’”
What’s only fitting, then, is that it was only after getting angry about the desensitization of students in the classroom that I began to really see the bigger picture.
For those “How I Met Your Mother” fans, recall the episode in which Ted walks into his empty apartment (repeat: No one is there) and immediately acknowledges that a fight between Marshall and Lily took place earlier that day.
I wish for a similar experience. I want to walk into a classroom and feel that something energizing, something life changing, something inspired by anger happened there. And damn, do I want that to linger.
Garth Beyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism.