Humanities’ Giant Leap Forward

Cara McCarthy / THE GATEPOST

On Dec. 5 in the McAuliffe Center, Irene Porro, director of the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning at FSU and the Moon Landing in Context series and five FSU professors, illustrated the contextual aspects of the 1960s from different disciplines, discussing the social uncertainty in 1968, student-driven movements, and how our current political situation mirrors the chaotic state of the ’60s.

1968 was a time of unrest. Individuals, especially students, protested nationwide against the corruption of the government, the involvement in the Vietnam War, and European imperialism. These small protests led to global events as individuals gathered together seeking universal human rights, eventually changing the historical, social, and cultural atmospheres of the world, said Bridgette Sheridan, FSU professor of history. 

Lori Bihler, FSU professor of history, recalled a conversation she had with her mother about the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the women’s march that came after it, the executive order for the “Muslim ban,” and other current events. 

During their conversation, Bihler quoted her mother, who compared the current political climate to 1968, stating, “There was a feeling of anger, a feeling of chaos, and a feeling that no one knew who was in charge.” 

As a historian, Bihler reflected on the unrest of 1968, college protests, MLK’s assassination, the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, the Memphis Sanitation Strike, the Poor People’s Campaign, and police riots at the Democratic National Convention. 

“That is how people are feeling right now,” she said. “Everyday people were taking to the streets to march.” 

Sheridan said the largest uprising in 1968 was in France and came as a surprise to many. 

“Events came from nowhere,” she said, “While students were protesting across the globe, most of the students of France were relatively quiet.” 

The conditions in France, including lack of free speech, the doubling rise of unemployment, restrictions in the academic curriculum, and other factors led to a new revolution referred to as the “new left,” Sheridan said. 

“1968 turns from a small student protest into a nationwide movement in France. So much so, that the French government in 1968 is nearly brought to its knees,” she said. 

In the end, student marches and protests caused universities to shut down, including the University of Paris, which closed for a second time in almost 700 years. Six hundred students were arrested and millions of workers went on strike, inspired by student activism, Sheridan said.

A lot of these issues students were facing were the strict restrictions of the government and the curriculum. 

Wardell Powell, FSU professor of education, said education in the ’60s was influenced by behaviorism, the idea that learning was a passive response to environmental stimuli and was enforced through strict policies.

Piaget’s developmental theory was enforced during this time as a way of teaching based on constructivism and the formation of intelligence. Students construct their own knowledge through a complex understanding of the world, he said. 

Martel Pipkins, FSU professor of sociology, recounted the time in college when he organized a protest in response to the shooting of Michael Brown. Although he had a class during the time of the protest and told his professor about it, he was punished for skipping. The professor of the class, who studied police violence against marginalized groups, refused to talk to him for the rest of his Ph.D. process, Pipkins said. 

Part of the issue with academics is students are often punished for trying to take action on the ground. “Academics and professors continue to study and make careers off these inequalities and justice and oppression while failing to be vessels for social change. Many sociologists and academics function as morticians. They benefit from the deaths and destructions of these different oppressed groups,” he said. 

Instead of students suffering for trying to make the world a better place, he recommends faculty members be social agents for change.

Vandana Singh, FSU professor and chair of Earth science and physics, asked what we can learn from past social movements. 

Powell said, as an educator, he “includes changes to the curriculum so students can understand that interconnectivity between our actions and the environment.” 

Pipkins said a lot of scholars in his studies examine the epistemological contract which compares one issue to the same or another issue in order to get “a fuller picture of the phenomenon we’re studying.” For example, Pipkins said, one should look at the Palestine, Berlin, and U.S./Mexico border walls as a unified, not separate, issue, to get a broader understanding of the world. 

Pipkins said, “It’s not until these issues are connected historically and contemporarily that we are able to push past them.” 

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