Teach-Ins Create Added Opportunities for Learning Outside the Classroom

Monday, November 26, 2007

Senior international relations major Charles Wester of Omaha, Neb., was talking recently with Ian Petrie, Ph.D., about the political crisis unfolding in Pakistan. Wester realized there was more he wanted to know about the roots of the crisis than could be gleaned from Western news coverage. He also thought there might be others on campus with similar questions.

Wester remembered the "teach-in" about the crisis in Burma held in October, which was sponsored by the Asian studies program and facilitated by associate professor of history and China expert James Carter, Ph.D. It helped him understand the political dynamics in play between Burma and China, and how China was possibly the only international body that could influence democratic change in Burma. Wester, and other students and faculty, found the October teach-in enlightening.

So he asked Dr. Petrie, an assistant professor of history who has expertise in colonial and post-colonial South Asia, to hold a teach-in about the state of affairs in Pakistan. Petrie agreed, while noting that he might best be considered an "ex-Pakistan" specialist, since he has worked most extensively in Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971.

On Friday, Nov. 16, a group of students, faculty and staff gathered to hear Petrie's concise and informative talk about the crisis. Those in attendance were absorbed by Petrie's discussion of the interplay of history, culture, dynastic politics and current events being manipulated by General Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto for the control of Pakistan. Petrie fielded questions ranging from the role of the judiciary in the contested presidential elections to the influence of Islamic fundamentalism in the country's tribal areas.

Wester and freshman political science major JoAnn Lopez were glad they came to the teach-in, which was also sponsored by the Asian studies program.

"I definitely have a better understanding of the situation," said Wester. "I realize now that these conditions in Pakistan are almost cyclical in nature."

Added Lopez, who is a native of Singapore, "I wanted to know the history of the forces contributing to the conflict, so that I would have a more holistic view."

Petrie also found the experience worthwhile. "It's a sign of a healthy campus when there are opportunities for conversations about world events outside the classroom, which can bring together faculty, students and staff," he said.

Petrie added that he is impressed that students are seeking more opportunities to learn about global political issues. "It's especially gratifying when students are the impetus behind these occasions. We're fortunate to have an active core of students at SJU who demonstrate such a lively and thoughtful engagement with major issues at home and abroad."

Teach-ins were a staple of campus life during the tumultuous 1960s, and were usually held by politically engaged students to get their views out concerning the Vietnam War. This fall has been notable in that there were two teach-ins scheduled in response to events in the news, but this semester was not the first time that teach-ins have been held at the University. Among others, events have been held in response to the 9/11 tragedies as well as the run-up to the Iraq War.

But Wester and Lopez would like the relaxed and illuminating lectures to become a more frequent occurrence on campus, and both students have specific topics they would like to be covered. Lopez has an interest in learning more about the strife in the Middle East, and Wester would like to know more about Latin America, specifically, the shift to leftist politics in Venezuela.

"It's important to understand how political movements begin, to understand why things happen the way they do," added Wester.

--Patricia Allen

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