Sometimes seminars can take a turn for the unexpected. This was certainly the case when my professor, in the middle of dissecting a text on the Malvinas-Falklands conflict, suddenly went into a lament about how the modern student doesn’t think of their studies in terms of an intellectual exercise.  The point, he iterated, was that we should.  

I can see his point of view.  In the context of 1980s Argentina, there was a concerted campaign to eliminate the middle class, left wing intelligentsia in what was called ‘el Proceso’, where anything from 15,000 to 30,000 people were ‘disappeared’ by the military junta.  Having spent much of his career studying a period where people were rounded up and shot just for being intelligent and having views that do not agree with the government, you can understand why someone might be frustrated with the way many students view their studies today – as a chore rather than an exploration. 

Sadly, much of this comes from opinions shaped by the press, which depicts students as lazy bums, barely capable of scratching their arses and paying for yet another round of double-vodka red bull simultaneously.  We spend our days being told that us students are a nuisance to society because of where we live, our social habits, our lack of a 9-5 regime and our overly long holidays. 

This, of course, is nonsense.  Anyone who has struggled through the ideas of Satre, tried to decipher Classical Latin texts, or had to write at length about some obscure Arabic religious thinker knows that being a student is not all about getting pissed in some grungy nightclub and trying to sleep with a new person every week. There is a huge amount of work that needs to be put into a degree and, if done properly, it can be hugely rewarding on an intellectual level.

If students as a whole are dismissed by the general public, this is no more so than in the case of the Arts and the Humanities student. In choosing to study for the sake of learning, rather than simply focusing on a subject with a clear career path such as Law, Engineering or Architecture (which are tough subjects in their own right), society considers us as scroungers, wasting three or four years at the taxpayers’ expense – which is actually our own expense – in order to put off growing up for a few years.

This is patently unfair. The pursuit of knowledge has been held as the highest form of progress for as long as mankind has existed.  Without language, literature, art, history, anthropology etc… there is no point in the sciences. After all, if the sciences are the be all and end all, then we are little more than robots: programmed to function and not to think about the world beyond the mere mathematical.

Personally, I think we should just get over ourselves and embrace the tag of intellectuals.  After all, if we’re not the future of our society, then who the hell is?  If we are to be the ones shaping the country over the next couple of decades then we need to stop thinking that we are naughty schoolchildren and start considering ourselves as thinkers privileged with knowledge.  We might not change public opinion, but at least we’ll know that we are far more than simply useless appendages of society.

[Ben McCabe, Impact magazine on-line, 30 January 2013]