Estranged Soul

Willa Wang, Managing Forum Editor

Last Monday, Oct. 24, I was having my Ancient Philosophy class in Carnegie Science Building. Suddenly, the power went out, and the computers in the classroom started to beep. Everyone was hoping the power would return, but it didn’t. The classroom was dark, and the computers were beeping. We tried to figure out how to stop the beeping sound but failed. None of us went out to look for a technician in the building. Instead, we continued our class through the noise, discussing the three waves of establishing a city where philosophers are the ruler in Plato’s Republic, Book V. Twenty minutes later, the fire alarm in Carnegie went off. 

Everyone had to leave the building and wait for the fire department. Our professor finally announced that our class could leave. We, the students of philosophy, failed in front of physical distractions. I personally find this to be a very ironic moment. Because of this accident, I started to think about what it means for students to sit in a classroom and have class. Why did everyone seem to be so happy when the professor announced that our class ended there? 

The classroom is a space where students sit together. The professor or teacher usually stands in front of the blackboard, instructing and leading the students. We, as students, are like small fish following elder and mature fish. Genius ideas and thoughts are shared and spread. However, classrooms limit freedom; you have to stay in a finite space for a finite period; you have to sit on a chair; you can’t say things loudly without raising your hand and getting approved by the professor; you have to be on time for classes to be a good student. Classrooms give us all these disciplines, which become part of an education to form one’s temperance. 

Do you really like these rules? I doubt that you don’t have a moment when you really want to escape the classroom and go back to your dorm, take a nap, or eat some snacks. Having an appetite is human nature, but classrooms, or the meaning of education, go against our human nature. 

Even if you accept sitting in the classroom, and obviously the majority of us do this, do you understand why we are sitting here and putting years of our lives into learning? Are you estranged by learning? Karl Marx first puts forward the idea of “estrangement” in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, saying that the estrangement of people from aspects of their human nature is a consequence of the division of labor and living in a society of stratified social classes. Marx argues that self-estrangement is “the alienation of man’s essence, man’s loss of objectivity and his loss of realness as self-discovery, manifestation of his nature, objectification and realization.” When a person feels what they are doing is disconnected from who they are, as if working like a machine, this person is estranged. Have you ever felt estranged when you are in the classroom? You could ask yourself several questions to diagnose if you are estranged: 1. Do you like what you are learning? 2. Do you study only for yourself or your curiosity? 3. Do you feel happy when you think about going to class? If you ask “yes” to all these three questions, you are not estranged! If you find studying boring, and you only study because you want to get a good job or get into a prestigious grad school, it’s very likely that you are estranged. 

It’s impossible to conclude a college student’s level of estrangement in one sentence because everyone has a different attitude towards studying. However, if you feel you are estranged, take a deep breath, take a break, and think about why you are at Bates, sitting in this classroom, and learning. It wouldn’t take too long to get an answer. Taking several minutes to think about estrangement is better than sitting in the classroom being estranged. I hope next time when Carnegie’s fire alarm goes off, everyone is reluctant to leave the classroom.