Confident and Courageous, but Hopeful?

By Leah Rosenbaum '12, Guest Writer

Upon reflecting, I can say that my time at Scripps has encouraged me to “think clearly and independently,” to live “confidently, courageously.” What I’m not sure I have gained from my time at Scripps is hope, to me the most critical word in our founder’s well-known quotation.

Why is it that Scripps has not made me feel especially hopeful? I’m about to venture out into the real world, and most of the things I’ve been taught about that world are not hopeful. At Scripps and the other Claremont schools, I’ve learned about ongoing, systematic oppression. I’ve learned about ingrained racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism and many other -isms. And I’ve learned about all different kinds of privilege (now a dirty word) and how I, simply as a college student, benefit from them. From Core I to my race/ethnic and women’s studies requirements to an anthropology class I happened to audit, I felt overwhelmed by all the nested layers of inequity apparently inherent in our (Capitalist) society. The problems were seemingly endless, and I was discouraged.

Upon matriculation, I considered an anthropology or sociology major, thinking that I liked learning about people and how we function in groups. After a few semesters in college, I decided to pursue a math major; it is challenging, it is satisfying, and it is pretty hard to politicize.

And the thing is, if there had been some speck of a solution among all those problems, some example of someone doing something to overcome all those -isms, I might have turned my hopelessness into motivation to work for change. Given a few examples of someone successfully addressing these issues, I might have had hope that investing my energy in these areas would yield valuable results.

Instead, any potential solutions I asked about were themselves “unpacked” and discovered to further “problematize” the situation. Programs like Teach for America to aid understaffed school systems? Imperialist. Charter or voucher schools as an affordable alternative to public education? They further entrench selectivity and competition, accepting only talented students or those with involved parents. And while some of these criticisms may be valid, the prevailing attitude was not to seek a solution but to attack any attempt at a solution and reveal its inherent problems.

Revealing problems is not a solution. Of course, a comprehensive understanding of the forces involved in any situation can help to form a sustainable, amicable solution. And I’m in no way asking institutions to sugar- coat the serious, pressing issues facing many people today. But because those issues are so serious and pressing, I cannot understand why we would not jump on those programs that do work and study them in an effort to produce similar successes. These problems will not be solved by simply dissecting the myriad layers of interactions underlying them. And they certainly will not be solved by teaching a curriculum that so discourages students as to turn them off to the subjects entirely.

Fortunately, I am not completely without hope. Through sources outside of the Claremont schools, I have learned about programs that work. I have learned about organizations successfully addressing the achievement gap and issues related to teen pregnancy. How nice it would have been, though, to have learned of those organizations in the context of an academic discussion, to share them with others and talk about them...It would have been nice to associate those classes I took not only with a sense of seriousness but also with a sense of example, a sense of trial rather than just error and, most importantly, with a sense of hope.