Learning to Love Lectures

This past Monday, I, along with the rest of the students in the Honors Biology course, attended a lecture by Myles Jackson.

This past Monday, I, along with the rest of the students in the Honors Biology course, attended a lecture by Myles Jackson. Jackson, a professor of the history of science at the Institute for Advanced Study, lectured on the controversial issues of gene patenting, genetics, and race. As the lecture ended, I couldn’t help but reflect that I had found it enjoyable—a description not usually applied to academic pursuits outside of the classroom. However, my reaction came with a sobering conclusion: Had the lecture not been mandatory, it’s doubtful I would have ever attended.

The truth of Lawrenceville’s relationship between students and lecturers is a harsh reality. Most students, unless required, choose to opt out of attending voluntary lectures. Their reasons vary. For the sake of time, many students are often bogged down with coursework, major assignments, or simply fatigue and need to prepare for the following day. Extracurriculars may also play a factor, as students might have club meetings or other obligations. However, while it would be much easier to accept the fact that Lawrentians purposely ignore lectures to go further their own noble pursuits in knowledge, the reality is that most students simply don’t attend out of a predisposed disinterest to lectures. That night at Jackson’s lecture, only a handful of people present were those who had voluntarily taken time out of their schedules to attend. Most students had made the assumption, as I would have, that such a lecture would take away from their own happiness.

As students, the issue in attending lectures doesn’t lie in the value that we assign to the event when weighing it against other options for what to do with our time. Instead, the issue lies in the fact that we’re predisposed to not even considering the option of attending. Most students rarely look into the speaker or the topic of discussion before deleting the emails alerting them to a lecturer. Instead, the decision is made long before the word “speaker” is spotted in the subject line of an email. This predisposition is in part due to the stigma surrounding lectures. Yes, by nature, lectures are inherently associated with droning academic information dumps as well as boredom and dissatisfaction. However, this certainly isn’t true for all lectures, and one will never find out whether a lecture is actually boring unless one makes the initial leap of faith. If this stigma maintains a consistent bias in the rationale behind not attending lectures, then the opportunity to attend a lecture will never arise. And having never had the chance to attend a lecture, entrenched in our own view of what a lecture may entail, we ironically sacrifice the benefits of perspective that a lecture is meant to provide. As Lawrentians, we should learn to overcome this stigma.

At its heart, lectures are important as an extension of the very education that Lawrenceville is meant to offer. At Lawrenceville, we are challenged with developing a worldview that incorporates a multitude of perspectives, a quantity that is accessible only within a diverse community. For this reason, the School places enormous effort into setting up a community that is diverse in its viewpoints. The goal of putting in the additional effort to bring in a speaker only furthers this same goal. However, lecturers don’t just carry their weight as yet another viewpoint to consider; they also provide the obvious benefit of quality. Through both their knowledge and experience within their fields, lecturers can provide a perspective rarely accessed by anyone in the general population, let alone at Lawrenceville. Their very presence can open campus-wide discussions on complex and pertinent issues, thereby providing students with the opportunity to further deliberate their own views. And, beyond those two benefits, the lecturers we invite to Lawrenceville are leaders in their respective fields. Having the opportunity to hear them speak is not one to be wasted.

At Lawrenceville, this concept of perspective in conjunction with education is trite if not overused. The many benefits of perspective are preached in curriculum discussion, yet students still don’t actively “seek” perspective in daily life. With programs such as Explorations and chapel credit, there comes the understanding that students don’t often go out of their way to voluntarily expose themselves to new perspectives. To better utilize the resources in bringing in new speakers, along with benefitting the student body, Explorations should be extended to all lectures, even those strictly pertaining to academic settings, or a separate lecture credit should be created to fulfill the same purpose. As trite as it may sound, we owe it to ourselves to better our perception of the world, if not just for happiness, then to simply play a better role in society. The world, as seen by our daunting perceptions of academia, is already so complex. A lecture couldn’t hurt.