They Have Bodies: On Critical Thinking in the ‘Cac
We grew up referring to them as “Easter Island Heads,” but they’re not just heads—they have bodies.
Since the early 1900’s, archeaologists working in Rano Raraku have uncovered these bodies; and, most recently, photos circulated by the Easter Island Statue Project have surprised a lot of people.
The ‘Cac boasts many examples of applied critical thinking. When Tufts failed to incorporate an Africana studies major into their curriculum on the heels of the 1970’s civil rights movement, campus advocates like Dean (Dr.) Joanne Berger-Sweeney sped the school’s consideration of an Africana Studies major for the contemporary age.
According to an article in the Boston Globe, Dean Berger-Sweeney was also an encouraging force for the opening of The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, a project of Professor Peniel Joseph. This center “will be a place for critical analysis and debate about the intersection of race and democracy in social movements and what are thought of as basic human rights: water, food, and medicine. It will also transcend national borders,” Joseph told the Globe.
Although Tufts’ lateness in throwing its weight behind this field of inquiry is certainly disappointing, the foundation of a center suited to modernity and interconnectedness is a testament to the ability of critical thinking to re-orient our course.
Time and time again I’ve been reminded that critical thinking and choice are inextricably linked, and we cannot choose something that has simply been handed to us. The edict thus becomes to choose choice, again and again–including options in our decision making that we’re certain we don’t want.
While abroad in Morocco I had a recurring fantasy about being back at school standing in front of the cereal buffet. In my mind it represented the element of choice that was missing in my life abroad, where I yearned to shrug off layers of dependency that weren’t even truly mine. The weird thing about this particular fantasy is that at school I rarely ever get a brand other than Shredded Wheat or Crackling Oat Bran—nonetheless, my vision included each of the other cereals.
So what of this idea of “choice,” is it just an illusion? Shouldn’t a young American abroad be just as happy with a vision of her favorite cereal brands, and those alone? I would say no, it’s much less satisfying.
As NESCAC students, a lot has been “simply handed to us.” For some of us the privilege to spend 4-years at a small, expensive liberal arts school was extended before we were born. Part of coming into one’s own, whatever your level of privilege, is making the choice to either accept or reject the path that has been prescribed. It’s the body beneath the neck, the shit society doesn’t tell you about. Guaranteed means don’t necessarily negate choice.
Consider a “buffet” of people rather than cereals. Most human beings gravitate to like-minded individuals, this is natural. However, if these likeminded individuals do not emerge from among a diverse pool, are they truly likeminded or just most accessible?
Limit diversity, and we limit our choices—and our ability to think critically. Call a statue a head and we’ll never have the pleasure of knowing it’s anything other than what it seems. Miss an opportunity for scholarly inquiry and never pause to rectify the wrong in future decades…
Go on, see what happens.
The ‘Cac teaches us to be critical thinkers, but likeminded critical thinkers never did one-another any lasting good. When I realize the limits of my own intellect, so prone to the foibles and miscalculations of a public discourse that substitutes “heads” for “statues,” it worries me that even the brightest minds in the world could be doing as much to deceive one another as tabloid headlines seduce preteens in the grocery line.
After all, one day we might wake up to find that we have a whole lot to learn from a bowl of Kix.
The waking up’s the hardest part.