“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” was an unforgettable message sponsored by the United Negro College Fund from the 1980s.
The commercial promoted education and support for members of minority groups who couldn’t afford tuition. It was a positive and hopeful message about the importance of attaining higher education for minorities, particularly for Black Americans. The idea was that everyone deserves to receive a full education, a higher education, if they so desire.
Over the last several weeks, however, with all the antisemitic rhetoric about Israel in the news and particularly from college campuses, that commercial has taken on a whole new meaning.
Sadly, it seems to have transformed into “a mind is a terrible thing to waste when it’s filled with prejudice and hate.” All over the country, we’ve been sickened by the sight of young students spewing racial epithets and distorted narratives about Israel and the Jewish people.
After high school, our impressionable teens typically leave their home bubbles and go off to pursue higher education. College is supposed to be the place students go to broaden their minds and receive an education centered on learning humanities, science, and math, along with the opportunity to choose a future career and vocation. There is supposed to be a free flow and exchange of ideas.
The current college scene has changed drastically. Nowadays, many schools close the flow of information, and it’s taken on a my-way-or-the-highway one-sided point of view. Along with this close-minded educational journey, we see how many young students have morphed into angry, indoctrinated people who are shut down to other points of view.
Years ago, when I attended New York University, it was a bastion of ideas. Sure, some students were opinionated, sometimes bordering on being know-it-alls, typical of college kids who are getting their first taste of independence while flexing their intellectual muscles.
Students argued and debated, and discussions often became heated, with voices raised. Even when they had opposing views, students agreed to disagree. Occasionally, when they listened — really listened — with open minds, they realized that their certain point of view wasn’t always wholly accurate.
Sometimes students even changed their minds.
Being open minded and listening were key.
After heated debates, students tucked their differences away, shut the door, and then went out to dinner together. At the end of the day, they were still friends.
A celebrity with whom I don’t always agree is Bill Maher, but it’s important to listen, and he nailed it in his recent monologue. This time he got it right.
“American eyes are opening to higher education, which has become indoctrination into a stew of bad ideas,” Maher said.
“Now I recognize that a certain amount of foolishness is expected of college kids, but mixing Jagermeister with tomato juice isn’t the same as siding with terrorists. Thirty-four student groups at Harvard signed a letter that said the apartheid regime is to blame, proving they don’t know what constitutes apartheid.”
Tragic events have cleared our eyes. We see how young and impressionable minds are being influenced by college and university environments that are filled with prejudice and anti-Israel views.
How are students and young people becoming so close-minded and indoctrinated? What are these professors teaching?
Thinking back to my college days, I remember some loony professors who spoke inappropriately. One sociology professor veered off course one day and went on a tangent with graphic detail about her experiences giving birth. She just went on and on, and we were equally fascinated and grossed out by her rant, as it had absolutely nothing to do with sociology. Most of us were just teenagers at the time.
But none of these professors spoke about another group of people with hatred, prejudice, or malice. Never.
College life exposes young, impressionable student minds, away from home, to many outside influences.
Many universities, Ivy League and others, used to be solid and sought-after institutions of higher learning, where Jewish students felt safe and heard. Those of us who ate at NYU’s kosher kitchen never felt threatened, harassed, or singled out. I never felt uncomfortable wearing my chai necklace, nor did I hide my Jewish identity in any way.
That’s all changed in many colleges and universities across the country, where many Jewish students now feel threatened. They no longer feel safe.
Rachel, a friend of mine, has fond memories of the years spent at an elite college. “I spent 15 years there, first as a graduate student and then as a professor,” she said. “It was so comfortable for Jewish students and faculty. It’s so sad to see an institution like that and so many others become so antisemitic. I’m lamenting it personally, and for all of the Jewish students in those institutions.”
When I was in graduate school for my master’s in education, a basic tenet we learned was to check our egos and subjective political views at the doors of our classroom. Teachers need to always remember that students pick up side remarks, innuendo, and direct messaging. So, please park those subjective views and stick to the subject you’re supposed to teach.
Mayim Bialik, the actress who is best known for her roles as Blossom, when she was a child, and as Amy Farrah Fowler on the popular series “The Big Bang Theory” and now is co-host of “Jeopardy,” also earned a doctorate in neuroscience. Mayim is an outspoken and proud Jewish woman who recently posted a powerful response to recent events.
She wrote that there is a strain of antisemitism that is thriving at her alma mater, UCLA, which echoes with chants calling for a Jewish genocide. “This is not normal, not acceptable,” Mayim said. “My son is 18 years old, and I’m scared to send him away to school. It feels like a nightmare.”
It does feel like a nightmare that’s found its way to our schools, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Esther Kook of Teaneck is a learning specialist and freelance writer.