What to the African American and Professor Schindler is the meaning of the Fourth of July?
Address Given the Second of July, 1998 to the McNair Fellows at
Temple University, Kiva Auditorium, Philadelphia
Re: Unconditional Gift: New Beginnings
Having myself been born into a working-class Jewish refugee family from National Socialist Germany of the thirties, I have always been acutely aware since childhood of being different but nonetheless special with a historical mission to fulfill. I acquit that obligation to you today as we come to celebrate our nation's birthday this weekend. But that revolution's promises have not yet been redeemed. So, let us today try to define once again the tasks at hand since my understanding of them might not coincide with yours. That would be good because it is the basis of academic discourse.
I grew up in a nurturing atmosphere, dearly loved by both parents. I have reciprocated in kind. I have honored my elders because they are living witnesses who survived this century's most evil deed: the genocide of my people in Europe. You, too, are survivors. I can walk in your shoes to an extent. As a person with limited financial means, I am willing to help you achieve your goals to the utmost extent that I can. I am the product of an excellent education through the Philadelphia public school system and a prestige university. Despite grinding poverty, I prevailed. Given free rein by my parents and the sacrifices of other people who befriended me in my coming to maturity with the best possible education, I am responsible, ultimately, for who I am and how I shall be remembered in the final analysis.
Life events changed radically when I went to an Ivy League school. I encountered prejudice because of my low income background and Jewish origins. The prejudice was not only among my fellow students but widespread in establishment professors who felt threatened by the social upheavals of the sixties. I was undaunted by the System. My class was all white except for one person. That struck me as odd. More so, I felt deeply offended by the flagrant lack of fairness in the status quo. Usually, a place in an Ivy League school underwrites your ticket to positions of power in our dominant political and economic class in commanding both social respect and community recognition. A system based on rigid guidelines of ideologically defined criteria of class, gender and race runs counter to a legitimate democracy. I want to be a force working with others with a like educational philosophy where no person ever has to apologize for his or her existence. The essence of being human is difference. The recognition of the other provides unity in that difference. When combined with respect, we might have a viable democracy.
Three decades later, despite significant civil rights legislation, the rules of the game have changed only in form not substance. We still have the unresolved issues of class, sex and race. These antagonisms exist despite the fact that there is unprecedented economic prosperity. All ships are supposed to rise with the flowing in of the tide. We had better find a better metaphor. My dinghy is still in repair at dockside. Laws can be expediently and cynically issued to appease the unpredictable changes in public mood. But how do you change attitudes that are deep-rooted in character? In part, charismatic and dedicated teachers like us in this forum can do that. We must make unsolicited commitments to people who are even less fortunate than ourselves, and hope by example that other decent people will be inspired to develop more loving demeanors. Dr. King taught us the power of soul force in his public demonstrations. Regrettably, this century has seen the collapse of Enlightenment ideals in this postmodern era of might makes right. Legitimate communal self-defense is our birthright, as we can see in the writings of Hannah Arendt and Malcolm X. Our freedoms must often times be baptized by blood in extreme situations. That is the American way of life, where you have to prove your humanity if you are not of the right blood line. The distribution of wealth has never been more unjust than now so that your opportunities in life cannot help being constrained. Now is the time to send a message to the powers that be if there ever was a time to do so. If you bow before the false idol of the golden calf, forever hold your peace. As a benefactor, I want to enable you to overcome society's handicap of color.
So, I realize that by making a monetary gift I could start that moral revolution in seedling form that Dr. King had in mind. Act as if the maxim of your actions can be legislated authoritatively into a universal law. So said Kant. In short, my gift of these moneys, and additionally a not insignificant bequest in my will of one hundred thousand dollars in an insurance policy, has been inspired by a personal wish to subvert the Social Darwinism philosophy of Wall Street and our business civilization that makes for a war of each against all in fashioning an everyday life that is unworthy of our humanity. In short, I believe to be truly human I feel more myself by giving than receiving. That is my main message. I hope you can change the rules to replace the addiction to profits with human standards. Hence, I am being selfish in an enlightened way. When we are no longer under economic constraints that need not be, prejudice cannot find profit. In a spiritually renewed and politically reconstructed civil society where all can be engaged in win/win strategies by aiding each other, we can find rightful conduct will be dictated solely by conscience.
Our very survival in the next millennium will depend upon truth questers and moral revolutionaries who will be selfless leaders, who by their natural talents will create equality of opportunity. In you, I see the future not only of Temple University but of a reborn republic. By your sacrificial choice to be college teachers in spite of the historic outrages you have been enduring, I know intuitively that you are an elect and if there be a heaven above the heavens you will be God's chosen people of the third millennium. For the weak, we will evidence charity. That is our collective mission. We are today's freedom fighters. We are all friends here who will stand side by side. That is our historic duty to fulfill to find community and social equality. I am but one facilitator. I will be there for you always.
I feel honored by your presence and too kind acknowledgment.
Ronald Jeremiah Schindler, Ph.D.