I’m reading The Discovery of Heaven, a novel of ideas by Dutch author Harry Mulisch. One of the main characters, Onno, after a stint in politics, meditates on the nature of power.
He claims that power exists because of the Golden Wall that separates the masses (the public) from decision makers. Government, in his example, is a mystery hidden behind this Golden Wall, regarded by the masses (the subject of power) in awe.
Once the Golden Wall falls (or becomes transparent), people see that behind it lies the same mess as outside it. There are people in there, too. Messy people, engaged in messy, imperfect decision making processes. The awe disappears. With it, the power.
What happens actually, with the fall of the Golden Wall, is higher accountability and a more equitable distribution of power. Oh, and the risk of anarchy.
But the Golden Wall must fall.
In the communication professions, social media is tearing huge holes in the Golden Wall. Just like in 1989 Europe, some are celebrating, others are paralyzed with fear.
In education, the Golden Wall stands. Secret meetings behind closed-door decide the curriculum, the professors’ yearly evaluations, tenure, lives, my life.
I talk to my students about squabbles in faculty meetings that result in curriculum changes. I want them to see behind the Golden Wall. To understand how decisions about their education are made. That we’re human, imperfect, and hopefully, possibly, subject to change. I haven’t seen undergraduate students involved in changing the curriculum. Nobody asks them. They don’t push. At Purdue, the Graduate Student Association had a representative sit in on faculty meetings. We did impact the curriculum. We were in, behind the Golden Wall.
In U.S. government, C-SPAN gets us glimpses behind the Golden Wall. But we don’t watch. We’re too busy. It’s too boring. (OK, there are exceptions.)
Look around you. Do you see Golden Walls? Tear them down.
Then come back here and tell the story in the comments section.