Higher Learning


Higher Learning Essay, Research Paper

In the 1995 movie, “Higher Learning”, John

Singleton gives evidence to numerous sociological issues. In which,

Singleton emphasizes that our society needs to be re-socialized, so that

society as a whole can overlook all of our preconceived stereotypes and

norms, and pass judgement on people not based on the color of their skin

or beliefs. As such, three major, and five minor sociological issues arise

in the film.

The major sociological issue is

the use of symbols. Symbolic Interaction asserts that society is

composed of symbols, which use to establish meaning and relationships,

to coordinate actions, and to develop a view of the world and the self

(Henslin, p.15). Singleton uses many examples of symbols throughout

the film. For example, the statue of Columbus signifies the need

for a global change in attitude. Disproving the common theory that

the world was flat, Columbus revolutionized society’s outlook on their

contemporary lifestyle. Singleton uses this revolutionary figure

to signify that universities and other such institutions can also be used

as avenues for a global mindset change, by learning. Another symbol

used throughout the film is the act of running. Malik is portrayed

throughout the film as running, signifying a progression from a typical

gangbanger to an educated athlete. Conversely, periods throughout

the film where Malik is off the track team or not running, Singleton digresses

Maliks’ education and reverts the character back to a hoodlum. Evidence

of this is when Malik is kicked off the track team, and Dr. Phipps informs

Malik that his paper is not up to university standards. Another symbol

strongly used in the film is the character Deja. Deja’s character

exemplifies tolerance and innocence lost. She dedicates her efforts

on studying, yet manages to fulfill her role on the track team; whereas,

Malik loses his motivation for schooling after being depicted as just a

thoroughbred. Deja throughout the film encourages Malik to make use

of his opportunity and not to succumb to his pride. Likewise, the

ending of the film would not have brought forth the same emotions in the

audience if any of the other characters had died. Deja represented

the studious and hard working pupil, and her death signified an innocent


Another major sociological issue

arising in the film is the role of groups. Groups mold basic perception

and ideals, and these groups become part of each member’s identity and

the lens through which a member views society (Henslin, p.101). An

example of this from the film is when Fudge categorizes the student body.

Fudge enlightens Malik to the fact that all the Asian students socialize

with each other, all of the white students socialize with each other, and

how Malik being a black student, should congregate with the rest of the

black student body. Even though all of the students preside on the

same campus, or a secondary group, the general student body breaks down

into more individual primary groups. Moreover, Singleton illustrates

how peer pressure affects individuals in these primary groups. For

example, Remy’s skinhead friends coerce him into beating people up on Halloween.

At first Remy seemed shocked by the actions of his friends, but Scott assures

Remy that they are just ethnically cleansing society. As such, Remy

soon partakes in the assault on the fellow students. Another group

example Singleton uses is the process of groupthink. Irving Janis

coined the term, groupthink, as a narrowing of thought by people, leading

to the perception that there is only one correct answer and that they suggestion

of alternatives is a sign of disloyalty. Singleton provides a good

example of groupthink when Fudge sets off to vindicate Monet’s honor after

having been called a ‘black bitch’. Fudge’s friends need no explanation

on what was said, or by whom, only that there was an injustice done.

The last major sociological issue

arising in “Higher Learning” is the Authoritarian Personality. Theodor

Adorno used the term authoritarian personality for people who are prejudiced

and rank high on scales of conformity, intolerance, insecurity, respect

for authority, and submissiveness to superiors. The character

of Remy, is a classic example of having an authoritarian personality.

Remy is in desperate need of attaching himself to something or someone.

Throughout the film, Singleton depicts Remy as a loser who says inappropriate

things at the wrong time. For example, after Kristen rushes out of

the fraternity, Remy walks over to Billy and congratulates him on getting

‘laid’. However, Remy misinterprets the scenario and is deemed an

outcast by the majority of the fraternity brothers. Another example

of Remy’s insecurity is when he blames the minorities in his class for

his failure at becoming an engineer. Another character with authoritarian

characteristics is Kristen. She too seems desperate to fit into the

college lifestyle. Singleton exemplifies this when Kristen is talking

to Dr. Phipps about her term paper. Phipps informs Kristen that her

work lacks an argument, and she should argue on her beliefs and not what

she thinks her professors want to hear. Soon there after, Dr. Phipps

states a thesis statement that Kristen could have argued, and Kristen thanks

the professor for the idea. Phipps informs Kristen that is his argument,

and encourages her to generate her own ideas and not to argue someone else’s

beliefs. The final character Singleton portrayed with an authoritarian

personality is Malik. Numerous times during the film, Malik is shown

asking for someone else’s opinion on what course of action he should take.

For example, at the end of the film, Dr. Phipps tells Malik on how impressed

he is on the improvement of Malik’s paper, especially through all of the

tragedies. Malik asks Dr. Phipps on what does he think the right

course of action would be regarding Malik’s future. Malik is characterized

as a person who needs the reassurance of someone else to ensure that he

is on course.

Singleton also sheds a light on

some minor sociological issues. One example is deviance. Deviance

is the violation of rules and norms (Henslin, p.126). An example

of deviance from the film is the date rape of Kristen. Although Kristen

seems to originally give consent to have sex, she asks Billy to stop and

put on a condom. Since Billy showed no signs of succumbing to her

wishes, she insisted that he stop. This disregard for Kristen’s welfare,

not to mention the possibility of transmitting numerous sexually transmitted

diseases, constitutes rape.

An additional minor issue is social

status. Social status is the position that someone occupies in society

or a social group (Henslin, p.83). An example of a social status

originating from the film is the change in attitude in Remy upon joining

the skinhead group. Before joining this group, Remy seemed to lack

confidence and self-awareness; however, after joining the group his confidence

seemed to grow as did his self-awareness.

Further minor issues arising from

Singleton’s movie is subcultures. A subculture has values and related

behaviors of a group that distinguish its members from the larger culture

(Henslin, p.43). An instance from “Higher Learning” is

Scott’s group. Singleton illustrates this particular group to be

either a skinhead or neo-nazi group. Either of these groups believes

in white supremacy, and wishes to achieve an Aryan race. Scott’s

group shows numerous signs of deviance against minorities and ascribes

to hate literature.

An additional minor issue emerging

from the dramatization is gender. The term gender infers those social

characteristics that a society considers proper for its males and females

(Henslin, p.229). Singleton provides an example of this when Kristen

is raped. Singleton shows Kristen as a weak, helpless woman unable

to defend herself. Conversely, Singleton shows how this weak female

needs a strong male to defend her honor. This is illustrated by Fudge going

over to the fraternity house and dragging Billy out by the scruff of his

neck and forcing an apology out of him.

The movie, “Higher Learning”, is

a not-so-subtle movie illustrating numerous sociological issues.

John Singleton is trying to show how society’s preconceived notions affect

the world we live in, and how society at large should ‘unlearn’; however,

this task is not easily achieved. Only through learning can individuals

shed some light on creating a socially responsible society. Unfortunately,

there are too many people who would rather live in the dark.

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