21.5.15

BREAKING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT.

Continual and fearless sifting and winnowing requires few limitations that trammel inquiry.
Must I emphasize the obvious?
Robert Frost once observed that, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.” If so, then the number of temper tantrums erupting on campuses nationwide indicates that few are being truly educated there.

The back-and-forth, point-counterpoint that is at the heart of the intellectual dialectic is foundational to the development of the reasoning capacity in a sound-thinking person’s mind. It’s how we sharpen our wits and come to understand the flaws of our own arguments. Students certainly don’t hone their debating skills cowering in a “safe zone” with their hands over their ears.
Those safe-zones, and the latest iterations of self-despising multiculturalism, are continued developments in higher education's breach of faith with the culture that sustains it. The Robert Frost observation is the general. Specific illustrations of cowardice appear regularly. Here, a story out of Minnesota (motto: Ten Thousand Ways to surrender the Axe.)
American public universities might be the last place one would expect to find religious fanaticism triumphing over Enlightenment liberal values. Indeed, I can't imagine the university bending over backwards to accommodate the views of students who subscribe to other religions. What if the flyers had depicted two men kissing, and were instead being used to advertise an LGBTQ meetup, and it was fundamentalist Christian students lodging the complaints? Administrators would probably tell those students not to trample their peers' free speech rights. (At least, I hope they would.) Liberals would cheer. Why then do universities cater to the silly protestations of a different fundamentalist sect?
Because to do otherwise would be to otherize?  Unfortunately, the fear of otherizing and marginalizing has polluted the common schools.  Thus the Distressed material matriculating into thirteenth grade might not even know it's being coddled.
So it’s essential to talk about ways to try to spark a meaningful cultural transformation that will push back against the tide of illiberal behavior on campus. In order to truly promote the right to free speech and dissent on campus, we must act on more than a case-by-case basis and look for systematic solutions.

First, K-12 civics education fails to provide students the foundation in the First Amendment and the overall principles of a free society that they need to understand their rights once they get to college. While students know that America protects freedom of speech, and they care about that, most can’t articulate the underlying principles or explain why freedom of speech, dissent, thought experimentation, and devil’s advocacy are important. And colleges are hardly helping students learn these valuable lessons.
The rot might have begun in the humanities, thence spreading into victim-studies.
Do we still need the humanities? Yes, now more than ever. But the current academicization, politicization, and jargon mean that college may be the worst place to look for them. That's where you go for Queerness, libidinal data, and negotiated flesh.

On the bright side, it may be that the liberal arts and humanities will flourish once they escape the airless vaults of academia.
Or when enough students and parents push back against a diversity establishment more interested in palling around with terrorists than in stretching students minds.  As Reason's Robby Soave puts it,
The reality is that students who claim to be oppressed—or triggered, or microaggressed, or offended, or invalidated—are among the least oppressed people on the planet. They have found shelter at just about the only institution in existence that will break its own promises (and the law) to protect their feelings: higher education.  And keep in mind that—broadly speaking—university faculty and administrators share these students' views: they, too, are politically and socially liberal, and yet risk-averse and reluctant to permit actual dissent. This deadly combination of biases makes them much more sympathetic to, say, a Muslim student group, than to the Young Republicans.
And, unfortunately for those self-despising multiculturalists, the strong horse in American politics is an elephant. "College professors and administrators backed the wrong side (at least for now). They didn't play it down the middle. They put all their eggs in one political basket and now, hey, payback's a bitch."

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