Colleges are upside down

Friday, June 8, 2018

Iíve been enamored by knowledge for as long as I can remember. My uncle, who was a wise old man in his own right, told me when I was very young that the more you knew, the more control you were of your own life and Iíve never forgotten that. On top of that, learning for me was fun. I thought of all the things one could do, going to bed at night knowing more than you knew when you woke up that morning was the best you could do for yourself because learning is entirely up to you. Whether weíre ignorant or intelligent is our choice and no one elseís.

So it should be obvious that I loved school when almost all my friends simply tolerated it. And I wasnít a book nerd. I played all sports as well as participated in other school activities just like most of my friends did. The big difference is that I studied every night and they didnít. So I looked forward to going to college so I could continue to learn and be around others who wanted to learn also.

One of the first things I learned about college was that it was a place where your norms, values, attitudes and personal beliefs were challenged from the first day. No one goes to college a blank slate. We all think weíre already smart by the time we get there and one of the roles of a college is to show us weíre not. The challenge was not to change our belief system but to give us the tools and the knowledge to reinforce it if it was worth reinforcing in the first place.

So I heard speakers and took classes from professors who taught from a perspective that I wasnít accustomed to. But by doing that, they made me engage my own brain and come up with definitive reasons for why I believed the way I did. Those challenges to the norms I had been taught while growing up anchored my knowledge in ways that would have otherwise escaped me.

But a lifetime later, colleges have lost that focus. Instead of challenging belief systems, they now defend them to almost laughable extremes. Many people on the lecture circuit will not speak at colleges anymore because of the animosity they receive during their performance. In fact, on 60 minutes a couple of weeks ago, members of a college selection committee were interviewed to determine what they looked for in a speaker. Amazingly, what they DIDNíT look for was objectivity and a challenge for students to look inward at why they have the value system they do. What they insisted on was that no speaker should challenge a personís belief system to the point that it offended the student or caused them to be upset. Thatís why we hear about safe zones in colleges now where students can go and be assured that their feelings wonít be hurt.

This is obviously a 180-degree change from the way college used to be and itís not a change for the better. We donít have safe zones in the real world. People arenít going to bend over backward to protect your feelings like theyíre now doing in college. As a Democrat in one of the most Republican states in the country, I know this personally. So I can either close my doors and stay home or I can associate with friends and debate points and issues, even though Iím always outnumbered. But because I learned how to do this in college, being outnumbered doesnít bother me. But it certainly would bother young people coming out of colleges and universities today.

No speaker should be censored nor should any professor be told what to teach in his or her class. It builds backbone and courage to hear things that conflict with what you believe when you stand up for and defend those things. Colleges and universities are not doing any favors to our kids by protecting them from ideas they havenít processed yet.

In fact, theyíre doing just the opposite.

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