A group of academics from Harvard, Princeton and Yale has penned an open letter to this year’s freshman class of with a novel idea: Think for yourself.
Given the source of the advice, you might think the counsel would be to keep a running tally of microaggressions and ensure that every student has a “safe space” to retreat to if their feelings are hurt.
But these professors are pushing back at the snowflake culture that permeates many college campuses and instead are encouraging these students to engage their young minds in critical thinking for themselves rather than slavishly following the herd.
They warn, however, that could be a challenge.
“In today’s climate, it’s all too easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture,” they write. “The danger any student—or faculty member—faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.”
We know how that becomes like an incoming tide across the campus, limiting speech and creating what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion.” A 2016 Gallup poll found that 54 percent of students surveyed said their campus environment “prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”
As the professors point out, when those with contrary views are discouraged from speaking out, the dominant view becomes so entrenched that “only a bigot or crank would question them.”
But it’s the dominant and fashionable views that should be questioned “by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including argument for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”
The professors say they’re not encouraging students to embrace or reject any particular view; they only want them to make sure they decide where they stand “by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.”
You know, the marketplace of ideas.
That’s an exercise that leads an individual to discover his or her true intellectual self. The courage to constantly seek truth and understanding is what makes for a life-long learner, and what better place to nurture that spirit than our college campuses.