In the ’60s, Alan Charles Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, co-founded Van Pelt College House, a residence for students to be individuals and not representatives of larger groups. Physical and intellectual diversity thrived in a house complete with Maoist revolutionaries, the Campus Crusade for Christ, New Age Leftists, Socialist Revolutionaries and Campus Republicans.
If only we were so lucky to live in an age where professors and administrators wanted us to engage with dangerous and dissident ideas. A world of heterodox education would be a world with better critical thinking, more civility and would better prepare students for life post-college.
One major shift that the ivory tower tends toward is a left-wing consensus about the world of affirmative action, school choice, Title IX, environmentalism and economic rights, which creates a lack of respect to even include other ideas and conceptions of the world within the ivory canon. Many students are unfamiliar with the work of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Edmund Burke, Cato the Elder, William F. Buckley, Ayn Rand, Irving Kristol and Carl Jung.
While these thinkers may be wrong, if academia teaches one perspective and establishes it as a utopian orthodoxy, one that is unable to be questioned without scorn, students will be shortchanged intellectually. Some students with dissident views may not feel comfortable expressing themselves. If their ideas are heinous but unspoken, faculty will have no way of addressing and changing their minds. College for them has served no purpose other than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on extended sleepaway camp. While this may be the minority, the effects on the majority are more deleterious.
Epistemic humility is not something that comes naturally. Teenagers tend to believe they know everything and without a rigorous intellectual challenge, their ego will remain inflated and their ideas will grow increasingly bad.
One sanitizing effect of multiple perspectives, similar to natural selection, is that bad ideas and slipshod-thinking get eviscerated. Challenges from other angles encourage tougher intellectual skin, and promotes effective argumentation as well as a deeper understanding of more points of view. The primary reason why college is desirable is so students can develop critical thinking skills. Going over hard texts, analyzing from perspectives you may previously be uncomfortable with, and thinking outside the box are skills that businesses expect students to have. Increasingly keeping students in ideological safe spaces prevents them from obtaining these skills because increasingly things worth interrogating or understanding more deeply are banished from the classroom.
The second problem with not teaching multiple perspectives is that students do not become empathic and understanding of other viewpoints. As a result, the polarization that many like to decry is amplified. If one does not understand why people who one disagrees with have their viewpoints, one is going to be talking past the person, leading to anger and confusion. For this exact reason, tagging viewpoints as alt-right and not worth engaging with (such as global warming is good, abortion is bad, sex may not be optional, and welfare is bad) causes antagonism toward the university on the part of people who defy the orthodoxy. Some may even delude themselves into thinking that academia is so fragile that it cannot handle the truth in certain situations. At best, silencing unpopular viewpoints weakens the credibility of the academy. At its worst, it actively creates its own enemies by being blissfully unaware of other viewpoints.
Naivete is not only intrinsically bad. Students who see political opponents as personal enemies, who believe that the world is as insular as college, and who lack the critical thinking skills to analyze the pros and cons of specific policies are not only unemployable, but also vile and obnoxious creatures.
Fortunately, colleges can be hospitable to iconoclasts, even if they currently are not. One group of educators that wishes to encourage an understanding of multiple perspectives is Heterodox Academy. Heterodox Academy is a group of nearly 4,000 educators, administrators and graduate students who want to promote viewpoint diversity in college. They hope to enhance the quality of education and research by embracing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement.
For students, college is not the only place to look for intellectual rigor. Change yourself. Read something uncomfortable, email the tea party, get virtual coffee with a libertarian or flip through “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”
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Isadore Johnson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.