Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Self-infantalising students now finding ideas too scary

It’s the very opposite of what a university is supposed to be about.

Rather than being forums for free expression and the free and open exchange of ideas, a New York Times  article suggests universities are now “encouraging ‘safe spaces’ to protect delicate sensibilities.” Rather than going to college to meet, understand and engage with scary ideas, it says, too many of today’s undergraduates insist on hiding from them – and wanting them to be made to go away.

But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer….

It follows too that ideas that challenge students’ world view – the very reason for attending a university in the first place – are also, and very easily, being designated ‘unsafe.’ A chilling trend for free speech.

[But] while keeping college-level discussions “safe” may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?

A chilling trend for intellectual engagement.

“I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” [one student] said.

What the student is after is not a university, but a daycare centre for one-year olds – which is an insult to the one-year-olds, who want to grow up.

Student newspaper The Undercurrent decries the trend, saying

  increasing numbers of students are purposefully trying to avoid ideas that upset them by establishing “safe-spaces” and trying to keep controversial speakers off campus. Is this trend toward “self-infantalising” making college a place where students do not have to actively consider controversial and important ideas? Will protecting students from disturbing ideas prepare them for the real world?

Being exposed to ideas you disagree with is a good thing, not a bad thing; it requires you to challenge the reasons for your own beliefs and, like in any good debate, if you are wrong then you learn something from it, and if your interlocutor is wrong they learn something from it: in the end you both win.

Not so much of you insist on hiding yourself away from anything  you might find at all disagreeable.

It’s not about being open-minded about all the ideas you might come across. The point, as The Undercurrent itself said in a recent article, is to be active-minded.

Which is what a decent university education is supposed to be about, right?

Here’s Howard Devoto and Magazine:

1 comment:

  1. Well said Pete. After all the gains from trade are greatest when peoples' preferences are the most different. This is just as true in the market for ideas as it is in he market for goods and services.

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