Raising the Standard.

Question Everything (and Everyone)

WIdener Library at Harvard University, the first public university in the United States, and therefore a symbol of the liberal education. (Photo credit to Joseph Williams)

The beauty of university, of the classical idea of the liberal education that we are supposed to receive in our four years at college is rooted in discovery. I choose this word—discovery—carefully, because it denotes something more than the simple absorption and memorization of facts, names, and processes. ‘Discovery’ entails a more worthwhile, applicable, and long-lasting skill set. One that enables a decently apt student to graduate with a solid worldview. Yet today, however, American universities seem to gradually be abandoning the cause of the liberal education and all of its riches.

A core tenet of the liberal education (not at all to be confused with a liberal arts education) is to produce “persons who are open-minded and free from provincialism, dogma, preconception, and ideology; conscious of their opinions and judgments; reflective of their actions; and aware of their place in the social and natural worlds” according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Unfortunately, as John Henry Thompson and Davis Parker aptly note in a previous editorial, education continually morphs more into the training of a “legion of politely groomed job candidates.” You’ll notice this vis á vis your friends’ and fellow students’ obsession more with resumé boosting than with having a spontaneous intellectual discussion.

Moreover, the liberal education requires its teachers to forsake ideology in the classroom in the pursuit of truth, or at least of alternate theories and explanations. Indeed, a teacher’s object should not be to mold the minds of his or her young and fickle students, but rather solely to open them. Unfortunately, however, this objective has been all but abandoned at our universities in pursuit of a radically different vision which spells doom for liberal education and all of its benefits.

Some professors, journalists, and even State-devised curricula seem to believe that the systems in which they exist are more a pulpit to alter the course of culture, usually to the Left, than ones that requires integrity. It is no secret that the fields of journalism and academia are more littered with the Left’s ideology than any other, and perhaps this is the result of a natural attraction these professions have to the Left. But I argue not with the fact that a majority of professors subscribe to a ‘liberal’ ideology, only simply with the way in which ideology is presented as the surest truth in the classroom by too many.

To take largely empty, malleable minds and mold them in a way that comports with one’s own ideology is a despicable abuse of the podium and should be regarded as such. However, as of the present, such pontification not only fails to be condemned on today’s campuses, but even worse, it is largely applauded or perpetuated by fellow academicians, university bureaucrats, and the media. The result has been catastrophic—a prevailing bias not only on campus, but in society at large that jeopardizes our citizens’ ability to self-govern in as pure a manner as they once did. The consequences for abandonment of liberal education are indeed fatal for a free society. After all, only when “the people are informed can they be trusted with their own government,” as Thomas Jefferson notes.

 

But, rather than frivoling about in a past full of idealistic systems of education and society, I advise the following: question everything (and everyone).

 

An inquisitive mind is the only way to ensure that you, a student not only of the University of Georgia, but also of the world, can possibly emerge from university with more than a mere degree. A genuine understanding and appreciation of your roles, duties, and obligations as a  citizen are just as crucial, and perhaps more so, than your diploma. Therefore, never listen, read, or watch anything—especially in relation to your formal academic work—without a skeptical eye.

When a teacher discusses the issue of climate change as a phenomenon that transcends debate or perhaps even mindlessly derogates skeptics of the State’s preeminent role in solving climate change as “climate-deniers,” challenge this notion. Go home and dig, research on your own and you will find that the prestige of individuals in the all-too inclusive “climate denier” camp cannot simply be dismissed as anti-science. You may also find alternative solutions to climate change, such as convincing free market solutions.

Likewise, take the skeptic’s route when your teacher praises Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his Keynesian approach to ‘saving’ America from the Great Depression by vastly expanding government and creating invasive and long-lasting bureaucracy. It is likely that none of the following facts will be mentioned: that he threatened to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would flout the Constitution and uphold his New Deal policies (but ended up merely threatening the Justices to vote in his favor); that one of Roosevelt’s appointments, Hugo Black, was a former member of the KKK and that another had but one year of law school experience; that he vastly expanded the power of the presidency to the point that it would be an unrecognizable office to the Constitution’s framers; that he ran the country into a massive debt that is still unpaid (think Medicare and Social Security); and that his New Deal programs, far from ending the Great Depression as many would have you believe, only prolonged it (in case you do not have a Wall Street Journal subscription). Therefore, sadly, it is up to you, the student, to educate yourself on these matters.

Moreover, when you read a Washington Post article on white privilege or hear a teacher speak on the issue and find it condemning, illogical, or a tad silly, check out opposing opinions on YouTube. You will at least appreciate the broadening of your knowledge on the subject if not change your entire perception outright. Objective facts, experiences, and statistics—as opposed to nebulous, unfalsifiable, indefinable, and often anecdotal catch-all phrases used in reference to politics like ‘white privilege,’ ‘institutional racism,’ or ‘social injustice’—are far more reasonable and accurate. But, unfortunately, it will largely be up to you to discover these alternative viewpoints and facts of life.

The Left has made it taboo to approach nearly any such issue with incredulity, healthy skepticism, or an open mind. Although the moral relativism of the 1960s and 1970s is mostly out of vogue, save for a few specific issues, its replacement has not been any less damaging. On the contrary, now the university suffers often from a certainty that its positions are correct, leaving no room for a liberation of the mind that a liberal education seeks to achieve.   

Take, for example, this article from the Daily Kos. Apparently, Ayn Rand was a “clever racist” who “cloak[s] [her] white supremacy in an economic philosophy.” However, it only takes an inquisitive mind and a Google search to uncover the reality. The Left is perfectly willing to sacrifice the integrity of logic and research in the name of creating a State powerful enough to resolve every flaw of humanity.

Only at the modern university could one-sided beliefs—such as the morality of socialism, the “gender wage gap,” the inherent racism of capitalism, that men and women are essentially the same, that gender is fluid and countless other nonsensical ideas to which variance is equated to bigotry—not only be taught as viable positions, but as truths. And for those who deny—or merely question—the veracity of such ideas? Too often are they shut down intellectually and, most alarmingly, morally.  

The Left are entitled to these opinions, of course, and they should be tolerated. What is intolerable, however, is the use of an authoritative position like a professorship or journalistic post to promote ideology as truth to young minds that are immature, naive, and extremely gullible. Herein lies the problem.   

People, but especially young people, tend to place too much trust in authority, whether it be the authority of the State (i.e. our elected officials), the authority of the Fourth Estate, or the authority of those who teach, profess, or otherwise instruct. This brings us back to my initial point: The beauty of university, of the classical idea of the liberal education that we are supposed to receive in our four years of college, is rooted in discovery. But how, with the corruption of liberal education at the university, can one experience the liberation of the mind through discovery? My own story may be of some interest to any despondent or unenlightened students.

Discovery came to me through a rather impulsive decision to follow a friend, a certain Editor Emeritus of The Arch Conservative in Connor Kitchings, who encouraged me to join the magazine as a Freshman. I began by writing totally unbiased pieces and used the opportunity to take some time and figure out my political beliefs sans my parents, friends, and teachers. It was not until a year, perhaps even two years later, however, that I realized my full embracement of conservatism. This decision, wholly my own, was unsurprisingly not influenced by any of my professors. No, it was in my free time that I discovered the wonders, the facts, and the logical consistency of conservatism.

By the same token, I also came to understand the Left and liberalism to a greater extent. Of course, this makes sense. Naturally, to be sure of your opinion one must be able to imagine the argument of the other side. As John Stuart Mill professed in his essay On Liberty, “He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.” This effort presented challenges to everything I believed and thought to be true. It also was time-consuming. But so are all good things in life; also, the payoff—which was and is confidence in my own positions, principles, and worldview—is priceless.

 

Knowledge is indeed power. And to acquire knowledge, one must acquire the will to use free time to learn. Some free time must be devoted to discovery or else a liberated mind will be forever elusive.

 

Free time is too often overlooked in today’s college experience. I see too many people, myself for a time included, use their free time only to get away from their school and their studies: drinking too much, binging Netflix, or otherwise lazing too many precious hours away. It makes sense, of course—school is tough. But with a university system that is, for whatever reason, experiencing a decline in the critical thinking that a liberal education by its very definition intends to imbue, it is increasingly important to move to alternate media to complement education. Read without professors. Not only will this significantly boost your experience at university, it will also prove far more enriching and useful than anything you may learn in class.

Who knows, you may even discover your most sincere of interests and bring it along with you into an interview. A weeklong YouTube or Wikipedia binge on any given topic is easily worth an entire semester of class. In my own case, it was watching Milton Friedman videos for a week that convinced me of my ideology. I can assure you I learned more about my opinion on the role of the State in the economy than I ever would have by memorizing facts in a classroom setting.

In short, my message is to branch out, to question the norms of collegiate thought, find alternatives, and never be afraid of discovery or where it may lead. In this, you will find or become stronger in your core belief; and, rather than mindlessly absorbing the indoctrination of the classroom, you too may discover the beauties of a liberal education—professor, or no professor; degree, or no degree.

 

Naturally, now may be a good time to propose The Arch Conservative’s ‘Staff Favorites’ section in addition to our daily articles. We use our free time to share the insights at which we have arrived via research and thought in order to encourage you to do the same and to inform those of you who are interested in self-teaching.

— Nick Geeslin is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.