Are you about to start college? Or will you be applying to college this winter? Do you want to get the most out of your college experience and emerge smarter, emotionally stronger, and more self-sufficient when you graduate? Then be sure to watch these three videos.
Many universities contain subcultures that will make you less wise, emotionally weaker, and more dependent upon others. They’ll render you less able to befriend or work with people who don’t think like you or share your values… which means they’ll render you less fit for employment in most industries, and less open to new ideas, people, and opportunities. We might call these subcultures “illiberal.” Here’s how you can recognize them and avoid them, while exposing yourself to the kinds of intellectual challenges that have always been the active ingredient of a liberal arts education.
1) What went wrong at Brown?
For an overview of the new moral culture that has overtaken many of America’s elite schools, start with this 13 minute documentary by Brown alumnus Rob Montz.
Some key lines:
- Rob Montz: “I’d never known less about the world and yet somehow also never had more confidence in my opinions about it.”
- Glenn Loury [professor; referring to a campus controversy]: “If you are an indigenous person and someone says, ‘The Indians didn’t get their land stolen, and if it was left for them they would still be living in poverty today,’ the answer in every case is to take the offender to the intellectual woodshed. Which is to say, to refute what they are saying, to point out how silly, ahistorical, superficial, and without ethical foundation [that argument is]. That is what the university is for, to teach people how to do that. If we pre-empt that process of education with a capitulation to the presuppositions of adolescence, we will have abdicated our responsibility and not deserve the pay.”
- Ruth Simmons [former president of Brown]: “Learning is the antithesis of comfort.” “The collision of views and ideologies is in the DNA of the academic enterprise. We do not need any collision avoidance technology here.”
2) Coddle U. vs Strengthen U.
Next, watch this 30 minute talk that I (Jon Haidt) gave at Yale a month before the Halloween costume controversy. My first book, The Happiness Hypothesis, investigated ten “great truths” discovered by sages across cultures and eras. In this lecture I show that many colleges now teach students the exact opposite of ancient wisdom, and I show what a college would do if it was serious about fostering growth, strength, and wisdom.
Two of the “great truths” they teach at “Strengthen U:”
- “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (Nietszche). Yet many colleges do all they can to protect students from experiences that will make them stronger. Young people are anti-fragile; like bones and like the immune system, they require challenges and shocks in order to grow strong. So when you treat them as though they are fragile, you weaken them and actually make them fragile.
- “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Sermon on the Mount). Yet many colleges teach students to find ever smaller specks in their neighbors’ eyes (i.e., “microaggressions”) while teaching them to hold themselves blameless.
You can also read more on this topic in The Coddling of the American Mind. And you can learn more about victimhood culture and how it draws people in from this essay by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning.
3) I learned more from McDonald’s than from Haverford
Finally, watch this three-minute testimony about Coddle U. from Olivia Legaspi, a working class student with PTSD. Legaspi says that working at McDonald’s helped her grow and taught her valuable life lessons, whereas Haverford College tried too hard to protect her. She shows how Haverford tried to teach her the exact opposite of what she learned at McDonald’s.
The key differences:
- McDonald’s: Put the other person first. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Learn to take care of yourself.
- Haverford: Put yourself and your feelings first. The school will help you and protect you from slights.
Her summary point: “Putting oneself first is the essence of privilege. But putting oneself first does not develop character, or lead to personal growth. Putting others first does. McDonald’s is a far better teacher of that lesson than college.”
Have a great time at college, but be careful who you hang around with. Expose yourself to diverse ideas, social groups, and news sources. Question prevailing orthodoxies. Beware of illiberal subcultures, especially if you are a member of an historically marginalized group. As Ruth Simmons says in the Brown video, after being asked why a tenant farmer’s kid decided to study French literature: “Because everything belongs to me. There is nothing that is withheld from me simply because I am poor.” That is the true spirit of the liberal arts.
- If you have not yet chosen a college, please see the Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges. We have only a first draft up now. But by late September we’ll expand it to a list of the top 200 schools in America, with ratings that will help you avoid the most politically orthodox and illiberal universities.
- If you’re already a student at a college with a large illiberal subculture, please consider introducing a resolution to declare your school a Heterodox University.
- If you know any students who are just beginning college, or any high school students beginning to think about college, please send them a link to this blog post.
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business and Heterodox Academy’s co-founder and Board Chair.
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