Thursday, November 09, 2006

More on Academic Freedom

Okay, so now I have time to write more about this article on academic freedom.

Like I said, we don't really have many radical leftist students at Mall University, probably because we're a very blue-collar commuter university, and our local population tends to be moderate-conservative. But, I do see a problem with their arguing skills. Specifically, most people I encounter, be they students or adults, don't like to argue and don't know how to.

This section sounded a bit familiar:

"Then there are students. Once seen as being among the most progressive, or certainly the most open-minded members of society, today more and more of them are increasingly ban-happy, responding to controversy not by having the argument out – by ‘questioning things vigorously’, as Kaminer puts it – but by demanding censorship, silence, an end to words or images that might potentially upset fragile members of the student body."

I think his examples are pretty limited- they stole a print run of a paper at Brown in 2001? This shows a widespread trend in American universities? But, I often see a pattern in which Person A gives their very strong opinion, and nobody else will say anything, even if they disagree, because they don't want to look 'rude'. And, he's right, that that's not a great situation to have in an 'open marketplace of ideas'.

Also, I've noted that a lot of people have what Camille Paglia calls the Alcoholic Arguing Style. Instead of stating their opinion, and then calmly backing it up with a series of well-reasoned and calmly-stated supporting points, they simply state their opinion in a vehement way, and sort of intimidate those around them. So, they say things like:

"You're opposed to the war? That's totally stupid and anti-American!"
"I am totally disgusted and horrified by this evil and immoral war!"
"Of course I believe in evolution: you'd have to be a total moron not to!"

Instead of taking their statements as arguments that can be calmly responded to, it's hard not to clam up in the face of their vehemence. They clearly take it very personally, and will likely be insulted by disagreement. I see a lot of students argue in this way, and most will not respond to these sorts of arguments.

The problem, as I see it, is that professors aren't willing to challenge their students ideas, be they liberal or conservative, because the students, and the population at large, seem to take their arguments so personally. They conflate their 'beliefs' with their 'identity'. This is a notoriously thin-skinned generation, and I don't think that professors do a good job at all of explaining what academic arguments are and how they should be conducted. So, that's what I have seen.

No comments: