Writing at The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan thinks colleges are lying to students. Colleges are saying professors want to teach students how to think, but professors are actually telling students what to think.
Here is a taste of Flanagan’s piece:
My father was an academic and a writer who cared a great deal about teaching, and he was never off the clock.
There we’d be, chatting away, when some new subject or other would heave into view, and I’d launch into a long assessment of it. I’d be certain—absolutely positive—that I was right. My father would listen, head cocked a little to the side, often smiling a bit, sometimes raising his eyebrows after an especially bold point. For some reason, I would feel encouraged—not wary—and I’d bash ahead into bolder assessments.
Eventually, I’d run out of steam and finish up, with some sort of gesture meaning “case closed.”
There would be a moment of silence. And then my father would say—gently, because there was zero need to say it any other way: “And what is the best argument of the other side?”
The best argument of the other side! Jesus Christ—the other side? The whole point of the argument was to destroy the other side! I was there to illuminate and then devastate the other side by engaging deeply with the worst it had to offer.
Which is usually a light lift.
I had learned the style and the rhetorical turns of making a great case, but I didn’t know the first thing about fortifying it with facts, reason, logic—or the best argument of the side I was treating in such a cavalier way.
You don’t have to delve into the arcana of the Third Reich to destroy anyone making a case for it. But these layups rarely present themselves in decent places. Most of the time, the subjects we talk about are—for all of their flattening by cable news and internet wormholes and all the rest of it—extremely complicated.
A teacher should never do your thinking for you. She should give you texts to read and guide you along the path of making sense of them for yourself. She should introduce you to the books and essays of writers who disagree with one another and ask you to determine whose case is better.
Many college professors don’t want to do that today. They don’t want to “platform” a writer they think is wrong; they don’t want to participate in “both sides-ism.” The same thing is true for the students who pound on the doors of lecture halls and pull fire alarms and throw garbage cans down hallways to protest the 45-minute speech of a visitor.
They believe in sympathetic magic. They believe that words—even those spoken within a lecture hall—will damage them and their classmates. The truth is that they’re scared. They don’t think their ideas can outmatch those of the hated speaker.
Is there anything more satisfying than watching a debate in which the sophist gets defenestrated by someone smarter, better prepared, and obviously right?
Don’t bang on the doors of the lecture hall. Universities should book this character in the biggest auditorium they have. Broadcast him live on a campus radio station. Tell him the only requirement for his visit is that he engage in debate with a student—and then track down the young woman or man who owns this subject. And the professors who can help him or her to make the strongest possible case.
Do you think evil can stand up against that student’s case? It can’t.
The truth bats last.
Read the entire piece here.