(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) With conservatives increasingly criticizing college campuses for promoting too much intellectual “safety” (read: liberal groupthink) at the expense of open-minded willingness to consider a diversity of opinions, several recent essays may give them hope that at least some university administrators are tired of churning out over-sensitive “snowflakes.”
The new approaches conducive to pre-snowflake values don’t all come from the right, either. Liberal Franklin & Marshall College president Dan Porterfield joined this week with moderate former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (an F&M graduate and board member) to tout that college’s new program to promote “grit” in academia.
“Once secured by degrees, professional success in the future will increasingly depend on coping and adapting to disruption: intellectual agility, determination, self-reliance, emotional intelligence, and the ability to innovate,” they wrote.
Their new project aims to find and encourage students who demonstrate a “blend of passion, persistence, and optimism” that signals “grit,” and to inculcate a “’growth mindset’ in high achievers that embraces challenges rather than fearing failure.”
Other colleges also employ modern tools to seek students not just based on some pre-determined checklist, but with an emphasis on which ones are likely to succeed in the real world. As The Atlantic reports, more than 50 colleges now use a type of software to match students with the schools most likely to best fit their individual interests and talents. Plenty of other colleges make similar efforts with different software.
The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank, goes further, suggesting the “what succeeds” approach should start with student preparation before college. It does no good, wrote researchers Ike Brannon and Mike Nichols, to push kids into colleges only to see them drop out or otherwise fail. If colleges are financially rewarded for producing better outcomes and penalized for failing to do so, they will push less-prepared applicants to community colleges which are able to provide the remedial work needed to make them capable of true, four-year-university scholarship.
The idea is not to discourage higher-risk students from pursuing higher education, but rather to stop feeding them a myth that shortcuts, without proper educational building blocks, can lead to success.
Meanwhile, even some on the political left recognize our colleges fail to produce good citizens. In the journal Democracy, noted academic E.D. Hirsch writes that colleges should “teach a lot more history and civics, including the basic Enlightenment principles of the nation.” Hirsch says that all levels of American education have so over-emphasized “individualism” in recent decades that our students now often fail even to recognize a common culture and a common set of understandings. Without understanding Enlightenment values (including the value of the free exchange of ideas), this can lead to a lack of an ability even to listen to and learn from the other side – and thus to ignorance.
“The schools can and should improve culture,” Hirsch writes, “but without (as now occurs) leaving many of their students incompetent because they are ignorant.”
To be effective as citizens and workers, every schoolchild needs to gain access to the public sphere and its standardized language, as well as to share a sense of belonging to a country that is worthy of devotion. This public sphere can be changed and improved—but only gradually, and with tact. It is important to abolish evil elements of our past culture, but it’s also important to offer every child access to the currently shared public culture.
Hirsch condemns, therefore, what he calls “the current anti-nationalistic orientation of our schools.” And Hirsch says this not as a conservative or Trumpist, but as one who writes that his “intended primary target audience is my fellow liberals.”
Alas, despite the growing recognition among thoughtful observers across the political spectrum that our colleges have gone off the rails, the over-sensitive, over-coddled nature of many of today’s students may be hard to shake. As the New York Post reported in February, half of all collegians think their student loans will (as if magically) be forgiven. Meanwhile – even at semi-traditionalist Notre Dame – exquisitely tender sensitivities still appear to predominate, at least in some quarters of campus. As Amber Athey reports at Campus Reform, a protest is brewing against the invited graduation speaker, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Protest organizers are encouraging fellow students to “write about why they ‘feel unsafe with the presence of Mike Pence on our campus.’” Pence, they say, will only further advance the prevailing “’white, conservative Catholic’ narrative at Notre Dame.”
To which most conservatives would say the protesters need to suck it up, endure the supposed insult, and show some grit.