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PC Campus Culture
The Problem Starts Before College

Some students get to college already primed for the political correctness typical of today’s leftwing campus politics, as Catherine Rampbell reminds us in her Washington Post column today. According to a recent national survey, “students are setting foot on campus already more liberal, more protest-happy and more amenable to speech restrictions than their predecessors,” she says. “Which suggests that colleges themselves are not wholly responsible for rising liberal and illiberal tendencies on campus — even if they do sometimes aid and abet both trends.”

Rampbell’s comments are consistent with the observations of Jonathan Haidt, one of the foremost experts on the new campus political correctness. In a recent interview with John Leo of Minding the Campus, Haidt said:

The big thing that really worries me – the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse – is that one of the causal factors here is the change in child-rearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime, amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently–protected as fragile [. . .]

I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.

So while PC foes are right to ridicule campus censors, and right to criticize campus administrators when they surrender to the activists’ authoritarian demands, this approach may not be sufficient.

Here’s one policy change that might help get closer to the root of the problem: Admissions committees should ask students to demonstrate—through essays, recommendations, and extra-curricular activities—their independence, toughness, and openness to opposing views. We’ve tended to be skeptical of “holistic” college admissions regimes, in which admissions officers try to divine the character traits of 17-year-olds. But to the extent that those regimes are already in place, traits like emotional resilience and grace in the face of disagreement should be considered in addition to today’s more common criteria, like empathy and commitment to social justice. This might help colleges weed out at least some of the students who would be likely to have emotional meltdowns when they were offended, or call for the firing of professors with differing political views. And if there was a widespread sense that colleges were not interested in accepting special snowflakes, perhaps some helicopter parents would be less likely to coddle their children.

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  • Jim__L

    “Admissions committees should ask students to demonstrate—through essays,
    recommendations, and extra-curricular activities—their independence,
    toughness, and openness to opposing views.”

    You’re assuming admissions committees have any interest in these sorts of virtues. If they do, they’ve managed to hide it very well.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Here’s an essay question popping into my head which could be used for TAI’s recommendation in last paragraph:

    Would you be willing to support this college’s varsity football team members as the arbiters of speech and communication policy on this campus, including the handbook guidelines for students and faculty, selection of speakers on campus, and management of protests (if any)? Please explain in not less that 1000 words the reasons why you would or would not support your football players functioning in this dual capacity.

    • M Snow

      My daughter teaches art at a middle class high school. Most of her students have a hard time writing a 5-sentence critique of famous art works and those heading to college seldom do better than those who are not. I suspect that the vast majority of prospective college students would not even understand your question, let alone its implications. Nor do I believe that they have any appreciation of the historical situations that caused the framers of the Constitution to include the First Amendment or even what the First Amendment is.

      • FriendlyGoat

        So, based on your comment—which I don’t dispute—-maybe I should reduce the “2000 words” requirement to something shorter?

        I would be interested on your take and your daughter’s take on why she sees what she sees in her students’ capabilities and tendencies. Certainly we know that many people do a knee-jerk to blame teachers, curriculum and even the whole public-school concept for the present state of educational outcomes. Since your daughter is in the trenches so to speak, I imagine she and her fellow teachers understand that they are stuck with doing the best they can with the students and situations which are handed to them in daily reality.

        So, what are the real factors driving so many (many, not “all”, of course) students to low reading, low comprehension, low expression skills? How do we convince those who can only blame teachers to expand their willingness to address other matters?

        As for my proposed question about football players as arbiters, please understand that I use the comment section as a place to develop “crazy” ideas—-just for fun. As you know, if you read me and then my critics here, I am often considered a nut. (But I think of myself as a “well-meaning” nut).

        • Anthony

          To the certainly “non nut”, here’s some additional context to your query: (and The Independent Whig above [or below] has some worthy thoughts concerning topic)

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. Going “nut” again here, I’ve been inclined to believe that there are such people as “natural” teachers. I am not one, but I have known some and am married to one. They may require a lot of training in subject matter, depending on the subjects they will teach, but a natural teacher could be taught the evidenced-based strategies for teaching in perhaps no more than 90 days and then be turned loose.

            Separately, the comments on the article you linked include some about the very small amount of time teachers can possibly have to grade and give feedback on students’ writing assignments. Fifteen years ago we did not know that people would create the entirety of Wikipedia for free. We also did not know that “go fund me” would work to raise money from generous people.

            Today, I suspect we don’t know that there might be an army of old people who would spend their time giving feedback to youngsters on anything they write. We could suspect this because of the volumes we are witness to in Disqus comment sections. (No, I don’t know how to start and monitor such an effort, but I would bet there are decent people out there who would give kids four or more hours a day online if they had the vehicle in place.)

          • Anthony

            Nothing said above finds disagreement with me. And I absolutely think “natural teachers” (as in other naturals) exists and are a treasure. Regarding link, my signal purpose was six strategies – naturals do it naturally but not everyone comes to it naturally FG.

        • M Snow

          Well, I don’t consider you a nut and you certainly are well-meaning. I do find your tendency to blame corporate America a bit knee-jerk at times, but I always enjoy reading your comments and appreciate your politeness.

          Now to your question. I’ll try not to exceed 2000 words, but it’s a complicated subject. If I had to pick one factor, it would be the breakdown of the family. It is heartbreaking that so many children today are adrift. They often turn to drugs and arrive at school in a stupor. I opposed no-fault divorce way back when, but now we are dealing with a situation where no family forms in the first place. What child is going to sit down and do his homework in the chaos of serial “step-dads” that so many are dealing with?

          That said, I’m not going to let the schools completely off the hook. I was a teacher as is my daughter and I have to admit that the standards have fallen over the years. When I began teaching in 1970 at least 75% of my colleagues had graduated in the top 10% of our high school class. Several of us were in the top 1%. We had very high standards for the children’s academic progress. When feminism encouraged women to go into law and medicine, teaching lost the women who were previously the leadership of the profession. My daughter would tell you that around half of the people she works with are just plain lazy.

          Next on my list are the stupid fads that the education establishment has indulged in in recent years such as the nonsense of the self-esteem movement or the “New Math” silliness. Worse has been what has happened to the teaching of history. Maybe there was a time when history was taught with a blind eye to our country’s faults, but somehow the, “warts and all” approach has morphed into, “all warts, all the time.” And frankly, they don’t even do a very good job of that when large numbers of students can’t identify what in CENTURY the Civil War was fought or even who the combatants were.

          This is a little off topic, but when my children were in high school, the state achievement test scores were published in the local newspaper. Our seniors scored in the 4th percentile in writing. I was horrified and called my school board member to see what the board planned to do. He responded, “Well, you’re the only one who has complained.” Gobsmacked! I know that writing is one of the most difficult subjects to teach because correcting and guiding student writing is extremely time consuming. Unless principals and school board members are willing to insist that students do a fair amount of serious writing, many teachers will slack off on this task.

          As to your question about how to get society to deal with this mess, beats me. I do what I can with my own grandchildren and pay attention to local school board elections, but I can’t say I’m optimistic.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks for your kind words and insights. I often wonder if, in addition to all you have mentioned, our kids’ connectivity to each other and everything else outside of school is contributing to the problem.

          • M Snow

            Not just our kids. I’m a big fan of capitalism, but it is not without its failings, one of which is our very high rate of motion as jobs move, people follow and community is attenuated.

        • M Snow

          Update. I mentioned your idea of the football team as speech arbiters to my daughter. She loved it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Cool, and thanks. Other than also wishing that 3rd, 4th and 5th grade boys and girls were drawing each others names at random for half-mile fast walks around the track while holding hands (PE as “physical empathy” instead of “physical education”), I’m fresh out of off-the-wall ideas for the education community. But if I think up any new ones, I’ll let you all know.

    • Boritz

      I agree with Snow. The essays would be liberally salted with “you know” “or something” “and stuff”.

  • Nick De Lancie

    Gramsci’s concept of taking control, by accretion, of the switch-points of social power, or what one of his followers characterized as “the long march through the institutions”, has been preceding apace for a long time now. This should have been obvious for sometime to anyone who was paying attention, and certainly more so recently. For the indoctrination of youth, high schools are the place.

    • Fat_Man

      And elementary schools, and the mass media, and so it goes.

  • GS

    “So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins.” – all dicks are thin-skinned.

  • Fat_Man

    Admissions committees have neither the expertise nor the ability to conduct the kind of scrutiny you propose, nor the kinds that they claim to do and claim to want to do. It is all a charade. The problem is acute because of the increasing grip that elite colleges have on entry into the ruling class and media and financial elites. What you propose, changing the parameters of the evaluation process, cannot lead to a change in its outputs.

    The only possible way out of this bind is to remove control of the process from the colleges. Many educated people believe that admissions should be controlled by a third party testing authority as it is in many other countries. Their intuition is that such a system would be acceptable to everyone. However, It is clear to me that a suffcient portion of the public, no doubt concentrated in certain groups, has rejected the very idea that testing can be fair or efficient. To me, the only system that could possibly be accepted as fair by everyone is a random draw.

    I am the first one to acknowledge that my proposal is not yet acceptable to any large constituency. The colleges will fight tooth and nail to keep control of their admission process. Of course they will fight tooth and nail against any changes other than giving them more money. We are guaranteed that things will get worse.

    Casting about for something that a Congress channeling public outrage could enact and that the colleges would have a hard time fighting, would be a “Bill of Rights” confirming the rights of students to free speech and due process vis-a-vis the colleges, and placing the vindication of those rights within the jurisdiction of the Federal courts.

    • Boritz

      Interesting suggestion. It could take the form of legislation (i,e. We’re from the government and We’re here to help you [with your admissions process -It’s for the children]. Poetic, no?

      • Fat_Man

        I gave some thought to the form of a Student Bill of Rights for students at all public colleges and universities and at any private schools that accepts Federal or State funds. The law should include at least the following:

        First Amendment: Freedom of speech and of the press; the right to peaceably assemble.
        Second Amendment: Right to keep and bear arms subject only to general State laws.
        Fourth Amendment: No unreasonable searches or seizures.
        Fifth Amendment: Due process, high burden of proof, no self incrimination.
        Sixth Amendment: Right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial tribunal;
        The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation;
        The right to hear the witnesses against him in person and to cross-examine them;
        The right to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and
        The right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

        The Federal and State courts must be given jurisdiction over violations of these rights, and college administrators must be personally liable for violations of these rights. The law must state that the rights conferred shall be interpreted in the same way that federal and State constitutional rights are interpreted.

  • Beauceron

    I have no doubt that the indoctrination– the brainwashing– of children is well under way prior to university. Our public schools, as witnessed by many recent news stories on everything from introductions to the wonderful world of Islam to black supremacy, are part of the machine.

    But I reject outright the characterization you see from most pundits that these kids are fragile creatures, wounded to the bone by every perceived slight. They are hard-edged operators who know what buttons to push and what strings to pull to get more privileges flowing their way. I think this has as much to do with the weak, wasted philosophies and principles of the Old Left as it does with some budding New Left based on identity politics and revenge. The BLM protesters I have seen on campus are anything but fragile, they are cold, calculating race-obsessed bigots, fighting not for justice or equality, but for more power and spoils. And they are getting them, racking up victory after victory. They wail and cry not because they are fragile, but because it’s what works. But if anyone stands up to them, they turn aggressive and intimidating. You thing the kids who marched into the Dartmouth library assaulting white students are fragile?

    • GS

      One could brainwash only those having brains. The parrots, on the other hand, are not brainwashed but simply trained.

    • Dain Fitzgerald

      I agree. The safe space rhetoric and seeming fragility is just a ploy that dares their opponents to be mean by violating certain tenets. They know what they’re doing. ConservativesThink about it: why would fragile snowflakes become interested in politics and social change of all things? That’s a tough arena! Special snowflakes become botanists.

      Also consider that demands to shut down one’s opponents and a hostile attitude toward free speech and inquiry is the norm around the world. Are Egyptian youth coddled too? Hardly. They’ve got grit.

  • Pait

    So childhood and adolescence already have a well-known liberal bias.

    Young people are liberal and happy to protest authority. Who knew? The only novelty is conflating protest-happy with censorship loving, which I believe is a contradiction.

    • Tom

      You would think so; given how many of these protests are devoted to demanding censorship, however, apparently not.

      • Pait

        How many? A few for sure. Screamers. Kids will be kids, isn’t that what they used to say?

        • Tom

          Missouri, Yale, Oberlin…it’s quite a litany.
          And I don’t object to kids being kids–until such time as they decide to try and stop people from thinking. Then they become minions.

          • Pait

            I didn’t say they’re not everywhere – just that a few in each place will misbehave in the direction of trying to stop people from talking or thinking. Perhaps at Oberlin it’s more than a few, but even there, generalizing from the ones requesting censorship to “students nowadays” is, well, silly.

  • The Independent Whig

    If the problem starts before college then the logical place to address it is before college.

    There’s no reason NOT to teach our kids how and why people think and act the way they do, and many reasons why we should.

    Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory, summarized in his book “The Righteous Mind; Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” is a summary of the current state of the art of social science research into exactly that, and a Rosetta Stone for unlocking the mystery.

    I think it would be relatively easy to make a few adjustments, not wholesale changes, to current K-12 curricula that would provide a more complete and accurate understanding to our kids than they currently receive. There’s still be liberals and conservatives and there’s still be much disagreement and discussion, but at least it would be based on common ground, on a level playing field, of an understanding of human nature that is more complete and accurate than many of the things that “everybody knows” but are actually wrong.

    The kids who emerge from an education system that offered a more complete and accurate understanding of the human condition – arguably the primary purpose of that system – would be better leaders and would make better decisions by virtue of replacing the many myths we believe about each other by actual science-based knowledge. They’d be more empathic, and better equipped to create social policy that does the most for the most by virtue of being more coincident with human nature and with what really motivates human thought and action.

  • rheddles

    The greatest existential threat to the USA is the NEA.

  • The Independent Whig

    The problem begins in Kindegarten, and the solution can too.

  • J K Brown

    What a load of BS. More than a few of the professors, administrators and university presidents have touted since at least the 1960s the the university’s job was to transform the student, to overthrow the traditional values imparted by parents, to drive out the parochial. And they set to it in grand fashion so much so that a student admitted to a university founded by a religious order or denomination and purportedly still guided by the principles will have all of the teachings of Christianity assailed from day one on campus, never mind the more secular ones. The same goes for patriotism, admiration of the history of the English-speaking peoples or our own Founders, etc.

    So to now try to throw this off to the parochial views the students were impressed with in their K-12 schooling is the most humorous and unthinking dodge. The very fact the author tries to name the intolerant views of the students as “liberal” instead of Liberal or Progressive reveals the author’s lack of thought.

    In any case, the university could just hew back to their claimed purpose to challenge the student’s parochial views. Oh, but in this case, the professoriate dare not risk committing blasphemy against their ideology by encouraging open-minded acceptance of opinions, or as it was classical liberalism and the economic liberty upon which this nation was founded.

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