FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff: ‘We’ve fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness.’

 

In his new feature for the January 2022 edition of Reason magazine, Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I also work, puts to readers: 

We’ve fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. If we are to find a way out, we must understand how we got here and admit the true depths of the problem. 

What follows is a cultural chronicle of the last thirty-to-forty years of higher education, which Greg breaks down into three ages. The “First Great Age of Political Correctness,” he writes, ended around 1995, when a speech code at Stanford University was struck down in court, a year after campus political correctness had become enough of a national punchline that the movie PCU played in theaters (and endlessly thereafter on Comedy Central, this bleeding edge millennial remembers well). What followed was a period he terms “The Ignored Years,” when the wider culture moved on from the issue, wrongly thinking we’d gotten it out of our system; case in point, despite myriad losses in court on First Amendment grounds, the use of campus speech codes dramatically increased after 1995. That period ended around 2014 or 2015, bringing us to the Second Great Age we now inhabit. 

Here’s how Greg paints the dawn of our current age:

If a single piece of writing marks the end of the Ignored Years, it’s Jenny Jarvie’s “Trigger Happy,” a March 2014 New Republic article critical of campus trigger warnings—the practice of alerting students anytime a potentially sensitive topic is about to come up in class conversation if the teacher thinks it may “trigger” a trauma response in students or just upset them in some way. Jarvie’s piece presaged a marked increase in coverage of such issues beyond conservative media. Other milestones included Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine article “Not A Very P.C. Thing to Say” and Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, both published in 2015. Suddenly, people were paying attention to speech on campus again.

But it wasn’t just an increase in coverage. Something else had changed on campus. During the previous two decades, administrators were usually the leaders of campus censorship campaigns. Students, in turn, resisted those efforts. In late 2013, however, there was an explosion in censorship that was student-led. The infrastructure built during the Ignored Years was producing downstream effects.

(Note: the articles linked in the excerpt above aren’t linked in the Reason feature itself, but I’ve added them for any interested readers.) 

Greg’s Reason feature views the current age through a wide-angle lens, taking in factors ranging from the the swelling ranks of non-academic administrators; the increased political and ideological homogeneity of faculty and administrators; the proliferation of campus bias-response teams; the increasingly activist programming of education schools; and the political backlash we’re seeing in, among other things, the wave of legislative attempts to (often unconstitutionally) ban a wide variety of teaching and trainings painted with the broad brush of “critical race theory.” 

Having started at FIRE in 2008 (the late-period Ignored Years, as Greg might refer to them), it’s indeed remarkable what a changed landscape we’re working in. To get an understanding of why that’s the case, and why it matters, “The Second Great Age of Political Correctness” is a great place to start. 

Published in Education
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  1. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I recall PCU. Will have to watch again. “You can major in GameBoy if you know how to [BS].”

    • #1
  2. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    End compulsory education, mock credentialism, and let employers choose their employees as they wish (rather than having to outsource selection to colleges). Demolish the structures themselves (government schools and excessive university enrollment) rather than tinker with their weirder epiphenomena.

    • #2
  3. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Agree we just have to eliminate the public school system and replace it with private education in which parents are returned their taxes and are free to choose any school anywhere.  Alternatively, adopt the system that took New Zealand from the bottom of Western schools to the very top in one year, in which parents are given the cost of tuition and they can choose any school.  Schools become autonomous, run by teachers,  who  naturally have to fire lousy teachers because they can’t compete for students with lousy teachers.  The charter schools alternative is too slow, and still influenced too much  by states.  I won’t see my grandchildren this Christmas because if they leave N.Y. they have to be quarantined for 10 days upon return, so would miss school after the Christmas holidays.  

    • #3
  4. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy
    @Illiniguy

    I just read the article, and the biggest takeaway I have comes at the very end:

    “As anti-CRT laws have proliferated, many on the left suddenly became aware of how broad and vague speech codes can be used to punish ideologies, and educators, they are fond of. Meanwhile, many on the right suddenly began to embrace the same sorts of codes they had fought for decades, hoping such codes could be the weapon they’ve long needed in order to turn the ideological tide on campus.

    True believers from across the political spectrum seem to believe that some weapons are good if they’re wielded by the right people and bad if wielded by the wrong people. That’s a problem that needs to be solved, lest campus culture become a tit-for-tat race to the proverbial gutter.”

    Getting rid of the scourge of “PC”, “woke”, “cancel culture” or whatever you call it will be a tricky operation. If conservatives simply embrace kneejerk solutions to CRT in the form of reactionary legislation, we run the risk of further entrenching it instead of moving us back toward a middle way. 

    • #4
  5. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Illiniguy (View Comment):

    I just read the article, and the biggest takeaway I have comes at the very end:

    “As anti-CRT laws have proliferated, many on the left suddenly became aware of how broad and vague speech codes can be used to punish ideologies, and educators, they are fond of. Meanwhile, many on the right suddenly began to embrace the same sorts of codes they had fought for decades, hoping such codes could be the weapon they’ve long needed in order to turn the ideological tide on campus.

    True believers from across the political spectrum seem to believe that some weapons are good if they’re wielded by the right people and bad if wielded by the wrong people. That’s a problem that needs to be solved, lest campus culture become a tit-for-tat race to the proverbial gutter.”

    Getting rid of the scourge of “PC”, “woke”, “cancel culture” or whatever you call it will be a tricky operation. If conservatives simply embrace kneejerk solutions to CRT in the form of reactionary legislation, we run the risk of further entrenching it instead of moving us back toward a middle way.

    If you come up with a method that doesn’t involve using their tools against them, I’m all ears. But so far, all I hear is whining and no solutions.

    • #5
  6. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Illiniguy (View Comment):

    I just read the article, and the biggest takeaway I have comes at the very end:

    “As anti-CRT laws have proliferated, many on the left suddenly became aware of how broad and vague speech codes can be used to punish ideologies, and educators, they are fond of. Meanwhile, many on the right suddenly began to embrace the same sorts of codes they had fought for decades, hoping such codes could be the weapon they’ve long needed in order to turn the ideological tide on campus.

    True believers from across the political spectrum seem to believe that some weapons are good if they’re wielded by the right people and bad if wielded by the wrong people. That’s a problem that needs to be solved, lest campus culture become a tit-for-tat race to the proverbial gutter.”

    Getting rid of the scourge of “PC”, “woke”, “cancel culture” or whatever you call it will be a tricky operation. If conservatives simply embrace kneejerk solutions to CRT in the form of reactionary legislation, we run the risk of further entrenching it instead of moving us back toward a middle way.

    Remove the tumor, not kill the patient.  

    • #6
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