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Today, I am pleased to announce the release of my new essay in the newly published The State of the American Mind: 16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, a collection of essays by a variety of cultural and educational experts edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow. Some of my fellow authors include E. D. Hirsch, Nicholas Eberstadt, Dennis Prager, Daniel Dreisbach, Ilya Somin, Maggie Jackson, and Richard Arum.
The essays are framed by Bauerlein and Bellow’s theories on the root causes of the decline of the American intellect and “the shift away from the self-reliant, well-informed American.”
Here is a summary of my essay, “How Colleges Create the ‘Expectation of Confirmation’”:
While there are examples going back decades of college students driving speakers they disliked from campus, there has been a decided uptick in the frequency and intensity of such suppressions from 2009 to 2014: since 2000 there have been at least 245 disinvitation attempts made by students or faculty, with more than half (133) taking place just since 2009. Recently targeted speakers perhaps most famously include Condoleezza Rice and comedian Bill Maher.
The “disinvitation movement” is the logical outgrowth of a campus environment that privileges students’ emotional states over meaningful debate and encourages a belief that there is a “right not to be offended.” As students increasingly insist that speakers with whom they disagree be banned from campus, this mythical “right not to be offended” is morphing into a stricter “right to have your views confirmed,” or at least not challenged too harshly. This “expectation of confirmation” has troubling implications: it worsens both the intellectual atmosphere on campus and America’s broader political polarization.
Polarization is the natural result of people’s tendency to sort themselves into self-affirming, sympathetic communities. This has been accelerated by physical mobility, as discussed in Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort (2009), and technology that allows us to live in digital echo chambers. Thus, we can expect both polarization and its accompanying illiberal practices and communication breakdowns to increase over time. It is all the more pressing, then, that we recruit educational institutions to combat these echo chamber effects.
With over 68 percent of 2014 high school graduates enrolling in college, higher education seems the natural institution to teach classic pluralist values that remedy polarization’s effects: to seek out debate and opposing viewpoints. However, this would require a cultural shift for many campuses, and is nearly impossible to achieve as long as the “right not to be offended” and the “expectation of confirmation” survive.
You can purchase The State of the American Mind (available in both hardcover and Kindle format) at Amazon.Published in