Advice for Harry, Class of ’14


My young, smart, conservative friend Harry graduated from high school in June, and is heading off to college.

As it happens, he’s going off to my old college, and sent me an email over the weekend asking for advice:

The other day a friend posted on my Facebook a link for the Fall 2010 course catalog, which was a startling reminder that I’m growing up and about to head off to college. In regards to my course load next year, there is certainly not a shortage of fantastic options. I was curious, though, if you knew of/ knew any professor in particular that you’d think I’d like or should look into (re: a purveyor of truth and wisdom in a secular sea of pinko lefties).

I told him the truth: they’re all pinko lefties. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot anyway, even from lefties. Maybe especially from lefties. And I told him I’d ask the great collective beehive brain of Ricochet if they had any general advice for a young, center/right guy about to start college. Here was his response:

I’d love to see what kind of responses that would get. My only qualm would be the word “center” in my overall description. Chalk it up to teenage idealism, but I’ve drifted from there long ago.

Harry’s one of us. So, what do you think? Any advice?

There are 42 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Contributor

    Tell him on essay questions, always give the answer the pinko prof is looking for. No need to take a principled stance when As and Bs are at stake.

    For posterity’s sake, he can bury the truth further down, clearly stated as his own opinion so as not to confuse Prof Marx.

    But he risks running out of time. Tough spot to be in.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Coolidge

    I gave a letter to a few of my graduating students the gist of which was: 1) If someone asks you to participate in a club/committee, etc., seek out a friend’s advice so you don’t pass up any great opportunities; 2) Take classes you’re interested in, one of them may change your life; and 3) Social life is part of college and dealing with different personalities is something to embrace, not avoid. Remember that you have to live with these people at the end of the day. To those I’d only add, “soak it up.” Everyone I knew in college was competent and able to defend a point of view. The real world ain’t like that.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive

    My very favorite teachers were leftists. They were also my dorm parents at boarding school. We got along great as long as we set the ground rules that all debating on political topics happened at school not home. Of all of my teachers and professors throughout my school years, I’d say what I learned from my teachers/dorm parents has stuck with me the best. So, even the leftists can be great teachers.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member

    Aside from a focus on whatever Harry’s core field of study is to be, a couple of general thoughts:

    1. Take courses that expand your knowledge and challenge your thinking. Courses that force you to think critically and logically, putting you in a position where you have to formulate a conclusion and then defend it.

    2. Take courses that will hone your communication skills – writing, oral, visual arts.

    3. Learn all you can. I’m an engineer, so my concentration in college was in that field of study, but I gained more from exposure to history and philosophy than I ever would have imagined.

    No matter what your chosen field of study may be, there is much to be gained from an intentional “well-rounded” education. Absorb what you can, have a great time, and develop life-long relationships.

    Good luck!

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member

    First, people have a tendency to perceive their own lives as normal. It’s hard to live anywhere for years and not start to believe that the people you run into, the problems you face, the opportunities you’re given, and so forth in some way reflect the broader world. Don’t believe it. Universities are insular, rebellious communities. Make yourself a reminder and post it where you’re sure to see it from month to month. Or stay in touch with Rob so he can remind you.

    Second, liberals respond best to the Socratic method. When someone says something mind-numbingly stupid, respond with questions. Questions often slip past egos. And practice patience. Many people are trying to figure who they are in college, impulsively latching on to silliest things and slapping themselves later.

    Third, don’t let your teachers spout nonsense unchallenged. You might realize they’re misleading you, but many of your fellow students probably don’t. There’s no guarantee those students will be set right outside of school or after. Fight for truth and don’t give an inch.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Contributor

    Harry, I wish I could tell you to do what I did in college: when the going got tough I would head over to Rob Long’s room for a bracing cocktail.

    I guess that won’t be an option for you. So join the Political Union. You”ll find political soulmates there — I always had fun comparing notes with conservative friends. And always have a drink available when friends drop by.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    A laundry list, in no particular order:

    1. Regardless of ideology, gravitate to the professors who expect you to write and write well. If you can’t make yourself do it, find professors who will force you to work out your thoughts on paper.

    2. Don’t be a prude. Coda: don’t be stupid.

    3. If you haven’t already, learn a foreign language (preferably, not one of the usual suspects).

    4. I shorted myself by not taking more economics courses. Take as many as you can fit in, even if it’s far afield from your major.

    5. Beware any major ending in “-ology” that is not a physical science.

    6. Plenty of philosophy, at least some logic, and the Classics. They may get you beat up, but it will be worth it.

    7. Left, right, center, whatever – university professors are often very interesting people and, if you’re fortunate like me to attend a university where they actually teach undergraduates, they will often take a high level of interest in you. Get to know them.

    8. It’s harder than you may think at college today, but find something competitive.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member

    I assumed my favorite professor was a Marxist, given the four foot square portait of Karl Marx in his office. However, I ended up taking four classes from him because in class he was an utter cipher, and could argue Fanon, Dewey, Ayn Rand, Lenin, or James Madison with equal, and considerable passion. In fact, my understanding of the Constitution is derived mainly from him and Robert Bork.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member

    Look for subtle ways to undermine the agenda during class. A good technique is to introduce conservative ideas not as an advocate, but by using the naive youngster schtick: “You know, what you say about the merits of welfare makes sense, but another part of me thinks that maybe subsidizing fatherless homes for two generations might have contributed to the destruction of the inner-city family, and that can’t be a good thing, can it? I’m just so confused….blah, blah, blah.” Now your ideas have been introduced, but there hasn’t been a confrontation, at least not one initiated by you, which is key. Stay cool; if there’s going to be any hyperventilating, let it be him.

    And never drop that naive, just-trying-to-find-the-truth schtick, even when it’s apparent to all that you’re a conservative. It’ll drive a hardcore agenda-driven guy nuts, who eventually is going to want a high-energy confrontation. You must never indulge him in that expectation. If he’s a good guy, you’ll have great conversations, and for the benefit of the whole class. If he’s a prick, you’ll expose him.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive

    If you go to church, keep going to church. And if you don’t go now, start. It’s not advice I followed when I was young, but I wish I would have. It’s good for you, and it’s also easier to understand history if you’re familiar with some religious tradition.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Podcaster

    Dear Harry,

    While I agree with most everything everyone else has posted here, your generation is learning one thing my generation didn’t have to: The Internet is [expletive] Forever.

    That security clearance you wanted? That Facebook picture… yeah, the one from your sophomore year… what do you mean you don’t even remember that party? Sorry. We’ll get back to you…

    You posted what where? Under your real name? I’m not sure calling for armed revolution counts as a youthful indiscretion… Oh, sure it was a joke…

    Live your life. Have fun. Study hard. But, hey, let’s be careful out there!

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Contributor
    4. Take as many [economics courses] as you can fit it.

    6. Plenty of philosophy, at least some logic, and the Classics.

    I agree with Matthew Gilley’s # 4 and 6 wholeheartedly. However, I tend to disagree with some others here. My advice would be to take the observer role rather than the instigator or polite-challenger role. Perhaps that’s my (wimpy) nature, but I think professors have two huge advantages on you: 1) life experience and 2) control over the class structure and schedule. I’m not sure that posing a challenge, no matter how innocuous sounding, will be useful as you begin this journey. Take it all in. Accept invitations. Take a nap on the grass. Get locked in the library. Whatever. Experience life. Don’t be afraid to befriend interesting people, even if others think them odd. Make friends/acquaintances in all pockets of the school — lawn maintenance, food services, administration, athletics, technology, etc. etc. Try to make yourself known for being a good guy rather than a smart guy (although you are surely both already!) Good luck.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Editor

    Wow. Great advice, everyone. Thanks. Especially about the cocktails.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member

    1. Tell collectivist professors what they want to hear. In college, I seriously underestimated the influence of what I call “non-scholastic factors” upon one’s grades.

    2. The best subject to major in is mathematics, or a mathematics-heavy subject (if you have not made up your mind yet). Math demands the most from students (as does any explicitly logical subject such as logic itself, computer science, etc.). Employers are aware of this as well.

    3. I second Gilley’s points. Become intimately familiar with “the Trivium” (grammar, logic, and rhetoric). Its been the bedrock of Western education until the introduction of “progressive” curricula.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Podcaster

    By the way, I humbly admit that I violated the code of conduct with my ***. I apologize for that but I can not over emphasize how the world has changed. Too many people have been caught in a trap of their own making in this new world of social media.

    I will now let the Ricochet powers mete out my suspension, expulsion or general hand slapping with a ruler…

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    Ursula Hennessey… My advice would be to take the observer role rather than the instigator or polite-challenger role. …5:08pm

    Depends on Harry. If he’s ill-equipped for calm, informed, confident discussion from a conservative point of view (as is the case for most 18 yr old conservatives), then I’d say, ya, just observe. Don’t make waves. But I get the impression Harry’s different. He might be cut out for that polite-challenger role. If he is, and he doesn’t go for it, he’ll look back and regret it–and Harry (and his classmates) will have received a somewhat-diminished education as a result.

    But do all that nap-in-the-grass stuff, too. :-)
    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member

    The University of Texas was so large and I was so anonymous that I could, in a pinch, produce paragraph upon paragraph of Marxist jibberish if I felt I needed the grade. I liked the anonymity, and suggest that course evaulations, with very specific examples of bias and abuse of position, are an excellent response to a politicized course.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Inactive

    Hey, wish I coulda gone to college at Blandings Castle. A key thing to remember is that college ain’t high school. High school is rigidly conformist, and scars all of our psyches for the rest of our lives. College enjoys a bit of iconoclasm. It’s a Marshmallow World, as one might sing, providing a respite before real life starts.. Full of panty raids and twenty-three skiddoo and whatever the kids get up to these days.

    Can’t advise you on courses to take, just remember that your professors are there for what they know. Doesn’t make them wise in other areas. Treat it as a social network, with occasional vocational training.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Member

    Finally, Harry, when you’ve graduated from your no doubt fancy-schmancy college, you can explain to Ricochet’s Boss Hoss that making me sign in three times to post one comment, then automatically signing me out, is bad for business.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Inactive

    First, push yourself. Most colleges have dispensed with all but the most minimal course requirements, making it easy to spend four years goofing off. That would be a waste of your time and money. Take courses that challenge you.

    Second, consider majoring in math or one of the hard sciences, if so inclined. You will receive much more bang for your buck and avoid most of the left-wing propaganda that pervades higher education. As an extra bonus, you will be likely be highly employable upon graduation.

    And for God’s sake, don’t major in political science. That’s the fast track to law school and a career in a big litigation firm working with unbearable shmucks.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Editor

    Show of hands: who thinks Harry should go to law school?

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Member

    Second, consider majoring in math or one of the hard sciences, if so inclined. You will receive much more bang for your buck and avoid most of the left-wing propaganda that pervades higher education. As an extra bonus, you will be likely be highly employable upon graduation.

    Agreed. College is much better suited for the sciences than for liberal arts. For the latter, you’ll learn much more through workshops, guilds and apprenticeship (practice with an editor). The value of a writer or artist can be proven with a portfolio. A degree in English is just a piece of paper that says you payed your dues. A degree in geology or physical therapy is more representative of actual knowledge.

    Even if Harry has a warrior spirit like Steyn or Klavan, he should remember that a class debate is not a casual conversation. Teachers always wish they had more time. Students pay for that time. Respect those limits. But, if you must be silent, jot down your thoughts so that you can explore them after class. I learned a lot and had many great debates between classes. You might take that into account when you select your schedule.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Member

    Make friends with professors. Read their work and talk to them about it.

    Don’t take any classes you think you should take.

    Read a couple of books about psychology, but skip the classes.

    Do something nice for New Haven.

    Stay away from singing groups.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Contributor
    Rob Long: Show of hands: who thinks Harry should go to law school? ยท Jul 26 at 6:39pm

    Want to be an attorney, Harry? Go to law school. Want to teach law? Go to law school. Otherwise? Take a look at that bottom line.

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Member

    Law school?

    Are you saying that Harry might like some future employer to assume he can both read and write?

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member

    I really like Ursula’s advice. But, I disagree a bit with respect to remaining a quiet observer. Part of the college experience is to learn how to think, as well as, learn how to articulate your knowledge and opinions to others. The best way to do that is to respectfully challenge what doesn’t make sense or you don’t agree with. The better professors provide a safe classroom environment to do this, regardless of your beliefs, and you should take advantage of that opportunity. But, there are, also, those inflexible professors with liberal agendas and large egos who you should be wary of. Unless you don’t mind potentially sacrificing your grade and creating an uncomfortable environment for yourself going forward, I would take Ursula’s position of keeping under the radar.

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Coolidge

    It doesn’t matter what your major is, you can do anything you want provided you have the communication skills to tell someone why you’d be good at it. Political science led me to PR, Publishing, Sales, and, believe it or not, politics. Now, I teach English, which I approach pretty much as a communications class. You can do anything you want if you have the desire. Go where your interests tell you, but be sure to come up with a sales pitch to your parents.

    Oh, and avoid the professional majors. They teach you to think in a straight line and apply the same solutions to every problem. No offense to anyone, I’ve just seen too often where a lack of critical thinking skills hurts businesses. I doubt that’s an issue with anyone here.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Podcaster
    Rob Long: Show of hands: who thinks Harry should go to law school?

    More importantly, what does Harry want to do?

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    Trace Urdan: Make friends with professors. Read their work and talk to them about it.

    Excellent advice. I made friends with most of my professors and learned so much more just in conversations I had with them after class. It also helped me in networking later on, because they remembered me.

    As far as law school…unless someone else is paying the bill Harry should think long and hard about investing that much time and money in a field he may not enjoy. I think an MBA is more versatile.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Inactive

    Get a job. No, not in lieu of college. I have no idea if you’re already planning on this, or if it seems ludicrous. Either way, having a job while going to school does two things:

    1. It gives you an immediate stake in the enterprise. Use it to pay for lab fees, or textbooks, or one course a year. Many of my friends performed drastically better after their moms & dads stopped footing the bill. My best semesters magically occurred when I wrote checks to the University.

    2. It provides some structure & (useful) routine. The jump from High School to college is a big one. A student often goes from a highly structured life, to one with a ridiculous amount of free time. Even 5-10 hours a week can help mellow the transition.

    As for ideology, well, be humble. Not a weenie, just humble. It’s worth noting that the bulk of your classmates will be roughly as bright as you, and will have come to their beliefs in similarly good faith. Listen, think, then talk.

    Rob, Law School? I thought you liked the young man.

    • #30
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