With the upcoming election and the battle over Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s replacement growing more contentious by the day, we are in an era of political polarization. Politicians cater to their bases instead of understanding and appealing to opposing parties. Education is one of the first victims of this political self-isolation. From the days when the government banned teachers with communist leanings from teaching to today’s debate about free speech in academic settings, we miss the chance to learn about each other’s concerns and perspectives. We often shout over each other to rally our like-minded peers instead of realizing that there is a whole half of the population that can be more receptive if we listen and address their concerns. This closed-mindedness is why it is more important than ever to protect academic freedom. We don’t learn when we choose to ban rather than counter with a better idea. Many times, we’re unfamiliar with the views we are against. As a result of our unwillingness to learn the strengths and weaknesses of opposing views, advancing our own ideas becomes more difficult.
We choose to ban because we only know what the other side’s loudest demagogues say on cable news. With a tendency to stick with what we know, we have little idea of what supporters of opposing parties want. According to a study in the Journal of Politics, Republicans and Democrats barely know each other’s views; just ask a Democrat what a Republican believes in and vice versa. Then, compare those answers to what both actually believe in. We tend to greatly exaggerate the views of the other party. In the classroom, many students don’t really know how to counter or find common ground with other perspectives because they rarely hear views different from their own.
In college, the fear of voicing certain opinions — even moderate ones in the national context — blinds entire classrooms. Even without substantial de jure deterrents outright banning certain viewpoints, with many de facto repercussions in the classroom, this fear is certainly real at Pomona College, where nearly 90% of students feared saying something offensive in and out of the classroom, and the other the Claremont Colleges. Viewpoint orthodoxy doesn’t just hurt those who disagree. Even students with opinions considered acceptable suffer as a result of a lack of exposure to different ideas. When their peers hide their perspectives, these students miss out on learning how to counter them or prove why theirs are better.
People have a much easier time advancing their ideas when they take the time to familiarize themselves with opposing concerns. Take Universal Basic Income (UBI), for example. Although it started as a libertarian alternative to traditional welfare, UBI found its home in American liberalism. However, by addressing conservative concerns about crime and economic freedom, recent proponents of UBI, notably Andrew Yang, have swayed many social and fiscal conservatives. Of Republicans across age groups, 30% support UBI, with even higher support among millennial Republicans. This level of support is unprecedented for a progressive policy from Republicans. Because proponents of UBI tailored it to both liberal and conservative concerns and perspectives, it fared much better than if promoted solely to liberals without regard for conservative concerns. If UBI proponents simply dismissed conservative concerns about crime or economic freedom as a legacy of trickle-down economics, those 30% of Republicans may never have been convinced.
In the classroom, when we shut ourselves to opposing opinions, we become worse at countering them. What’s the point of a politics class when students never voice many opinions — often out of fear — and approach every topic only from one perspective? Of course, there is a legitimate fear that students may abuse free speech to say something truly racist or sexist, but that’s nearly unfathomable at Pomona and many peer institutions; these schools simply very, very rarely have any students of that type. Nevertheless, students fear expressing any points that might be contrary to those of the professor and peers.
In a thought experiment, even if educational institutes have a mission of advancing a certain perspective, it would serve them better if opposing viewpoints are brought to the classroom. From detailed back and forth and analysis of opposing viewpoints, we make our own ideas better.
Nationally and in academic settings, talking over each other reinforces a fear that can fuel more extreme reactions and even conspiracy theories. Nationally, Middle America accuses the coasts of purposely abandoning their concerns when one voice dominates others in the mainstream conversation, making people susceptible to dangerous conspiracy theories. In educational settings, the slant in perspectives causes politicians to react rashly, such as when Trump moved to ban critical race theory (instead, another perspective on critical race theory should be offered; banning is never the answer).
Here at the Claremont Independent, we haven’t edited a single opinion with which we’ve agreed completely. But we edit nonetheless, and many of us refine our own ideas as a result. While politicians fight over an unfilled Supreme Court seat, we should instead learn from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s friendship with Antonin Scalia; when Scalia showed Ginsburg his dissenting opinion, she tweaked her own argument to make it better. We hope that this school year and beyond, students will not fear making reasoned arguments. We hope that our faculty will all welcome discourse. We learn from disagreement, and an educational institution has an obligation to give its students the best possible learning environment.
Editor Emeritus: William Gu
Editors-in-Chief: Liam MacDonald and Abbas Ali
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