Paging noble Nestor: Right there in yesterday’s Sunday Review, the New York Times published seven letters about a piece from the week before—Judith Shulevitz’s essay about “safe spaces” in college.
As we noted this morning, two letters clobbered These Kids Today for their alleged fear of “scary ideas.” In four other letters, college professors defended These Kids and their own professorial practices.
Our view? In principle, there’s nothing wrong with turning classrooms into “safe spaces” for college students who may have therapeutic issues—far from it. This can be overdone, of course, just like anything else can.
That said, the seventh letter in the Times came from an actual college student—from one of These Kids Today! We’ll always defend the younger people until they go cataclysmically wrong. That said, we experienced serious 60s flashbacks as we read this student’s words.
You say you want a revolution? Here’s what the student said:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/29/15): Judith Shulevitz’s article about safe spaces on college campuses is a direct assault on my generation and what we find important. My generation has embraced the ideas of safe spaces and safe language. Without these, many victims of trauma or discrimination would be excluded from campus discussions that seek to cultivate and strengthen campus intellectual life. Truly open-minded intellectual growth desperately needs the participation of these groups.We agree with the spirit of that first paragraph, although we’d warn any young person against believing that he belongs to a “generation” in which all the other people his age think the same way he does.
Not all ideas are created equal. Some ought to be unreservedly condemned; consideration of such ideas is not at all helpful in bolstering campus intellectual life. The current generation of college students has denied validity to the failed ideas of the past. We have embraced the knowledge and empathy of the present. We are shaping the wisdom of the future.
They don’t! Unless he develops strong skills of persuasion, most of them never will.
That said, our 60s flashback began as we read that second paragraph. Back in the day, many members of our generation thought we had debunked “the failed ideas of the past,” that we were effortlessly “shaping the wisdom of the future.”
Doggone it, students! The notion that you’re debunking the failed ideas of the past is one of the failed ideas of the past! Meanwhile, the potential downside to “safe space” thinking begins to appear in this familiar formulation:
“Not all ideas are created equal. Some ought to be unreservedly condemned; consideration of such ideas is not at all helpful in bolstering campus intellectual life.”
Should some ideas be “unreservedly condemned?” Presumably, yes! But who will decide which ideas must be banished? Who will decide which ideas can’t be considered—can play no valid, helpful role in campus intellectual life?
When young people start thinking this way, they could probably use a bit of perspective from their professors and college presidents. In a similar way, headstrong Diomedes once needed the counsel of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, “who always gave the best advice.”
Are professors and presidents playing this role on These College Campuses Today? Doggone it! All too often, these august authority figures seem to be egging These Kids Today on!
Tomorrow: Back to the work of the Times