Newsflash: My Parents were Right

The world is not a safe place.

Even the University of Chicago agrees with Ellen and Jay Hart:

Looking for safe spaces on campus or trigger warnings on a syllabus?

Incoming students at the University of Chicago have been warned they won’t find either in Hyde Park.

They all received a letter recently from John Ellison, dean of students, which went beyond the usual platitudes of such letters and made several points about what he called one of Chicago’s “defining characteristics,” which he said was “our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.” Ellison said civility and respect are “vital to all of us,” and people should never be harassed. But he added, “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

To that end, he wrote, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

What I (mmmeeeeEEEE) can’t fathom is parents rearing children to expect that the world will be safe. I thought this was the age of the helicopter parent, the one who is always worried about something going wrong. Or is it that helicopter parents have been so successful in keeping their children from danger that the kids really do think the world is a safe place, and if it is not something’s wrong?

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4 thoughts on “Newsflash: My Parents were Right

  1. Maybe University of Chicago is not a safe space for liberal education:

    Pressures on liberal education come from the left and the right—although those terms are inadequate approximations, since campus politics never map well onto the real world. From the left come the campus activists, who believe, more or less, that Chicago’s traditional fetishization of rigor and the Western canon is almost literally destroying the lives of marginalized students. They are brilliant, well-armed with proof texts, and committed to transforming American higher education from the inside out. It’s their ideas and actions that so many universities across the country have reluctantly half-accepted and that Chicago prides itself on resisting.

    On the right, there are the future consultants, the pre-professionals, the “organization kids.” They run the College Republicans, and for that matter the UC Democrats; they’re Chicago’s equivalent to the bipartisan coastal elite we hear so much about these days. They want to have fun at college and get some networking done, activities that often overlap if you play your cards right. For them, the core curriculum is a distraction (and sometimes a threat to their GPAs) and amenities are essential. When students complain online about grade inflation, gleaming dorms, and the rapid expansion of the fraternity system, they tend to respond with confusion or disbelief. They too are frighteningly smart; they know what they want out of life, and they are glad to have come to a school that is starting to figure out how to help them get it. They are unsympathetic or even actively opposed to calls for trigger warnings and safe spaces, but, crucially, they also seem uninterested in the kind of abstract, freewheeling debate that the campus left is trying to constrain.

    Both sides question Hutchins’s vision for a university education that forces us into an encounter with difficult and even unpalatable ideas—with great thoughts that are not always also good thoughts. But while university administrators have made concessions to both sides, the pre-professionals are winning. In an effort to attract the well-connected, multi-talented students who populate Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, Chicago has been trying to shake off its monastic reputation for the past two decades. It’s introduced new, intensive majors, most notoriously the molecular-engineering program, which, like engineering programs everywhere, requires four years of absolute commitment and leaves little room for electives. Chicago always avoided introducing an undergraduate engineering major because of the rigors of Hutchins’s core curriculum, but that too is changing: core requirements were cut by a third in the ’90s, and new, easier sequences have been introduced in the social sciences and humanities to give harried engineers and econ majors a break.

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  2. This certainly doesn’t sound like the UC where the late Allan Bloom taught. I recall reading “The Book Wars: What it Takes to Be Educated in America,” by then NY Times editor James Atlas (1990), when it was published and was astonished to find Bloom arguing in favor of keeping “the classics” on the curriculum vs. other notorious professors and department heads at colleges around the country who were pushing their agendas for substituting “culturally relevant” reading material. Not astonished at Bloom, mind you, but at the major turn in the country’s college educational fabric – if you’re out to seek a good, solid, and (heh) expensive liberal formal eduction, why would you not want to read the classics. ‘Course, the two and half decades since the publication was released have only seen this situation worsen. Maybe UC is just giving up on the whole bad business and taken a sharp turn toward the hard sciences as an escape route (or maybe I should say “safe space).

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  3. I went to college figuring I was better than my professors and going to have to overcome them. I was right and I did. “Pay a nickel and make your choice, Mr. Moore!” More imprecision from doctors, I want my nickel back. But you can keep nickelback.

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