You may recall that a few years ago, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Dr. Everett Piper, bluntly informed students that his school was not a day care, but a university. Dr. Piper’s words made waves because they were some of the first to acknowledge the growing epidemic of coddled victimhood on college campuses.
Dr. Piper recently released a book on the same subject, expanding upon the day care mentality which seems to have overflowed from college campuses and into the rest of society. In particular, Dr. Piper notes that the current generation’s approach to truth is a main reason we no longer have rational and reasoned debate and discussion. Instead of humbly searching for and receiving truth, Dr. Piper observes that many millennials believe that their own opinions are “the final standard for what is ‘right.’”
Dr. Piper goes on to say:
Good education, a truly liberal education, one engaged in respectful debate and the search for truth, relies on the idea that there is a truth out there to be grasped, whether in a mathematical formula, a scientific discovery, a philosophical thesis, or a literary work that highlights a truth about the laws of nature or the nature of man.
Yet we teach college students today that they—their subjective feelings, ideas, hopes, and dreams—are the measure of all that is true and right. Consequently, many of today’s millennials are not so much confident in their beliefs as they are arrogant in their opinions and disdainful of others. Our universities have become adept at churning out degrees in opinions, rather than degrees grounded in truth. We have raised a generation to be very assured of themselves while at the same time having little confidence in much else. They claim there is no truth, but then they presume to be the very source of truth when they want something to be true.
Such an education and ideas about truth are not new. In fact, Benjamin Franklin framed his own debate club – the Junto – around similar principles.
In his autobiography, Franklin explains that every member of the Junto was to produce questions and papers on various controversial, but vital, subjects, such as “Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy.” The debates were to avoid angry conflict at all cost; instead, they were “to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory….”
Is such a formula the key to digging America out of the irrational discourse pit into which it has fallen? Do we need to begin teaching students that they are not the be-all-end-all of truth, but the humble inquirers who need to ingest wisdom and truth before they have just cause to present their own uninformed opinions?
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Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.