Thinking in public about anything that matters.

BOOK: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate

I am currently reading “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” by Greg Lukianoff.

I have read numerous books and articles about the quelling of politically “incorrect” , i.e., conservative and libertarian, views at universities for many years now and the reports seem to be getting worse over time. But this book has a difference – while the other books and articles I’ve read on this topic were written by people on the “right”, this one is written by a fellow on the “left”, with plenty of lefty credentials, who is just as concerned about the destruction of intellectual debate and rational rigor as the writers on the right have been (for two or three decades now). He recognizes that universities are *supposed* to foster such debate in an atmosphere that does not punish challenges to the “PC” views, but rather encourages such challenges. He recognizes that freedom of speech is in dire danger and that both high school and university students have been and are being trained to accept a certain point of view without critical examination, and without an appreciation for the necessity of free discourse among thinkers of all points of view.

I am only on the second chapter and I already consider this book to be must reading for everyone. I mean EVERYONE – no matter what country you’re in, no matter what political alliegiance or religious views. High school kids, college kids, parents, grandparents, childless people and orphans – EVERYONE.

Even if people only read as far as I’ve read so far, it would be worthwhile. Even if the rest of the book turns out to be crap.

Here are a few excerpts (I had to type these out because you can’t copy and paste from a Kindle. So any type-os or spelling errors are mine.):

EXCERPT: “You can’t fully understand what lessons colleges are teaching students about living in a free society without knowing what students have learned before they even step foot on campus. The news isn’t good. By the time they graduate from high school, American students already harbor negative attitudes about free speech….”

EXCERPT: “…Lessons taught by example are most powerful, and high school administrators have offered students some of the worst examples of censorship…”

EXCERPT: “Take, for example, this quote from a high school principal explaining his decision to confiscate an edition of the student newspaper because of an editorial supporting marijuana legalization: ‘I feel like censorship is very important.’ He elaborated, ‘Court cases support school censorship of articles. And we feel like that’s necessary for us to censor editorials in the best interest of our program and community.’ I believe this statement reflects the opinion of many other high school administrators: not only may a high school censor opinions, but it *should* do so for reasons ranging from harmony, to patriotism, to convenience.”

EXCERPT: “With high school administrative censors claiming the high ground, it should be no surprise that the Knight study also found that high school students were far more likely than adults to think that citizens should not be allowed to express unpopular opinions and that government should have a role in approving newspaper stories. After all, if protecting everyone from hurt and difficulty of free speech is a laudable goal, shouldn’t the government be empowered to do that?”

“Meanwhile, there is precious little education in the philosophical principles that undergird our basic liberties, which might otherwise counteract these bad examples. Civics has not been stressed in high schools in recent years, and ignorance of the basics of American governance is widespread.”

EXCERPT: “So what’s the big deal? What’s really at stake? Everything.”


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    Looks like a very worthwhile read.

    I’ve purchased it on my Kindle and look forward to studying it!

    Here’s an interview with Greg Lukianoff

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  2. SydneyKendall

    Thanks for the link, Prodos!

    And here’s a link to an organization manned by people from the left, the right, atheists, and theists who are all dedicated to upholding individual rights at schools, including academic freedom and freedom of speech.

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

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  3. SydneyKendall

    Here’s another FIRE video on campus violations of student and faculty rights, titled “Silencing U: Five Outrageous Cases of Campus Censorship”:

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  4. prodos

    Thanks. Excellent video!

    It shows how a principled, well organised defence of rights — exposing political correctness for what it is: Thuggery — works wonders.

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  5. Sydney Kendall

    FIRE *does* seem to know how to get the job done.

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  6. Quinton Newman

    The public recognized the consequences of the new censorship early on. Noteworthy authors began writing articles and books about the mounting suppression of free speech, academic freedom, and due process on campus, culminating in the in-depth chronicling of the dark state of higher education in The Shadow University in 1998. By the end of the 1990s, however, many observers predicted that the repression would eventually run out of steam as the passions driving political correctness waned with age. And in many respects, political correctness often did appear to mellow out. More skeptical observers claimed that it was not disappearing, but metastasizing. Who was right?

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    • Sydney Kendall

      Quinton, I’m thinking that this book, written in 2012, suggests that it’s been metastasizing. I guess only time will tell us for sure.

      But I believe there is a lot more “fight back” now than there was, because of all the work of people like the members of FIRE, and that’s a good thing.

      Also, it’s not just people on the right fighting back. There are those on the left as well who understand how important academic freedom is and are fighting to restore it. All to the good.

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  7. Ray Ward

    Greg Lukianoff is a leftie. I’m a rightie. If we were to meet, I bet we’d disagree about a whole heap of things. Where our opinions would coalesce, however, is on the matter of free speech. Free speech has been under attack on both sides of the Pond, for decades. Lukianoff’s book is an account of censorship in American academia and the role his colleagues and he have played in defying the forces that would suppress free speech. Lukianoff is a lawyer and it shows, in a good way; his writing is very lucid. Every now and again, I think his left-wing bias shows through, very slightly, but that is really a trivial consideration. He demonstrates an horrific catalogue of abuses of free speech, including cases where first-year undergraduates are, right from their first minutes in college, systematically bombarded with propaganda, with the threat of exclusion from university for not accepting the message, as against a financial penalty and maoist-style re-education, for those who surrender. Lukianoff presents a dreadful picture of American academe profoundly opposed to free-thinking.Read it and weep, but thank God for men and women like Greg Lukianoff.

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    Enjoyed the comments by Quinton Newman and Ray Ward.

    Although I now have the book on my Kindle, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

    The thing I’d like to know is:

    When the anti free speech policies were being proposed what, if any, opposition was mounted against them?

    What arguments were used and what actions were taken to argue against them and to prevent them from happening?

    Did the squelchers of open, fearless discussion succeed because they were unopposed? Did they succeed because there was a vigorous battle but the baddies won?

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