This Christmas I sat in my in-laws living room as some of their friends advised their teenage daughter on what to do when she went to college. Much to my surprise, they offered her genuinely good counsel.
Too often parents urge their children to major in a subject that they, the parents, prefer. Sometimes this entails pursuing the same dream as one of the parents. More often, the student is told to choose a remunerative discipline. Perhaps the young person should study business—or maybe engineering.
In the case I was listening to the father said that he had learned the proper lesson from the television show Glee. He was not going to stop his daughter from being a dancer if that was what she genuinely wanted. Besides, he knew that she would not listen anyway.
As a college professor, I frequently hear this dilemma from the student’s point of view. Sometimes one of these young people will bemoan the fact that they are violating a parent’s wishes. Sometimes they express guilt at not being more practical. Worst of all is the shame they may feel at having changed majors several times. This makes them feel like failures.
But then—if they ask me—I tell them that college is all about exploring. This is a big world with many options. Indeed, so diverse are the potential selections that it is impossible for someone who has not yet entered the adult world to be familiar with all of the available alternatives.
College, while it is not perfect, does make it possible to test a variety of choices. By taking classes in different subjects, each can be tested in action. Instead of merely thinking about what might be nice, a particular prospect can be temporarily inhabited to see what it would feel like.
What I also tell those who ask is that they must never forget that whatever path they select, they will be the ones who will have to live it. Their parent’s preferences may be sensible, but mom and dad will not be there to assuage the pain of an occupation that does not match the student’s personal abilities and desires.
Life is longer than some young people realize. They, therefore, believe that they must make a choice right away. If they do not, they fear that they will soon be too old to change their minds. I then try to explain that taking time now may save a great deal of grief later on. Yes, years may be lost in the process—but what of the greater number of years that might be lost by engaging in a dissatisfying job?
Keeping an open mind and being true to one’s inner core is part of what it takes to lead a successful life. And since young people are only at the beginning of finding out who they are, it makes sense to explore this before committing to a particular career.
It is a small matter, but it has huge implications. To begin at the beginning, I have been writing columns for the Marietta Daily Journal for some time now. When I started, this was a novelty for my colleagues at Kennesaw State University. As a result, my efforts were generally posted on the bulletin board in our departmental workroom.
In due course, however, one of my fellow professors complained. As the most radical member of our department, he found the conservative nature of my opinions offensive. So odious did he find them that he demanded that they be taken down on the grounds that they created “a hostile work environment.”
My initial response was that this was absurd, but the department chair did not agree. Within days he instructed our secretaries to remove my pieces and to make sure that no new columns were displayed. Evidently afraid of being sued for having upset the complainant, he decided that caution was the better part of valor.
But consider the consequences. Liberal opinions are routinely posted on our campus. Yet so far as I know, these are not removed on the assumption that they violate anyone’s rights. Apparently it is only conservative materials that infringe on the sensibilities of thin-skinned faculty members.
The outcome is, therefore, a marketplace of ideas where only those from one side of the argument are on view. Under these circumstances, how can there be a dialogue from which the truth emerges? How are people to compare the validity of different perspectives when only one side is deemed worthy of scrutiny?
Worse still, what about freedom of speech? How can there be any such thing if a single person’s sensitivities can precipitate censorship? Moreover, were this sort of suppression exercised against materials from the left, it is fairly certain there would be a hue and cry against political oppression.
And so here we have the spectacle of a university capitulating to efforts intended to purify the political atmosphere. No doubt this is not the policy of the university’s administrators. But it is indicative of the culture of contemporary higher education. Quite clearly, not a competition of ideas, but the supremacy of political correctness is the goal of many participants.
This, I submit, is inimical to the purpose of higher education. In a genuine marketplace of ideas feelings are bound to be bruised. No one likes to be wrong; hence few welcome arguments that make their side look bad.
Nonetheless, the discomfort of being contradicted must be endured if conflicting opinions are to be aired. This is what a university should encourage. Freedom of speech must not be casually tossed aside merely to comply with the wishes of those currently in the political ascendance. There is too much at stake for this.