The Right Take on Campus
Here’s why there’s a dearth of critical thinking on campus — and what we can do about it
Our ever-heightening division into opposing identity groups along cultural, racial, and political lines has drastically altered the way we have discussions. Debates over issues such as tax reform, gun rights, and foreign policy no longer consist solely of substantive arguments; rather, they include the endless recitation of empty clichés and personal attacks — often invoking identity to shut down dissent. Countless debate forums in our universities have fallen ill to this copy-paste identity politics rhetoric that’s plaguing public discourse.
A direct contrast between two ways of thinking is at the heart of this problem. Author and Pepperdine University Professor Linnea B. McCord laid out the contrast between critical thinking and political thinking in her book The Wisdom of Ants: 10 Commandments of Trust.
McCord suggests that those who engage in critical thinking seek to reach a conclusion only “after thoroughly and objectively analyzing all relevant facts and evidence, both favorable and unfavorable.” Critical thinkers think for themselves.
Columnist Kristen Soltis Anderson on the expanded Washington Examiner magazine
Meanwhile, she says political thinking is the exact opposite. Political thinking is “indoctrination,” in which there is no tolerance for dissent, and propaganda is used to validate pre-existing, firmly held beliefs. A cursory glance at our political culture makes clear the abundance of political thinking — and the distinct lack of critical thinking.
Nowhere is this more evident than on college campuses. It is much easier to silence public figures who peddle in conservative ideas, such as Ben Shapiro, than to come up with rational arguments and strong evidence that refute their claims. In a time when students are punched in the face for promoting conservative principles and public speakers sometimes have to be escorted by bodyguards through campuses, it’s obvious that political thinking is coming to dominate our universities.
Western leftists, in particular, have found virtue in silencing offensive speech and repressing First Amendment rights in the name of social justice. Their actions too often forge a pathway for authoritarian politicians to control far more than offensive speech, perhaps far beyond what the average liberal protester would have sought. As an article in the Economist stated, “when progressive thinkers agree that offensive words should be censored, it helps authoritarian regimes to justify their own much harsher restrictions.”
Political thinking has led even the well-intentioned to embrace ideologies that have led to the most oppressive regimes in human history, thus giving bad actors a powerful tool to fulfill their despotic fantasies. The core ideas of censorship and government intervention are at the center of both propositions — political correctness and Marxism go hand in hand.
Political thinkers on campus, both students and staff alike, have placed academic freedom and free speech in danger and attempted to replace it with a false sense of inclusivity. This makes critical thinking all but impossible.
As student Sabrina Medler wrote in the Stanford Daily, “when students feel as though they’re walking on eggshells in a learning environment, it makes it risky to participate in discussions on controversial topics.” Rather than developing their critical thinking skills, the students give up after facing backlash from their peers and their professors. As a result, the students end up settling for political thinking themselves, the very thing that shut them down in the first place.
With all of this in mind, how should we go about combating this excess of political thinking?
As unfair as it seems, the burden falls on critical thinkers to make things right. We must keep in mind that political thinkers often have good intentions, even if they are misguided. Critical thinkers must enter dialogue without assuming the worst of their opposition, fight for free speech, and most importantly, be sure to avoid the political thinking trap themselves.