Tell Students: Think For Yourselves (2024 Jun)

by Barry A. Liebling

In today’s America normal, healthy observers are dismayed that there is a huge cohort of students enrolled in higher education programs who embrace the “woke mindset” (certainly an oxymoron). Outside critics frequently complain that students have been indoctrinated (sometimes labeled “brainwashed”) by professors, administrators, professional agitators, and by each other. A huge number of young adults in colleges and graduate schools are enthusiastic soldiers in the leftist horde’s mission to attack and dismantle the best elements of Western Civilization (which includes individualism, objective search for truth, personal liberty, capitalism, and blind justice).

Of course, there has been a backlash. At some institutions new measures have been implemented that swat down DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion) departments and eliminate DEI officials. Some schools are now forbidden to require faculty to submit pledges that they actively support DEI policies. These actions may have a small effect of slowing down the leftist onslaught. But they will not fix what is broken.

Note that the majority of the high prestige universities are fully dominated by people who are zealously committed to the progressive left agenda. If they cannot force-feed DEI programs the partisans will pursue their sacred mission by other means. They can get around what they call “extreme right-wing reactionary” rules by pretending to comply and giving new names to their programs. For example, behavior in support of DEI is already being rebranded as “Belonging And Welcoming.” If all political activities are designated as off-limits at a school, the woke elite will work overtime and establish after-school get togethers. Many years ago as a graduate student at an elite university I declined an invitation to attend an off-campus Marxist study group.

Step back and consider: who is vulnerable to woke indoctrination? Some students succumb easily, while others are immune.

What are the characteristics of students who successfully resist woke propaganda? I am confident that there are multiple factors that contribute, and non-woke students are not homogenous. Some students are repelled by leftist programs but cannot articulate exactly what is turning them off. There are certainly students who have a clear, defensible philosophical position that categorically rejects anything that is pushed by the progressive left. And of course there are young people in college who do not want to be a part of any mass movement (but not enough).

If you are a teacher or administrator in an institution of higher learning what can you say to your students that will encourage them to see and interpret the world accurately? Here is my suggestion.

Urge your students to question everything that is important to them. Tell them that whatever anyone asserts they should scrutinize its validity. Explain that the most distinguished experts in every field (science, medicine, politics, education, the arts, …) are sometimes correct and sometimes mistaken. It is a good student’s job to check everyone’s work.

Students should do their own research. Exactly what is the evidence? How reliable is the evidence? What are the arguments, and what are the counter-arguments? If the majority believe something it does not make it true. Sometimes what most people believe – upon careful examination – turns out to be fallacious. Be alert for assertions that are self contradictory. There are a lot of them, and every time a student finds one, the young scholar should be pleased.

Tell students it is fine to talk with others about the issues of the day and consume material from the mainstream media, but everyone should come to decisions independently. Explain that agreeing with others should not be the result of conforming to the group. Instead, agreement ought to be the result of solo examination and later learning that other people reached the same conclusion.

This advice is not intended to make students perpetual skeptics. But the aim is to encourage inquisitiveness as the default. There is truth, and truth can be discovered by paying attention and continuously checking your work. Tell students that everyone makes lots of mistakes, but smart people do what they can to identify and correct their mistakes.

Of course, you do not need to deliver this pitch to every student you know. If you work in higher education you are likely to encounter young adults who are receptive to good advice. I teach in a graduate school of business, and I frequently tell my students to check the validity of whatever matters to them – including the things I say.

Why is my advice likely to have a positive effect on young scholars?

First, in today’s higher education environment most things students read or hear is slanted to push the progressive left agenda. Since everyone is continuously exposed to woke dictum a student may not realize that there are valid alternatives. Questioning what is regarded as “conventional wisdom” will allow young citizens to sort out what is right and what is wrong. Of course, not everyone who actively questions will reach the right conclusions. But the habit of asking and evaluating is the path to enlightenment.

Second, although the Neo-Marxist elite are in the dominant position they have not been able to completely obliterate good ideas. There is a vast body of literature that is valuable and easy to obtain. Even in the most “politically correct” schools there are some teachers who see and describe the world accurately. Let the inquisitive students scrutinize everything, and urge them to sort out the dross from the valid. I am wagering that a sincere investigator who evaluates material supporting Western Civilization at its best against woke dogma is likely to discover which way of thinking is correct.

Third, notice that urging students to question everything is not politically neutral. It is part of the essence of rational individualism. Managing your life according to you own judgment is a virtue, and it implies that everyone should have liberty. Recall that the expression “politically correct” originally meant that members of communist party were required to subordinate their decisions to the directives of their superiors. In today’s America the woke elite demand obedience, and they do not want their subjects to think for themselves.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

Comments are closed.