Protest and Tradition


David Brooks editorializes about the  penchant of young people to engage in spasmodic protests without coherent or meaningful alternatives; or, for that matter, knowing exactly what they’re protesting against.

One of the most difficult things to teach young people is intellectual humility, one which is neither diffidence nor self-assurance. Too often they believe they are the first persons to come up with a particular insight, or the first generation to find social institutions failing. They possess simultaneously high levels of narcissistic confidence in the rightness of their beliefs while also being convicted there is no way to reconcile contrary beliefs without resorting to a non-judgmental (oh horrid buzzword) tolerance. I’ll often remind my students that, while they have been seriously let down by their social institutions, there is nothing unique about their situation. Take a look at Glaucon and Adeimantus, for example. The adage applies: One ought to be confident in the truth and skeptical about oneself, and not the other way around.

Brooks’ article, however, is a reminder that our educational institutions, which ought to know better, are failing even worse, precisely because they make no effort to equip students with the right sorts of grounding for their ideas and impulses. Instead, students are encouraged to believe they have a right to faulty opinions and reasoning, that no one ought to challenge them, and that they’ll agree not to challenge anyone else. It makes for a very uninteresting and unfruitful education, one that has become largely the norm.

The schools best positioned are those that operate self-consciously and unapologetically from within a tradition, which they seek to deepen and broaden through creative engagement with young people.

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