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The High School Roots of SJW

Jonathan Haidt (Photo by Bob Howard/Village Square/Shutterstock)

Jonathan Haidt has a remarkable post up on Heterodox Academy, talking about how the SJW insanity starts in high school. He recounts a talk and seminar he gave to the student body of an elite private high school in the Pacific Northwest; he calls it “Centerville High,” but that’s not its real name. The talk was about coddling students versus strengthening them. Then came the Q&A period. Excerpt:

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?” Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

Then Haidt went into a seminar with about 60 students, to talk about the same issues. He recalls the session went like this:

Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?

Audience: All hands go up for B.

Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [about 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells ]. Now just the boys? [about 80% said eggshells, nobody said they feel free].

Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? [the group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells] Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]

Me: Now lets try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]

Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.

You need to read the whole thing to see what the parents of male students at the school told him later. Incredible. Haidt goes on to talk about the feedback loop that campus victimology creates:

Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open their minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.

Read the whole thing; it’s very important. And please pass it on.

About the feedback loop, a number of you readers are forwarding to me e-mails sent by your alma maters to the university communities, including alumni, in which administrators promise to go even further in “diversity” to appease campus militants. All of you say that it’s hard to imagine that these colleges could go any further into diversity ideology than they already do, but … well, here we are. Take this excerpt from the letter sent out by the interim president of Brandeis, which is already on the far end of social justice sensitivity:

However, successfully recruiting a more diverse community to Brandeis is not enough. If under-represented students, faculty, or staff feel isolated, excluded or unsafe on our campus and as a result leave, their missing voices in our classrooms, labs, in the production of our scholarship and creative works, and in our social interactions limits our excellence and our impact on the world.

Achieving a diverse and supportive campus requires a multi-faceted strategy that broadly engages every part of our university. I propose – and the Board supports — that we use town halls, teach-ins and our existing structures (e.g. the student union, the graduate student association, the Faculty Senate, the Provost’s steering committee on diversity, and the University Advisory Committee) to identify additional ways to accelerate our current efforts to increase diversity and inclusion on our campus.

The remaining part of this letter details measures that Brandeis is already undertaking to advance diversity and inclusion and how we can and will do even more to achieve our shared goals.

It will never be enough. Never, ever, ever.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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