Now that a new class of high school students has been accepted to college, many parents will need to face the Great American College Con; most will strain themselves financially so professors can trash their values ideologically. Call it “wokeness,” “political correctness,” or “Critical Race Theory.” One thing is certain—the worldview being imposed in many universities targets the ideals that got many studious kids into college in the first place—and helped their parents earn whatever piece of the tuition pie they will cover.
True, every generation grumbles about the next. But today’s college coercion culture keeps intensifying while this generation’s resistance keeps weakening, as ideologues exploit genuine racial injustices and the sincere desire to make America more just. Moreover, so many parents spent so many years training their children to get accepted at these schools, it’s hard to resist the propaganda (or the politics) when they’ve revered the universities’ prestige for so long.
In the months remaining before the next academic year, parents should convey one key idea: “become an anti-propagandist.” True, the mission is defensive. But it’s the most realistic charge possible. It doesn’t preclude allying with whatever party a student chooses—it just begs for some skepticism, iconoclasm and critical thinking.
We all should beware of absolutists who dismiss inconvenient facts as fake—and disagreements as violent assaults. Propagandists treat beliefs as facts, indoctrinate based on a few simple big ideas, reduce everything to black and white, good versus bad. These commissars of thought label instead of analyze. If they deem America guilty of “white supremacy,” they’ll lump old-fashioned, unwoke, civil-rights-loving liberals together with neo-Nazis. They equate the sins of 2021 with those of 1921, 1821 and 1721. Similarly, when their side is violent, it’s justified or papered over. The George Floyd riots were “largely peaceful” to the Left, “destructive” to the Right; yet the Capitol Hill riot involved only “a few violent people ” to the Right—while it was an “insurrection” to the Left.
Universities should be training grounds for freethinkers, not breeding grounds for groupthinkers. Professors pretending to educate without cultivating critical thought force-feed junk food for the mind—and poison for the soul. Critical thought seeks wisdom, not just knowledge; it entails being skeptical enough to doubt fanatics but not so fanatic a skeptic that you stand for nothing.
Resisting propaganda is a counter-cultural move in today’s polarized America. It doesn’t stop you from leaning left or right; it just discourages you from treating political discussions as do-or-die battles between right and wrong. It rests on the Enlightenment faith in reason, and the American understanding that reason, not force, is our country’s source of power.
Inevitably, anti-propagandists deviate from the progressive tendency to define people by race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status and sexual identity. You judge people by who they are as individuals, not who their people were as a collective. You realize that real diversity begins with different thoughts and that especially today, decades after the Civil Rights movement’s many successes, class in America is often more defining than race or gender—being rich is the great equalizer, being poor exacerbates almost every other problem.
Politically, the anti-propagandist doesn’t just ask what’s wrong with America, but what’s right with America—alienating the far left. But the anti-propagandist alienates the far right by asking why haven’t we come further—while learning how we got this far.
Admittedly, it’s not realistic to expect most students to resist the peer and professorial pressure publicly. So, while we wish all our children would be bold, creative, outspoken freethinkers, we will make progress if we can at least help them doubt the prevailing ideologies and resist the groupthink. If they can contrast what they are “supposed” to say with what they actually think, what the mob demands they proclaim with what they as individuals realize to be true, we can inch away from today’s radical bullies and back to yesterday’s thoughtful liberals. Our kids may not be ready to soar like eagles, but if they stop squawking like trained parrots, conscientious parents will have done their jobs—or at least given it the old college try.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.
Copyright © 2021 Prof Gil Troy, All rights reserved.
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