Eric Posner Says College Students Are Ignorant Children

In the “smart enough that he should know better” category is Eric Posner. Who is Eric Posner? Well, he is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and an apparently confused fellow who thinks that Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme and that the NSA spying on Americans is just fine. And he also thinks that “Students who enter college know hardly anything at all,” and that problems universities face, from people being offended to rape, all stem from the problem “that universities have been treating children like adults.” Yes, I am about to disagree with Eric Posner and explain why he is wrong. Proceed at your own risk.

I was reading over at reason.com when I came across a post about Posner’s article at Slate. The basic thrust of Posner’s article is that the oppressively authoritarian speech and behavior codes at universities is perfectly justified because college students are so fully ignorant and immature that they need oppressively authoritarian speech and behavior codes to teach them to be adults.

Lately, a moral panic about speech and sexual activity in universities has reached a crescendo. Universities have strengthened rules prohibiting offensive speech typically targeted at racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; taken it upon themselves to issue “trigger warnings” to students when courses offer content that might upset them; banned sexual acts that fall short of rape under criminal law but are on the borderline of coercion; and limited due process protections of students accused of violating these rules.

Most liberals celebrate these developments, yet with a certain uneasiness. Few of them want to apply these protections to society at large. Conservatives and libertarians are up in arms. They see these rules as an assault on free speech and individual liberty. They think universities are treating students like children. And they are right. But they have also not considered that the justification for these policies may lie hidden in plain sight: that students are children. Not in terms of age, but in terms of maturity. Even in college, they must be protected like children while being prepared to be adults.

[…]

Students who enter college know hardly anything at all—that’s why they need an education.

[…]

Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22. We are increasingly treating college-age students as quasi-children who need protection from some of life’s harsh realities while they complete the larval stage of their lives. Many critics of these codes discern this transformation but misinterpret it. They complain that universities are treating adults like children. The problem is that universities have been treating children like adults.

[…]

High schools are accustomed to dealing with the cognitive limitations of their charges. They see their mission as advancing the autonomy of students rather than assuming that it is already in place. They socialize as well as educate children to act civilly by punishing them if they don’t. Universities have gradually realized that they must take the same approach to college students.

[…]

What is most interesting is that this reaction comes not from parents and administrators, but from students themselves, who, apparently recognizing that their parents and schools have not fully prepared them for independence, want universities to resume their traditional role in loco parentis.

That last part is especially troubling. Funnily enough, these are the same students who are not knowledgeable and mature enough to control their own minds, but for some reason we should let them determine how universities should be run. Posner wants to keep his cake and eat it too. But the troubling part is the idea that what students want is for universities to be dictatorial parents who treat them like toddlers incapable of independent thought. A quick look over at the website of the Foundation for Independent Rights in Education (FIRE) should be enough to point out that not all university students think universities should be little bastions of academic fascism.

Yes, I did use that word. Fascism. Let us be clear here. What Posner proposes is that universities should dictatorially control what students say and do because that is how the universities teach the students to be acceptable members of society. He apparently does not want universities to teach critical thinking and independent thought, but control students by using language and behavior controls to teach all students what to think and how to behave. In other words, what Posner proposes is, in essence, that the responsibility of university is not education but indoctrination. Fascism.

Setting aside for now that not all university students are entering university straight out of high school, the way to teach children and university students to become independent thinking adults is to treat them like beings capable of independent thought. And adult behavior is not taught by telling students that the way to deal with hurt feelings is to try to control the behavior of other people.

Which leads me to perhaps the most troubling sentence in Posner’s article. “If students want to learn biology and art history in an environment where they needn’t worry about being offended or raped, why shouldn’t they?” Yes, he did just equate being offended with being raped. To be clear, rape is a horrible crime and should not be tolerated. Being offended is not a crime or an offence anywhere near as horrible as rape. Pairing them up here serves only one purpose. To attempt to paint anyone who objects to Posner’s position as being okay with students being raped.

Being offended is part of life. It happens because people are going to disagree and have different back grounds and different ideas and different minds. If the goal is to help university students become adults, then we should not try to prevent them from being offended. If students want to learn in an environment where they are never offended, we should tell them to suck it up learn to live with it. Sometimes the answer to not being offended is to stop being so offendable. And certainly we should never, never, never teach students that the solution to having one’s feelings hurt is to impose authoritarian control on society.

Yet that is exactly what Posner’s ideas about university accomplish. Because while one is attending university, the university is society. And by imposing authoritarian control on students in the name of keeping someone from being offended teaches exactly that the solution to being offended is to control the behavior of others. And that is not the sort of society we should be trying to foster. Nor is it the mature thing to do. It is, in point of fact, the childish thing to do. It is the same impulse as the kindergartner who throws a punch because he did not like what some other kindergartner said.

So while Posner is trying to position himself as the adult in the room, as the one who knows what university students really need, he is in reality advocating for a childish policy of oppressive authoritarianism. He does not want to teach students how to learn to deal with their own thoughts and feelings. He wants to teach students that the “Make him stop!” cry of the kindergartner is the path of adulthood. And that is both immature and ignorant.

Okay, faithful (and unfaithful) readers, I hope to have more posts up soon. If you have questions about D/s or libertarianism or any of the topics discussed here at Liberate One, please ask them. That is the surest way to get more posts here. I am trying to get some more posts about Christianity in the pipeline. Figuring out where to start is a problem, but I have an idea. Anyway, I have not forgotten about you or this blog.

Breathe. Be good. Repeat.

6 Responses to “Eric Posner Says College Students Are Ignorant Children”

  1. twiztedone Says:

    I thoroughly agree with you on this. I find it troubling in some ways and refining in other ways. I was always taught, to learn is to experience hands on and to experience, one must first try, succeed or fail and keep trying until perfected. We learn from our mistakes, if those mistakes are taken from us to learn from, so to not offend someone, we gain no real value of what success feels like once we’ve conquered our mistake, misjudgement or what if feels like to defend our own beliefs, cause let’s face it, we all have a belief or opinion that is bound to offend another.

    We must learn that there is a percussion for everything we do or say in life, whether it right or wrong, the percussion, the consequences of our actions or words spoken, is a life lesson one must learn. One must learn to be acquainted with being offended, whether we learn this on our own through personal experiences, or we are taught by our leaders but, to continue through life being coddled and to have all think alike, only leaves you vulnerable to the rest of the world and not having the experience of thinking or responding in our own nature. No matter what we are taught throughout life, someone is always bound to be offended.

    Anyways, I agree with you full heartily, whether my comment makes sense or not.. LOL (Yes, I am actually wondering to myself whether my comment makes any sense or relevant to your topic.)

    Also, you mentioned that you are wanting to serve us with a piece on Christianity in the pipeline, I am looking forward to this piece. I am not however, a Christian but, I am always open minded enough to read upon other religions other then my own. My question is.. Is Christianity the only religion that you write about? Have you ever tried doing an entry on the similarities and differences in all religions? As in Catholicism vs Christianity? or Agnostic vs Wiccan? Ect, ect.

    Now, on a more personal note, my question for you is..

    If a individual has taken on the role of both a Dom and a Sub in BDSM relationship(s), how does one go about figuring out whether they make a stronger Dominant or a stronger Submissive?

    • Christianity is the religion I grew up with and have studied. I know a bit about a few other religions, but not enough to be comfortable writing about them with any authority. That said, I consider Catholicism to be part of Christianity. Though I might someday contrast Catholicism with some of the various forms of Protestantism. Things like Agnosticism and Wicca, however, I would probably never write on those. I know some about both of those, but not enough to do either justice in a serious way.

      If an individual has been in the roles of Dominant and submissive before, how does that individual figure out whether they are more inclined to be a Dominant or submissive? Well, first, I suggest the individual write out what he or she thinks about dominance and about submission. And then write about what he or she desires from a D/s relationship. That process of writing should help the individual sort through the ideas and desires he or she has. That may not provide a definitive answer, but it should at least start the mental processes that allow one to get to an answer.

      • twiztedone Says:

        I, myself grew up with a catholic family, had at one time in my life followed Christianity/Baptist-on more then one occasion that is but, have found my truer nature to be more in the beliefs of Agnostic/Wiccan. Though these two differ, there are many similarities. I don’t generally converse much on Religion, those particular topics can be diverse, opinionated and touchy subjects for some. Though I am always delighted to read upon the generalized topics. Politics are much the same, but I always find myself enthralled in them.

        I do believe, that is my issue. I have taken those steps. Each personality is it’s own, both very strong and the change is instant when in the presence of one or the other. I will continue to study myself with a more deeper, more thorough -for lack of a better word- magnifying glass.

        Thank you for the advise, Kind Sir. As always, it is a pleasure to converse with you.

  2. […] to being raped and insists that college students would rather be indoctrinated than educated), but this article has already done it for […]

  3. Good Evening Sir,
    It was my very good fortune to come across your blog/site (blog is such a strange word don’t you think?) I have spent my evening reading,agreeing, disagreeing and expanding my horizons.
    You are Sir,eloquent and your writing compelling.
    We really shouldn’t be too shocked by poor Mr.Posner he is woefully out of his dept and woefully out of touch. I pity him come the glorious revolution (heh!)
    I very much enjoyed the music thank you.
    I found them enormously uplifting especially The Beetles-Something. Not heard that in a while but still made me smile and think about how the beautifully simple lyrics convey the promise of newness and hopefulness.
    I do look forward to reading more of your contemplations.
    Many thanks to you.

  4. I’m looking forward to more posts like this.

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