“…Colleges and universities must lead freedom of speech, nurture the battlefield of ideas, pursue world-competitive standards, deter grade inflation (a historical, pervasive companion of conflict resolution), stand for science and reason, teach the realities of the cosmos and evolution without spiritual justifications, and be the safe spaces where the trigger warning ‘no ignorance allowed’ is respected…” – GPC
By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C
[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]
“There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that, no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.”
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them. Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas.”
These were President Obama’s remarks at the Howard University commencement ceremony, back in May 2016. He highlighted a nowadays generalized concern in academia: that millennials (the generation born between the 1980s and early 2000s) have grown intolerant of any view contrary to their deepest, yet maturing convictions, a phenomenon documented by Gallup in its latest report “Free Expression On Campus.”
Although “college students believe First Amendment rights remain strong” in the United States, they also hold conflicting views about “shuttering free speech and impeding a free press under certain circumstances.” For instance, even though 81 percent of college students think that freedom of the press is very secure or secure in the country, and 73 percent think likewise about freedom of speech, one in every five college students (22 percent) believe that “to create a positive learning environment for all, it is more important for colleges to prohibit certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased, than to create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints —even offensive or biased.”
“…boycott actions against free speech may be rooted in capricious interpretations of First Amendment rights by students active and verbal at their institutions…”
But, what is offensive or biased rhetoric? Slurs and language that intentionally seek to hurt or offend (69 percent of students think so), or the wearing of costumes that stereotype racial or ethnic groups (63 percent believe that), or political views that may upset or offend (27 percent of students think colleges should limit such speech). The Gallup data, therefore, implies that boycott actions against free speech may be rooted in capricious interpretations of First Amendment rights by students active and verbal at their institutions.
Should the media cover protests held at colleges and universities? One in every four students (28 percent, mean of men + women) opposes reporters’ coverage of demonstrations in campus. This view is noticeable among women (37 percent) and African Americans (32 percent). Gallup calls this overall occurrence “support of free press rights in the abstract” (or “in principle”) but not in practice. Protesters believe the press will be unfair in its reporting (49 percent say this), they assert to have the right to be left alone (48 percent), and want to tell their own version of the story on the internet and social media (44 percent). In fact, 86 percent of the polled students prefer the social media for allowing them more control over the story.
Why has intolerance of free speech become ubiquitous? Only tentative answers exist to this question. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” have taken a psychological path to explain how “in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.” The ultimate aim, Lukianoff and Haidt state, “is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. This movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally.”
“…Emotional reasoning, distorted thinking, magnification of events, and catastrophizing incidents seem to be central to the individual and collective minds of those who perceive offense in daily experiences…”
The “impulse” is called “vindictive protectiveness” and, as described by Lukianoff and Haidt, “it is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” Emotional reasoning, distorted thinking, magnification of events, and catastrophizing incidents seem to be central to the individual and collective minds of those who perceive offense in daily experiences. Thus, via negative filtering, groups develop a culture which focuses almost exclusively on the unconstructive, and this allows for simpleminded demonization.
“…The challenge is to identify objectively what is intellectually or psychologically damaging and what is mild…”
Of course aggressions are real, more so in a society —ours— in which micro- and macro-bullying are widespread (see also Cyberbullying). The challenge is to identify objectively what is intellectually or psychologically damaging (hence provide cognitive-behavioral support) and what is mild. At the same time, colleges and universities must lead freedom of speech, nurture the battlefield of ideas, pursue world-competitive standards, deter grade inflation (a historical, pervasive companion of conflict resolution), stand for science and reason, teach the realities of the cosmos and evolution without spiritual justifications, and be the safe spaces where the trigger warning “no ignorance allowed” is respected. — EvoLiteracy © 2016.
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Paz-y-Miño-C, G & Espinosa, A. 2016. Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, United Kingdom. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9042-1, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9042-7.
Measuring the Evolution Controversy can be ordered directly from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Amazon US, or Amazon CA . The publisher has made available a “VIEW EXTRACT” (in PDF), which includes the first 30-pages of the book: Cover, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, Chapter ONE and the beginning of Chapter TWO. For PDF of color illustrations go to Image Resources of Didactic Relevance.
“The great contribution of ‘Measuring the Evolution Controversy’ is the rich content of data and analysis that asks detailed questions about the social, economic and political backgrounds of those who tend to reject evolution vs. those who accept evolution as science. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa deftly analyze their data drawn from institutions of higher learning in the United States and particularly New England —which stands as a microcosm of the rest of the country, and indeed elsewhere in the world. It is their scientific approach to these issues which makes this book stand out as a uniquely original contribution.” — Niles Eldredge, PhD, Curator Emeritus of Paleontology at The American Museum of Natural History, New York.
“Pro-science activists and educators constantly bemoan the resistance to the teaching of evolution in the United States. All of us have anecdotes about encounters with the public, parents and students who are misinformed by their churches, Religious-Right groups, and creationist organizations. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa present hard data that support the anecdotal evidence. They also show that although anti-evolutionism typically begins with religion, it is a multi-faceted problem that intersects with political and cultural ideologies. Gathered through careful research over a period of years, their data will enable scientists and defenders of science education to comprehend the roots of the evolution controversy and counteract resistance to evolution more strategically and effectively.” — Barbara Forrest, PhD, co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2007), and expert witness for plaintiffs, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005).
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Paz-y-Miño-C., G. 2013. Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars. NOVA Publishers, New York. By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Amazon UK
“The sweet spot of this collection of essays is the interface of science, history and literacy. Paz-y-Miño-C is, in essence, a champion of rationalism and a passionate defender of literacy standards. His essays deftly weave hard survey data and memorable turns of phrase with evocative imagery… While the essays in this collection are vast in coverage —from climate change to energy policy, stem cell research, vaccinations and, especially, evolution— a clear underlying theme emerges: [the author’s] goal is no less than to counter, through the lens of history and the majesty of rationalism, social forces that sanction ignorance, celebrate denial and… continue to diminish our global status in the fields of science and technology.” Jeff Podos, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.
“Paz-y-Miño-C is a firm believer in evolutionary processes. He would like to see decisions made on the basis of facts, not unsupported opinion. He abhors and fears irrational thinking, especially ‘the views of those who see evil in truth and menace in the realities discovered by science.’ He marvels at the intricacy and diversity of life, and how it came about through natural selection… and is clearly frustrated by the unwillingness of so many to see the beauty and majesty in this view of the world and all that it explains.” – Jan A. Pechenik, PhD, Professor of Biology, Tufts University, USA, author of The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species, as Edited for Modern Readers.