November 04, 2009
Education is not for the Intellectually Timid
It doesn't happen that often--maybe because students don't care to say anything about it--but occasionally someone in class would argue that some comments/discussions about certain belief systems are offensive and disrespectful. The other day, a student said, "I don't pay thousands of dollars to have my beliefs insulted." Presumably she meant that certain topics should be off limits because she's uncomfortable with anything that may undermine her sacred beliefs. She pays thousands of dollars to get an education--in my opinion, education means more than vocational skills--but is she interested in paying for an education that sharpens critical skills? How about, the value of arriving at a conclusion after examining the facts and weighing the validity of the arguments?
The piece of paper a university awards should mean that the title holder has critical skills, can analyze, can amend, construct reasonable arguments, connect the relevant dots, and, yes, maintain a curious mind. How about learning something that may be outside one's comfort zone? Is this valuable?
Now, on the question of respect. As a principle it's a good one: respect every individual's human dignity; respect their rights; respect their claims to own conscience and opinion. But, why should their beliefs be granted automatic respect? Yet, denying automatic respect to a point of view does not mean people don't have the right to have whatever opinion they deem appropriate or their right to express it. Simply put, I do not recognize any right of de facto respect. Opinions, theories, belief systems should be evaluated on their merits. How can anyone demand that such be afforded sacred status? What's sacred for me may be laughable to you, and I'm OK with that! So, should you!
To take it a step further, if you claim sanctity for your beliefs, it may be an indication of weakness. Instead of having the force of arguments to defend your views, you rely on censorship for protection. I realize that many people don't want to be challenged so they seek supporting views only. Of course, this is their right. Of course, it's their right to feel any way they want. They can create filters and avoid places that present challenges. However, they should be prepared to have their views tested when they enter an institution where intellectual pursuits involve critical examination of ideas and beliefs.
How do we know things? Seriously, how do we know if something is true & valid? Maybe I should ask instead, do we care to know?
If we do, then the scientific method is the best tool we have to understand and accumulate precious knowledge! This involves open discussion, challenges, reason, evidence, review, and a way to amend.
I'm naturally suspicious of claims of divine revelation. I don't think profound knowledge or truths should be revealed only in secret and to a very few people. Especially when such statements can't be put to a test or subject it to an intellectual challenge. As someone claims the right not to be offended, I claim the right to free speech and rational thought. Above all, I claim the right to be human!
And, that's my theory!