In C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” Susan, upon hearing of the great lion from across the Eastern Sea, asks whether Aslan is “safe.” Mr. Beaver responds: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’ “
Perhaps the greatest sin of today’s educational establishment — of America’s schools, colleges and universities — is that of Susan’s: We have become more interested in what is safe than what is good.
We choose the safety of a pallid “happy holidays” instead of the goodness of a bold, “Merry Christmas!” We create safe spaces on our college campuses (complete with Play-doh, bubbles, coloring books and crayons) in order to give our precious progeny ideologically protected places where nothing will be said that might offend their sense of “identity.”
We condemn anyone who dares question or redirect their sexual appetites. We cringe at the thought of making our dear snowflakes feel uncomfortable about what is obviously a pandemic of self-absorption and latent narcissism.
We spend millions of dollars to build racially segregated student centers at our nation’s universities to keep minority students safe from the “dangers” of mutuality and spontaneous integration.
We think trigger warnings are, somehow, desirable simply because we pretend they provide safety to anyone who might be offended by a given subject or, heaven forbid, a contrary idea.
As Lewis warned us some 70 years ago: We have mistaken “brass for gold.” We go about making “mud pies in a slum because [we] cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” We are far too easily pleased with what is safe rather than what is true and good.
We know, however, that truth is not always comfortable or safe. When Thomas Jefferson challenged the looting of the Mediterranean, the Barbary pirates did not feel comfortable or safe. When Wilberforce challenged the British slave trade, the oligarchy of the United Kingdom did not feel comfortable or safe. When Allied powers challenged the Third Reich’s anti-Semitism and its dystopian dreams of Aryan supremacy, many Germans did not feel comfortable or safe.
When Abraham Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, antebellum plantation owners did not feel comfortable or safe. When Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a time when all men would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, racists did not feel comfortable or safe. The list goes on and on.
Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Luther Lee, Orange Scott, B.T. Roberts, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Chuck Colson. Those who confront personal or corporate sin are almost never considered comfortable or safe by those they confront. Truth is very discomforting. Experience tells us that it often makes us feel anything but safe.
But, at the same time we also intuitively know the antithesis: Truth, painful though it may be, is always the necessary predicate and seed of what is good. As the age-old adage goes: Where there is no pain, there is no gain.
Education should be in the business of teaching what is good and what is true. It should be about what has been tested by time, confirmed by experience, validated by reason, and passed on in revelation.
The best education — an education that is good as opposed to safe — is grounded in the timeless and self-evident truths that are endowed to us by our Creator; in the laws of nature and in nature’s God; in common sense and in sense that is common; in veritas and virtue; in liberty and liberation.
A good education, indeed the best education, is one that is deeply anchored in the words of Christ: “you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” This is where all true moral and intellectual training begins. “If you look for truth,” said Lewis, “you may find it in the end; if you look for comfort you will get neither comfort or truth [but] only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
Contrary to being encouraged to pursue this truth, today’s students are encouraged to celebrate in their littles corners of contrived identities, delusional dysphorias and personal feelings — in their false worlds of emotional, psychological and intellectual “comfort” — in the safety and security of micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and all things that are politically correct.
In short, today’s schools, colleges and universities have encouraged our students to give up their birthright for a mess of potage. We have told them to be “far too easily pleased” with the “mud pies’ and the “wishful thinking” and the lies of the left.
The end result of this soft soap and soft thinking is a false sense of comfort which, in the end, leads to little more than personal despondency and collective despair: a despondency and despair that cries out for teddy bears and bottles of bubbles rather than dare endure the “injustice” of a good debate in the face of an idea they simply don’t like.
All this is done, lest we forget, by the tribe of the “tolerant” that proudly waves its flag of inclusion while schizophrenically demanding to exclude all those they find intolerable.
This is no longer the ivory tower of intellectual freedom but rather a dark Orwellian house of ideological fascism: a land of doublespeak where we have raised a generation that actually believes it makes sense to say, “I hate those hateful people! I am sure that nothing is sure! I know that nothing can be known! And I am absolutely confident there are absolutely no absolutes!”
Today’s academy is, indeed, a place of safety (at least for those who are in power at the given moment) but it is anything but a place that is good.
• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).