In 1948, Richard Weaver told us that ideas have consequences. A few short years earlier, Hitler said, “let me control the textbooks and I will control the State.” Huxley and Orwell followed and warned of dystopias where education would be used as a means to total power and total control. Ideas do matter. Yes, ideas clearly have consequences. Good ideas lead to good places and bad ideas lead to bad places. As your grandmother said: Garbage in, garbage out. She was right. Education matters.
Today, however, it seems that education has become more interested in what is common than what is exceptional; in acquiring more information rather than more ethics; in teaching the student how to get a career and use a condom rather than how to build character and have a conscience. Education has lost its way and consequently our country has lost its soul and our culture has lost its sense.
Much of the contemporary academy is known not for pursuing truth but rather for its celebration of tolerance and in the name of tolerance we are told that our intolerance is intolerable. Education’s elites actually parrot this pabulum: “I can’t tolerate your intolerance.” “I am sure nothing is sure.” “I know nothing can be known.” “It is absolutely true that there are not absolutes.” And they do so with a straight face. It would be humorous if this self-refuting duplicity weren’t so sad.
The result of this nonsense is that the banner tolerance has become a dark flag of tyranny almost overnight. What was academic freedom just yesterday is ideological fascism today. Rather than celebrating liberty, liberals now demand conformity. Campuses are now bastions of speech codes rather than free speech. Students are more interested in “trigger warnings” than they are in pursuing truth. Disagreement is now synonymous with hate.
The bottom line is this: Education is in peril. Run by the state and its thought police, colleges across the land have become indoctrination camps more so than campuses of open inquiry. Propaganda and power now reign where there used to be a pursuit of truth.
The solution to this absurdity is found in the historical liberal arts academy; in classical “liberalism” and its assumption of freedom, liberty and liberation: that there are ideas that are right and just and true: tested by time, defended by reason, validated by experience and endowed to us by our Creator! As far back as Moses, we are told that only in trusting in such truths and “teaching them to our children ” will mankind ever be set free.
Freedom trusts in principles rather than people, power or politics. Freedom honors the debate because it knows there is an answer a true north - a measuring rod outside of those things being measured. Freedom trusts in the First Things, in a “holiday at the beach” rather than “mud pies in the back alley.”
As you sit stunned in front of your television watching the absurdity of this week’s news unfold before your very eyes, remember this all starts with our schools. Remember what is taught today in our classrooms is exactly what you will see practiced tomorrow in our corporations, our courts, in our culture, and even in our churches.
If you keep teaching self-absorption you are going to get selfish people and self-absorbed politicians. Teach narcissism and don’t be surprised to find a nation of narcissists. Teach generation after generation that there is no such thing as objective truth and it shouldn’t shock you to find an election season dominated by candidates who are a bunch of liars. Teach young men it’s more important to get a young woman to consent than it is not to get her pregnant and you’ll likely find a population full of single moms and fatherless children. Teach the nonsense that the female is no longer a biological fact but, rather, little more than the fabrication and fantasy of a dysphoric man who wants to pretend he is a woman and don’t be surprised to see the loss of women’s bathrooms, women’s sports and basic women’s rights.
Remember that teaching moral neutrality will always lead to a people without morality. Remember that victimization always leads to violence. Remember that vengeance is the opposite of virtue. Remember that ideas matter. They never lie fallow. They always bear fruit. Good ideas equal good culture, good government, good churches and good kids, and bad ideas equal the opposite. Remember: Garbage in, garbage out.
Also, remember what G.K. Chesterton once told us: If you get rid of the big Laws of God, you don’t get liberty but rather thousands of little laws that rush in to fill the vacuum. Freedom — true and lasting freedom — is not found in the endless rules of government or in the increased power of men but rather in the simple laws of God.
The answer to anarchy is not found in more of the bad ideas of Caesar, but in the good ideas — the very best ideas of all of time and eternity — the ideas of Christ.
• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).