Friday, January 17, 2020

Should You Have to Be 21 to Smoke?

Dan Klein raises this question at   Does the recent federal law increasing the smoking age to 21 make sense?  He turns to the great observer of 1830s America, Alexis De Tocqueville,  for clues. 

A couple of times, back in early Millennium days, I asked my classes of 65  NYU MBA students, who were graduates of elite colleges around the country, whether they were familiar with de Tocqueville, and no more than two or three percent had heard of him (one or two per class of 65). The state of the higher education system, which on average spent $27,000 per student in 2018, is that students who graduate are unfamiliar with the rudiments of history, culture, and literature.  They are likely worse educated than the elementary-school-educated Americans of de Tocqueville's day, who read the classics as well as the Bible. 

Klein recounts that the America de Tocqueville saw was one where boys and girls became men and women at the beginning of adolescence;  Americans could think for themselves at the onset of adulthood; girls were the most self-reliant and self-confident in the world; boys became land speculators and entrepreneurs before they were what we would call men. Moreover, business people never dreamt of relying on government because they were self-reliant. People voluntarily helped each other. Crimes were rapidly punished.

Klein notes this quote from de Tocqueville: “Americans believe their freedom to be the best instrument and surest safeguard of their welfare.”  

How sharply the observations of de Tocqueville differ from those of John Dewey, the early twentieth century philosopher of education.  Dewey believed that schools need to provide a plastic, manipulated environment that provides learning through experience.  Experiential learning is not to involve the real world of profit and loss, and it is to be guided by omniscient teachers.  

The Antifa students of today have so internalized the rules of America's left-wing schoolmarms that they often have trouble making a living and instead spend their lives attacking those who do not conform to the left-wing rituals of the academic Temples of Political Correctness.   

I wonder about the degree to which American education has not only debilitated most Americans intellectually but also made them more immature by encouraging a culture of dependency cloaked in experiential learning.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Letter to Babson College's President Stephen Spinelli in Defense of Prof. Asheen Phansey

Dear President Spinelli:

I urge you to reconsider the firing of Asheen Phansey.  I hold diametrically opposite views to Prof. Phansey’s, but more important considerations of freedom of speech and academic freedom should be given priority over matters of taste and opinion.  Even if Prof. Phansey hadn’t been joking, firing him for his views would still have been a mistake.  Recall John Stuart Mill: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Mill’s position is central to anything resembling a free society, but it is even more important to academic culture because without freedom of speech and the freedom to make mistakes, innovation and creativity die. 


Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.

Postscript: See FIRE's piece on Professor Phansey here.