Students retreating from politics as campuses become progressive playgrounds
America’s frequently-decried lack of civility and obsession with tribalism is amplified within education, with damaging results, as a new poll from Young America’s Foundation suggests.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, young people are retreating from the intellectual battlefield despite an awareness that America is at a pivotal point in her history. The poll was conducted by Echelon Insights surveying 2,000 Americans aged 13 to 22. It found nearly half of respondents (46 percent) had stopped themselves from sharing ideas or opinions in class discussions.
This self-censorship doesn’t come from apathy: More than half of respondents (53 percent) believe our country is on the wrong track. Rather, the fear to speak up seems to come from the atmosphere of intolerance and political correctness our education system has produced. Fifty percent of respondents said they self-censored because they worried their classmates would judge them, while 41 percent reported worrying they would offend their classmates if they shared their opinions.
When intellectual curiosity and earnest debate is discouraged over fears that a micro-aggression may be committed and the perpetrator soundly rebuked regardless of intention, students move away from discussing the real challenges that face Generation-Z.
The result is that students today are immersed in a learning environment where differing viewpoints are denied, rather than debated.
These self-censoring students find themselves caught in the crossfire of the Left’s culture war, and their ideological identity reflects this. More than one-third of students (36 percent) identified as moderate, while another 15 percent are unsure. Students who won’t fall into lock-step with the increasingly radical Left yet fear retribution for identifying as conservative have little choice.
While the Left may claim ownership over the future through the current generation coming of age, this generation begs to differ. When asked about core American values, the top two responses were freedom (47 percent) and freedom of speech (39 percent).
On the subject of socialism, young people don’t want what leaders such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are selling. Students clearly prefer the opportunity provided in America to what they would find in Venezuela and China or even Denmark and Sweden. More than 60 percent of young people had favorable views of small business, entrepreneurs, free enterprise and free markets, more than twice the share who saw socialism in a favorable light. Interestingly, a significant minority of students were unable to accurately describe socialism (27 percent) or the free market (30 percent), another indictment of our education system.
Today’s students are hungry for ideas and keyed in to the issues of the day. But America’s educational institutions are failing to provide a venue where the free and open exchange of ideas can flourish. Campuses are not devoid of intellectual diversity, thanks to bold student activists who work with groups such as Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to organize activism projects and host leading conservative speakers.
YAF also organizes students to set out 2,977 American flags to represent the lives taken in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, holds seminars to strengthen students’ arguments in defense of free markets, and defends conservatives’ rights in federal court when they come under attack.
The rising generation is teetering on the middle ground where they feel they’re safest, but are prone to fall into the waiting arms of the Left due to progressives’ overbearing and intolerant presence in education. That is why it’s important to reach out to students returning to classrooms with the timeless principles of freedom and individual rights. It’s the only way to ensure conservative ideas will survive the current generation.
Spencer Brown is spokesman for Young America’s Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @itsSpencerBrown.
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