It is finals week at colleges and universities across the nation, and the University of Maine at Orono just announced a brilliant plan: It is providing a herd of goats for students to feed and pet in order to help them — presumably the students, not the goats — get through the stress of final exams.
I’m not kidding.
“If fascism ever comes to America,” Ronald Reagan told Mike Wallace in 1975, “it will come in the name of liberalism.” And, indeed, ideological fascism has come in place of academic freedom, waving its flag of safe spaces on college campuses across the land. Under this banner of banality, you must comply with the fasces — the acceptable bundle of “safe” ideas — or you will be silenced.
C.S. Lewis told us in “God in the Dock”: “Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” In his publication titled “First Things,” John Richard Neuhaus told us, “One must never underestimate the profound bigotry and anti-intellectualism and intolerance and illiberality of liberalism.”
The academy should be about first things, not second things. It should be about an exceptional curriculum rather than the common core. It should be more concerned with ethics than information, and character more than careers. It should focus on how to acquire morality more so than merely earning more money.
The truly educated person should be dedicated to pursuing truth not constructing opinions, and embracing love rather than simply being tolerant. Good education should be about first things, and not be content with those that are second.
To paraphrase Lewis again: When we can have a holiday at the beach, why in the world are we satisfied with making mud pies in the back alleys?
College life should be about promoting unity, not division. It’s called a “uni-versity” and not a “di-versity” for a reason. Classical education — truly liberating education — is about the common cause of personal righteousness, not the divisiveness of our personal rights.
Selflessness rather than self. The unum rather than the pluribus. Veritas and virtue rather than victimization and vengeance. It’s about pursuing what’s good, rather than being satisfied with what is safe.
As Lewis says, when we reverse the order and focus on second things we get neither first nor second. It is only by dying to self, i.e. setting aside our “safety,” that any human being will ever find his true identity.
It isn’t found in race or gender. It isn’t found in personal grievances or our narcissistic infatuation with self. We are neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. We are human beings, and selfless unity rather than selfish comfort is the First Thing.
Professors, politicians, pundits, and yes, even parents, do our next generation of leaders and consequently our country great harm by enabling young people to miss the first things by fixating on the second things. As Neuhaus warned, such ontological dyslexia brings only “profound bigotry and anti-intellectualism and intolerance and illiberality of liberalism.”
It brings cries of “microaggressions” and calls for “trigger warnings.” It runs from the debate rather than toward it. It brings exclusion rather than inclusion, and segregation rather than integration. Cries for comfort rather than accepting the challenges of confrontation.
This was the genius of William Wilberforce. His “am I not a man” campaign focused on the unity of what it meant to be a human being, not on the division of what it meant to be of a given race or gender or social status.
By focusing on unity and not division, he forced the British culture to deal with the First Thing: The dignity of all men and women, rather than let them get distracted by their self-centeredness and corresponding cries for ideological and cultural “safety.”
Over the past 30 years, I have had at least 15 different college students live with my family. These students became part of our family while they attended college. The majority of these kids were from different cultures and some were even from other countries.
In my house, unity, not diversity, has been our concern. We are family, pure and simple. We see character, not color, age, nationality or social status. We celebrate what we have in common and don’t worry about how we differ. We focus on the Savior and not the self. We hold each other accountable to righteousness and don’t defend our rights. We are much more interested in what is good than what is safe.
My family’s identity is in Christ, not in individual grievances. Everyone under my roof “is a man,” nothing more and nothing less. There are no subdivisions. My home is a uni-versity. It is not a di-versity. It is a place where everyone is expected to act like an adult and not behave like a child. It is not a day care. Our priority is to know and honor God, rather than standing in line to pet goats.
• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).
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