Oh give me a home
where the buffalo roam
and the skies are not cloudy all day
Where seldom is heard
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a discouraging word
Say what? Never is heard a discouraging word? Why, that must be on a college campus circa 2016.
Distressing it was to hear that students at Elon University think syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker is too dangerous to be allowed to speak on campus in October. The Elon protesters are incensed about the theme of Parker’s 2008 book “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care.”
The book promulgates a lame-brained theory that women’s progress in society is at the expense of put-upon, fragile men. The petition was started by Elon senior Becca Nipper, whom I couldn’t reach. The petition states that “Parker’s journalism is more than just her opinion ... it’s a consistent attack on all of the things Elon has been working towards – ending sexual assault, increasing diversity, and creating a safe and encouraging environment for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation.”
The invitation to speak there, the petition concludes, was tantamount to approval of Parker’s work and ideas, ideas the signers find repulsive.
Protesting speech with which one disagrees is not the same as preventing such speech, and students who find Parker’s brand of conservatism galling have every right to express their disdain for it. Shutting down boneheaded speech, though, is not a right and will lead only to chaos and to no one getting their ideas heard.
Just as the actions of protesters who’ve prevented the GOP presidential nominee from speaking at a couple of events were counterproductive, so are the actions of people who’d muzzle columnist Kathleen Parker at Elon University.
Just as the actions of protesters who’ve prevented the GOP presidential nominee from speaking at a couple of events were counterproductive, so are the actions of people who’d muzzle Parker: If his or her ideas are so odious, the best disinfectant is to give them a good airing.
Me? I’d love to be able to hear and later question Parker, a jingoistic Bush Family cheerleader, to seek an explanation for this face-palmer from a 2015 column she wrote:
“After the national trauma of the Clinton years, during which mothers like me were forced to shield our children from the president’s deeds, it was a relief to see George W. and Laura Bush move into the White House. If nothing else was certain, at least no one would have to worry about blue dresses, knee pads and cigars.”
Call me silly, but explaining “blue dresses, knee pads and cigars” to your little whippersnappers seems less psychologically debilitating than explaining to them the tens of thousands of dead human beings resulting from unnecessary wars promoted by her beloved W.
Now, we columnists resort to hyperbole the way a nouveau cuisine chef resorts to duck fat to add flavor to 8-day-old fish, so we can ascribe some of her journalistic swooning over the Bushes to just that – hyperbole.
Parker is still coming to Elon in October, and were I not planning to be busy with an urgent matter the entire month – alphabetizing my Z.Z. Hill album collection – I’d love to ask her to explain how one man’s personal peccadilloes constituted a “national trauma,” especially in light of what came afterward.
Instead of opposing her visit, Elon students who find Parker’s book and columns contemptible should be champing at the bit, camping out like Duke students in K-ville to get a seat inside Cameron Indoor Stadium before the Tar Heels come to town so they can ask her to defend a column written last week in which she dances right up to the line of blaming Roger Ailes’ victims for their own sexual harassment. Danced up to it? It looks to me like she did the Electric Slide across that sucker.
Colleges have long been regarded as bastions of quirky, offbeat ideas: What’s the use of going away to school if you’re not going to learn something that makes your parents, at Thanksgiving dinner, wonder if you’ve gone crazy and if they’re wasting their money?
Democratic Socialist Michael Harrington came to speak at Ferrum College in Virginia when I was a student there in 1976. I rushed over to the auditorium to make sure I got a good seat and was one of the first students there. Why was I so eager to see and hear the renowned socialist?
Well, I’ll tell ya. Being somewhat – nay, exceedingly – dimwitted, I somehow thought he was a member of the “Socializing” Party and was coming to instruct socially inept dudes on how to meet women and conduct themselves at parties.
Boy, how I wish I were kidding.
Instead of hearing how to engage in chitchat at soirees, we were exposed to Harrington’s denunciation of what he called the U.S.’s intrinsically unjust economic system.
Perhaps 20 students and a handful of professors showed up, and despite our exposure to what was – pre-Bernie – considered a dangerous political philosophy, none of us emerged radically different, raring to burn down the school, expel the moneychangers or otherwise disrupt the economic system. One professor did scoff at the irony of a socialist charging $10,000 to appear on campus.
I emerged from the lecture so much more enlightened by being exposed to such an iconoclastic thinker as Harrington that I tried to read his book “The Other America” and wrote a term paper on the merits of capitalism versus socialism. Mr. Holt gave me an “F,” because he had instructed us to put footnotes at the end of each page and I put mine at the end of the entire report.
Dang, who knew he’d take it that seriously?
Much has been made in recent years about a so-called anti-free speech movement on college campuses. Remember when Jerry Seinfeld, after having students at a college not laugh at one of his 98 percent humor-free observations about a gay king checking his Blackberry, went on a much-seconded rant about closed mindedness among college students?
A Gallup Poll from this year showed that 72 percent of the students surveyed oppose restrictions on expression of offensive political views, while 27 percent think the school should be able to restrict it.
Balderdash, Jerry. A Gallup Poll from this year showed that 72 percent of the students surveyed oppose restrictions on expression of offensive political views, while 27 percent think the school should be able to restrict it. Sixty-nine percent of students favor restrictions on hate speech, slurs and stereotypical costumes.
(One hundred percent of them, though, opposed the freedom to tell lame jokes and then get upset when no one laughs.)
The survey results are heartening, because colleges function best when they welcome not just mainstream or quirky, offbeat messages, but even dangerous ones. When the University of California at Berkeley in 1968 invited Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver to teach a course, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan warned, “If Eldridge Cleaver is allowed to teach our children, they may come home one night and slit our throats.”
Cleaver, of course, eventually morphed into a born-again Christian Republican and endorsed Reagan’s presidential bid.
Perhaps if Elon students welcome Parker and hear her out, she may eventually become less of a Bush Family fangirl and stick an “I’m with Her” bumper sticker on her SUV.
So, dear students, as dangerous as you presume it is to allow Kathleen Parker to speak, preventing her to speak is more so.