Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Advice to Harvard freshmen

The Weekly Standard calls our attention to this advice, offered by the inimitable Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., on "How to Survive as a Conservative at Harvard." Here’s one pearl:

"Entering Harvard, you are faced with a curriculum that has lots of choice. . . . Lots of choice doesn’t mean lots of good choices, as you know from the student dining halls. . . . It doesn’t matter so much what the professor’s politics may be, liberal or even left. What matters is whether the class is conducted honestly, by which I mean presenting and considering ideas contrary to his own. Like an honest salesman, or better than that, the honest professor makes you aware of the defects or the difficulties of the argument he is propounding."

There’s more, so read the whole thing.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I have always tried to follow this approach. It has led to criticism from students, who typically like to be able to "peg" a professor. Students are often more anxious about their prospects in a course when the professor’s "position" is not clearcut; this is especially the case of when she often reveals difficulties or objections even in respect of views she has expressed in writing. Some even think of it as cruel and perverse, as if they are being tricked. (How ironic, since as Mansfield suggests, this is exactly what happens when you are HONEST.)

On the other hand, "minority" students, whether people of color or gays and lesbians, or members of religious minorities, have the much more positive reaction that through an element of self-criticism and self-doubt, the professor legitimizes different ways of thinking about problems; these students often tell me they feel particularly comfortable in my classes.

Where can I find a copy of the Mansfield article? The issue isn’t posted and nothing comes up via a Google search. I’ve got a freshman daughter at Ohio U who needs whatever advice is given. Thanks.

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