I enjoyed reading Dennis Prager’s piece this morning, “Conservative Parents, Leftist Kids.” In my experience working with college students across the country, it’s striking how little conservative parents prepare their kids for the emotional — rather than intellectual — challenge of life as a conservative, especially in education. The noted Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias is fond of observing that in the battle of ideas, stigma tends to beat dogma. In other words, derision and scorn trump expressions of belief. He’s exactly right.
The idea of college as mounting a comprehensive intellectual challenge to conservatism, especially conservative Christianity, is largely outdated. The modern college isn’t a terribly intellectual place, featuring dumbed-down courses, far more time spent partying than studying, and legions of stressed-out adjuncts and graduate students (rather than the classic liberal intellect seen in movies and television) doing most of the actual teaching. In other words, when it comes to the life of the mind, there’s not much to most contemporary universities.
What’s actually there, however, is a toxic combination of decadence and scorn – the relentless labeling of conservatives (again, especially Christian conservatives) as bigots, haters, and idiots. Liberal students and professors who have no more knowledge of public policy or political philosophy than your average pile of dirt feel a bulletproof sense of intellectual, moral, and indeed even spiritual superiority over their conservative peers — and can relentlessly express that superiority. At the same time — for kids just as subject to temptation as anyone else — the considerable decadence of college life has its own appeals.
I try to prepare my own kids not only for the intellectual challenges of our liberal culture (such as they are) but also for the moral and spiritual challenge from those who will view them as evil and stupid merely for their religious, cultural, and political beliefs. There is no good deed they can do that will cause the truly unreflective portions of the Left to like or respect them in any way, and the respect or affection of such people should not be their goal.
These are hard lessons for kids to learn and apply — much harder to learn than the arguments or ideas behind conservatism — and there’s no formula for getting it right. I do know, however, that though we can stuff kids’ heads full of knowledge about our values, unless we instill the moral courage to live those values in the face of exclusion and scorn, we will fail, and our children — and nation — will suffer the consequences.