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Free Speech and the Whims of College Kids

Hadley is still a child, and so administrators should listen to her, but they should’ve give her an equal say in the institution.

When I was in middle school, my history class staged a walkout. I don’t recall the reasons, but I’m sure at the time we all thought them righteous and just. I’m also sure that if I remembered those reasons today, I’d find them silly. Embarrassing. Childish, in a word, because that’s exactly what we were at the time: children.

That seventh grade walkout came to mind as I watched Michael Moynihan’s recent report on Evergreen State College for VICE News.

The details baffle, but for my purposes here they’re largely irrelevant. The short version goes: a professor objected to a stunt put on by the students, a stunt they thought was righteous and just, and now they want him fired because he’s clearly too filled with hate, and thus too opposed to righteousness and justice, to continue teaching at Evergreen State.

The professor stood up to the students, as he should, but the administration, while not acceding to their demands, has allowed the students to berate the dean and the professor, physically menace both, and generally get treated as equal players at the table when it comes to how Evergreen State, the institution, should address whatever issues set the students off so.

The wave of similar campus tantrums has attracted quite a lot of press and think pieces, offering quite a lot of theories about the cause. Do America’s youth no longer value free speech? Is this a variety of “social justice” morality run amok? How can we right the next generation’s ideological course?

But such thinking goes wrong because it fails to grasp a key ontological point about the perpetrators. Namely, college students are still children.

Of course, college students will tell you different, and many will be insulted by this label. But all children believe, in the moment, that they are not children. When my seventh grade peers and I walked out of history class, we didn’t see ourselves as mere kids, assessing our situation through our underdeveloped lenses, and with our underdeveloped critical reasoning. Instead, we were heroes standing up to injustice. We were roleplaying the plight of the oppressed and playacting a stand against our oppressor. In short, we still had growing up to do.

So do 19 and 20 year olds. That’s why they’re in college. A university takes kids fresh out of high school and provides them an enviroment in which they can learn the skills and develop the traits that will allow them to become adults. But they’re not there yet.

How do I know they’re not there? Because I was in college once, I was 19 and 20 and 21 once. I thought, at the time, that I had it all figured out. But now, as a 38 year old, it’s obvious that I didn’t. I was still a kid. The same’s true for everyone old enough to actually be an adult. Ask them. With age and experience and perspective, they can look back at their college years with clarity.

The blame, then, for the rise of campus protests lies not with the students — they are, after all, still children, still with growing to do — but with the faculty and administrators who refuse to see them as they are, and instead pretend they’re fully adults. The adults on campus are the adults on campus, and the relationship they have with their students should be the same as at any other level of schooling. To act otherwise, to humor these outbursts, is to fail in the very purpose of education: to teach children how to be functioning adults.

These Evergreen State students will grow up and look back on their youthful outbursts the same way all of us look back on our. That is, unless the adults around them, tasked with helping them in their growing up, convince them, through misplaced humoring and an unreasonable fear of being perceived as condescending, that they’re already there.

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College, Political Correctness, and Intellectual Stasis

I loved college. Taking classes and monopolizing professor office hours is about as ideal a life as I can imagine. But it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that I got out at the right time. I saw none of this new wave of political correctness when I was a student — and I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder, which you’d think would be on the vanguard of movements like that.

There’s the obvious concern about the wider repercussions of the sort of militant infantilization currently gripping our campuses. I get that, and I am fearful of where this might all lead. More, though, I feel sad for the kids who are robbing themselves and their peers of what’s so profoundly wonderful about attending a university. College isn’t about learning a set of facts or training for a job or earning a credential. If you go into it looking for those things, you’re missing the point. College is about growing as a person, about coming out richer in mind and character than when you started. But for that to happen, you have to let it. Not even seek it out or actively strive for it. Just let it happen. At a good university, it’s in the air.

The trouble is, college kids today seem dead set on fighting personal change, on shutting out anything that might lead to or enable it. It’s like they’ve looked at themselves as they exit high school and said, “This is the best I can be. What matters now is stasis.”

College is by no means the only way to grow and evolve when you’re in your late teens and early twenties. Of course it isn’t. But it’s not like today’s undergrads are availing themselves of the alternatives. They want instead to remain children, and to drive from campuses anyone who strives for more.

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People Don’t Owe You Money Just Because You Think You’re Awesome

Sorry, but it’s true.

Erin Biba doesn’t get paid much when she writes for online outlets and she’s pretty sure that’s other peoples’ fault. In a very silly essay at Medium, Biba explains how her “talent, critical thinking, ability to ask the right questions, and skill in explaining super complex topics”—presumably developed during her “$60,000 graduate journalism degree from Medill”—entitles her to more than the market’s willing to pay.

I can write and report a kickass story with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But the algorithm that decides how much I get paid for all that badass-ness doesn’t put any value on how good I am. It cares not at all how well written this story is or how much experience I have. All that’s important is how many times you guys click.

The going rate for this essay, she tells us, is “two and a half cents per click.”

Let me start by noting that, while $0.025 doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s actually not too bad. The essay runs just 612 words and they’re rather ranty and unpolished. I hope it took her less than an hour to write. But it’s likely getting a ton of traffic, as stuff that goes viral on Medium tends to do. How much? I don’t know. Probably more than my most popular column at Libertarianism.org this last year, at the very least, and that got 14,567 clicks. If I’d earned her rate, I’d have pocketed $364. Which isn’t bad. If she hits even twice that, she’ll get a nice pile of cash.

Still, the trouble with Biba’s tirade isn’t the numbers. It’s the sense of entitlement and the lack of, well, critical thinking and asking the right questions.

The core of her argument is just that online writing pays authors based on the traffic their writing generates and offers lower pay than many print outlets. Those print outlets, unable “to quantify the value of [the author’s] contribution to their business by counting clicks,” tend to pay more, and thus often pay to produce “great stories” instead of “the most popular ones.”

Biba reads this as print outlets “understanding the importance of a good writer,” while online sites care little for quality and want only traffic. Yet here’s an opportunity for Biba to ask one of those right questions she says she’s so skilled at asking. Namely, if the sort of writing print appreciates is so great, why are print sales in decline? Related: If those sorts of stories, the kind Biba wants to write, are so obviously better than the “journalism written entirely by amateurs with no experience, no education, and limited talent,” why do online outlets—which can meansure readership—ask for the latter and not the former?

Perhaps it’s that there’s just more of an audience for short and simple than there is for long and deep. And perhaps that’s always been the case, but in the past, in the print-only world, there wasn’t a way to measure it. So editors assumed everyone liked what they like (i.e., in-depth stories), when in fact most people actually would’ve preferred Buzzfeed listicles.

The fact is, if lots of people want what you produce, if what you produce is in demand, the market will compensate you accordingly. If Biba pulled in big checks when we had no way of measuring how much people actually wanted her writing, but now doesn’t when we do, then perhaps the problem is people just aren’t interested in what she writes. No matter how expensive her journalism degree or how talented she’s pretty sure she is.

Except, of course, for this particular instance of Millennial entitlement. I imagine it’ll pay her pretty well.

This essay original appeared at AaronRossPowell.com.