A letter to his students was recently posted to reddit.com/r/atheism from Dr. Charles Negy, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida.
It was reprinted at that liberal-loving rag Huffington Post.
The letter tore into one of his classes for misunderstanding the purpose of the collegiate experience. Oddly enough, it was as if he was talking to my 18-year-old self, but instead of only one miseducated class member, there were many.
And they made their stand against deconstructing and discussing religious bigotry, a topic that was not up for discussion with many of his students.
If I would have received the letter that Dr. Negy sent out, I likely would have ignored it. But by the end of my four years, I may have said to myself, “Jeremy, Negy was freaking right. I wish I knew that four years ago.”
You can read the whole letter here. The gems I took from it are below:
The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life’s most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so.
A note on the above: I was taught to think critically as a student. My parents were at the forefront of wanting me to have my own opinions and express them. The issue was that I thought the information I was getting at school and church was top notch, when it wasn’t. Thank goodness I figured that out.
That’s not to say I know everything now. I don’t. I’m not sold on anything completely, as I’m open to what news and information are available.
More from Negy:
We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.
Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable.
Thanks, Xina for the link!