Section: Opinion

Out of the Classroom, On the Record: Lisa Leibowitz

In your time at Kenyon, what have you realized is the most important thing for a healthy political climate at the college?

Answered by Lisa Leibowitz, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Since coming to Kenyon, I have discovered that there is a catch-22 in liberal education. By “liberal education” I mean an education that allows one to free oneself from unexamined opinions and inherited prejudices and see oneself and the world clearly.

Perhaps the best way to achieve this goal is by confronting opinions and arguments opposed to one’s own. Doing so allows us to see whether we can defend our opinions -— whether we really know what we think we know. And discovering that you don’t know what you think you know is the necessary first step in a genuine education.

However, confronting such opinions and arguments tends to make us angry. And anger is an obstacle to liberal education. Anger says, “You are absolutely right, and the other opinion is absolutely wrong, evil, illegitimate and should be silenced.” Anger protects our opinions and prejudices from examination. In other words, the best means to a liberal education provokes in us that which would stop liberal education before it gets started; it’s a catch-22.

This is why I have come to believe that the most important thing for a healthy climate, including a healthy political climate, on campus is giving others the benefit of the doubt. If you can give faculty, students, administration members and the thinkers in the books and articles you are reading the benefit of the doubt, in part by checking your anger, you can thoroughly examine your opinions and theirs: That is, you can get a liberal education. And if you can’t check your anger, your education here — or anywhere — will amount to little more than a very expensive footnote to what you’ve believed since you were about 13 years old.

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