UPenn Law Professor Amy Wax, left, packed Hillcrest and provoked spurts of anger from students and faculty members. Wax called the signs “lazy.” (Campus/Rachel Frank)
Image source: https://middleburycampus.com/23328/news/wax-lecture-stirs-controversy/
Posted by Ruth King
There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with lip service paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned through my recent experience of writing a controversial op-ed is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them.
The op-ed, which I co-authored with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 9 under the headline, “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.” It began by listing some of the ills afflicting American society:
Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
We then discussed the “cultural script”—a list of behavioral norms—that was almost universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s:
Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
These norms defined a concept of adult responsibility that was, we wrote, “a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains and social coherence of that period.” The fact that the “bourgeois culture” these norms embodied has broken down since the 1960s, we argued, largely explains today’s social pathologies—and re-embracing that culture would go a long way toward addressing those pathologies.
In what became the most controversial passage, we pointed out that some cultures are less suited to preparing people to be productive citizens in a modern technological society, and we gave examples:
The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.
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