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The year 1968 is considered by many to be the worst in modern American history: assassinations of political leaders, race riots in our urban areas, student protests and harsh crackdowns on college campuses, an intractable and increasingly unaffordable war thousands of miles away.
But what is happening right now, particularly at schools and universities on both sides of the Atlantic, is equally troubling – and may pose an even greater threat to our wellbeing in the years ahead.
According to a 45,000-participant College Plus survey on respect, tolerance and open-mindedness on American campuses – the largest ever conducted – an appalling 62 per cent of students said it’s “at least sometimes acceptable” to shout down a speaker, and one in five students said that using violence to stop a campus speech is “sometimes acceptable.”
Generation Z may claim they are the most tolerant, enlightened generation ever, but that’s not the reality. So many students are so angry at so many things.
It pains me to write these words, but I truly believe American democracy is in peril.
The shining city on the hill, which has illuminated so many dreams and aspirations across the Western world has begun to flicker. And what happens in America, politically and socially, inevitably finds its way across the Atlantic to Britain.
If you want to learn what the next 50 years will bring, look no further than what students and their faculty are saying and learning today. If you thought today’s politics was broken, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is why I fear for our democracy.
I’ve been a visiting professor or lecturer at more than a dozen colleges across the globe over the past two years and have taught off-and-on for three decades. My travels have taken me to universities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, from Italy to Ireland, from China to Africa, and to numerous institutions of higher learning in my own country and the UK.
The experience has opened my eyes to the progress being made globally to teach critical thinking and problem solving, tolerance and understanding in places outside the West … and just how dangerously intolerant and woke our schools have become much closer to home.
The loudest voices are those hurling ad hominems – playing the man rather than the ball, as they say in British football – trolling or vilifying people with whom they disagree, making it seem that there is no common purpose, no common ground, no common anything except an endless quest to destroy professional careers and personal lives. The only goal is to force one’s opponents to do involuntary penance for their sins.
This is the grim reality of cancel culture, and it will only get worse as the bitter and angry younger generations rise to power and prominence.
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