Over the past few years, we have witnessed a dramatic change in the process of teaching and learning at the university. Safe spaces, banned books, multiple new pronouns, and canceled speakers are now commonplace at most learning institutions. An effort to keep students “safe” by removing the possibility of hurt feelings, perceived microaggressions, or emotional trauma has trumped the pursuit of knowledge. The objective of truth, or at a minimum inquiry, itself has stagnated in deference to the possibility of causing a student to have to rethink their firmly held beliefs.
A recent opinion piece on The Chronicle of Higher Education titled The Purpose of a University Isn’t Truth. It’s Inquiry. contrasts the difference between truth and inquiry. Further, the author asserts that academic freedom organizations such as FIRE, Hetrodox Academy, and The Academic Freedom Alliance would be better served and draw a more diverse audience by focusing the discussion on the process of inquiry and critical thinking rather than a pursuit of truth.
The author argues that truth, as a concept, is “not a stable enough category to bear the weight of higher education’s entire mission.” Instead, the author states that critical inquiry may be a better and more robust benchmark to use as a goalpost in the academic setting. Critical inquiry “seeks to cultivate habits of mind that go beyond mere curiosity about the world. It combines creativity, experimentation, and evaluation in an ongoing, iterative process. It can encompass the full range of learning, teaching, and research activities on college campuses, from experiments in particle physics to orchestra rehearsals of Brahms’s concertos.” In my opinion, this concept sounds like what we are looking for in education, except for the fact that the whole purpose of critical inquiry is to find the truth. If you allow for truth to be something other than the main objective of learning, then you fail to educate. Rather than working towards what they deem a possibly impossible truth, the authors argue that focusing on critical inquiry would also allow for a broader range of ideas, theories, and discussions. In an effort to be more welcoming to a more diverse audience, the authors are willing to abandon the pursuit of knowledge altogether.