Commentary

Allergic to Disagreement: Exposing Students to Different Beliefs Is Healthy

By John Stonestreet | March 25, 2019 | 4:32pm EDT
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All parents remember how annoying it can be when a baby drops their pacifier on the floor. Whenever it happens, parents face a choice. First time parents typically opt for the hazmat suit route, carrying the pacifier to the kitchen and sanitizing it in boiling water. By the time your fourth kid comes around, you pick it up, you may or may not suck on it, and then give it back to your son or daughter. Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Well, as it turns out, the second option may actually be better for the baby. According to a 2013 Swedish study, parents who just sucked binkies clean and gave them back ended up with kids who had measurably fewer incidences of eczema. A 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Amish children, who grew up on traditional farms with animals, had dramatically lower rates of asthma compared with children raised in more sterile environments. In fact, a surprising amount of evidence suggests that exposure to some germs is good for children and can stave off autoimmune diseases and allergies later in life.

As all the first-time parents prepare to send me hate mail, let me just say that this is true intellectually, too. Just as exposure to foreign microbes is critical in developing a healthy and responsive immune system, exposure to foreign ideas is critical in developing a healthy and responsive mind—and, dare I say, a resilient worldview.

That’s what Irshad Manji thinks. The author of “Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times,” Manji was featured on TIME magazine’s website this month making her simple but countercultural argument. In an age when everyone seems to be offended, learning how not to have that allergic reaction to differing viewpoints is a crucial life skill—one she thinks schools ought to be teaching.

Considering how fragile students have become at our nation’s Universities, it’s hard to argue with her. For years now, conservative college speakers have been greeted by raging protests when students find out that those speakers don’t conform to a narrow set of politically correct views.

More often than not, school administrators cave, and speakers get disinvited. Sometimes they’re even chased off or shouted down. Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and Charles Murray are just a few recent examples. Even the Huffington Post admitted that so-called “safe spaces” on campus are making students more intolerant by insulating them from diverse ideas and views—which ironically, are precisely what higher education is supposed to offer!

Reactions to differing opinions have gotten so intense that USA Today reports that many universities in 2018 didn’t even allow controversial speakers. Manji thinks that’s a tragedy. I agree. She says being offended from time to time is part of how we learn to be truly tolerant.

“Giving offense is the price of diversity,” she tells TIME, “not an impediment to diversity.” Manji is mainly addressing secular liberals at TIME and in her book but, as a reform-minded Muslim, she knows what it looks like when new ideas are treated as a threat. She’s very open about how her views on women’s rights and freedom of speech and religion have gotten her in trouble with those who share her faith. And standing up to more traditional Muslims has prepared her to stand up to insulated progressives who would rather shut down those with different views than hear them out.

“Schools are teaching young people how not to be offensive,” she says, but “they also need to be teaching a new generation how not to be offended.”

I imagine that this author and I would disagree on a lot of things, but it sounds like she’d be great at it! The value she’s espousing is right at home in a Christian worldview. After all, we affirm that those with whom we disagree aren’t mere “mascots” for ideas they hold but are first and foremost creations of God with objective value—image-bearers worth engaging, loving and persuading.

Years of exposing Christian kids to alternative ideas and teaching at Summit Ministries has taught me first-hand how it leaves young people more confident in their beliefs, and more able to talk across worldview lines. They end up better prepared to give that reason for the hope that’s in them, and less dependent than many of their secular peers on sterile safe spaces free of disagreement.

You can check out Summit Ministries and learn more about their summer conferences for high school and college students at Summit.org.

John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.

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