Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"I have a right to my opinion!"

After an unfortunate and painful experience not unlike the one described below, I took to informing my government and international relations students at the beginning of each semester that, "of course you have a right to your opinion" but that if that opinion was expressed aloud or on paper the student should be prepared to defend it. From The National Association of Scholars site:
A few years ago I was asked by the instructor of a philosophy class, then titled “Roots of War,” to discuss with his students the culture of the U.S. military community. After identifying myself as a former career military officer, I discussed my impression of our military’s culture. When I was done, a young woman who had been glowering at me and holding her arms tightly across her chest raised her hand. When called upon she vehemently said, “I don’t agree with you. I don’t think it is anything like that. You have just been brainwashed by the military.”

“OK,” I said, “what do you think our military’s culture is like?”

“Well, certainly nothing like that,” she sputtered. I could see some heads in the class nodding in agreement.

I asked, “Could you share with us your experience in or around the military?”

“I haven’t had anything to do with the military,” she indignantly replied.

“Have you extensively studied the U.S. military or worked with current or former members of the military?”

“No,” she angrily said.

“So where have you gotten your impression of the military’s culture?” I tried to ask softly.

“I am entitled to my opinion, and I think you are a Nazi!” was her voracious reply. The class was clearly enjoying her attack on me at this point and the philosophy professor sat smugly satisfied.

I decided to end this ridiculous exchange: “So let us review. You have no personal experience or knowledge of the military. You have not studied the military. You cannot explain why you disagree with me. And you think you are entitled to your opinion. Well, I agree with you on one point. You do have a right to an opinion, and I have a right to point out that yours is an ignorant opinion—ignorant because by your own admission it is not based on any facts, education, research, or experience. Your opinion is apparently based on nothing more than simple ignorant prejudice.”

The class was silent for a moment. The young woman began to sob and yell at me, “You can’t say that to me!”

I replied, “Yes I can, because it is the truth.”

The now visibly upset philosophy professor said, “Doug, you are being a little harsh on her.”

“No Ron, I am just stating the truth.”

“Well Doug, you have to respect her feelings.” Much of the class was nodding in agreement while attempting to soothe the young woman who was now obviously enjoying the attention.

“Gee Ron, I thought this was a university where we discussed subjects rationally using facts and logic.”

“A lot of us feel the same way she does,” the philosophy professor responded, as if that were justification for her ignorance and her personal insults.

Fed up with the charade, I walked out of the class.

Later, I sat in the campus office of a friend, relating the story. He smiled and occasionally laughed as I recounted what happened. “Of course you were right Doug, but you can’t say that here. Where do you think you are, America?” We both laughed, while knowing that it was no laughing matter.
Thanks to What's Wrong With the World for the reference.

NAS - The National Association of Scholars :: Articles The Classroom Without Reason 04/27/2009 Douglas Campbell


  1. Wow. Even when you point out the lack of reason for their argument, it doesn't matter.

  2. My own experience was that students believed that they "had a right" to their opinion whether or not they could justify that viewpoint with evidence or logic. As a teacher I really didn't care what the opinion was, so long as the student was prepared to make an argument. "I have a right to my opinion" wasn't sufficient.

  3. As a disclaimer I'm a career Navy Reserve officer. While visiting a college campus this past summer I overheard a remark by a young lady in the library commenting on a recently alledged rape that occured in the military. While I can't remember her exact words the gist of her comments were that everyone in the military must be capable of rape. While I am not one for confrontation I calmly commented that she shouldn't assume everyone in the military is a rapist. She apologized for her comment and we parted on friendly terms. Some people are at least willing to learn when confronted with the truth. Thanks for the post.


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