“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1841). I write on behalf of 19th-century individualism, which is not much in vogue on the political left these days. It is seen as the progenitor of the ruthless capitalism that destroyed idyllic communities where people lived in peace with their neighbors and in harmony with the land, where no one was greedy and disputes were resolved by consensus. But I see, not too little community, but too much – groups of like-minded people, joined together by geography or faith, ethnicity or interest, family or class, who enforce conformity on their members and circle their wagons against the world. Increasingly, we talk only to those with whom we agree, reinforcing our belief that we have a special grasp on the truth. Jihadists do this, of course, as do evangelicals and Fox News and progressives like me who feel the urgent need to set the world straight. We read opinion pieces whose conclusions we know in advance, and when we want to tell others what we really think, we send them something written by someone else. Is it any wonder that our politicians lead from behind, taking the pulse of their electorates before making up their minds?
I believe that the true measure of our education system is not a score on a test or fitness for the marketplace, but the development of the courage, critical thinking and self-esteem necessary to stand up to the accepted truths of one’s world.