Great Minds Sharpen Each Other

Express Newsletter – June 2024

Marcy Braverman Goldstein, Ph.D.

Marcy Braverman Goldstein, Ph.D.

Director of Academic Affairs

Heterodox Academy has a great tagline, “great minds don’t always think alike.” This catchy statement captivates me as a much-needed reminder given the startling, stifling, and dangerous illiberalism pervasive in higher education. 

For about a decade, I have noticed that something is wrong in academia. A few years ago, I presented at a conference to alert colleagues that fashionable conformist views are shaping and dominating discourse in the academy. Exposing this open secret from within the compromised educational culture felt risky. Thankfully no one took issue with my exposé, and one professor even responded with a shaky voice, “I didn’t realize it was so bad.” 

Recently I attended the 2024 Heterodox Academy Conference. It was intellectually and emotionally rejuvenating to be surrounded by more than four-hundred professors, librarians, DEI directors, post-docs, and students who acknowledge and are acting to fix the intellectual and moral brokenness of academia. We frequently exclaimed: “It’s amazing to be here with no fear that someone will overreact and cancel us!”  

As Director of Academic Affairs at the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, I moderated a very well-received symposium, “Viewpoint Diversity in the Ethnic Studies Field,” with presentations by David L. Bernstein, Dr. Brandy Shufutinsky, and Dr. Tabia Lee. We exposed the illiberal Coalition for Liberated Ethnic Studies (CLES) education that is mandatory in some public high schools and possibly also soon at some public colleges and universities.  

The CLES curriculum claims to increase students’ knowledge about ethnically minoritized communities. In practice, however, it frames content within an oppression ideology that politicizes education. Designed by self-acknowledged activist-scholars, the classes impose an unnuanced oppressor vs.oppressed binary that fosters groupthink and compromises liberal principles that are the foundation of American democracy. CLES categorizes Jewish people as white oppressors, and by extension libels Israel as a white settler colonial state. The anti-Israel ahistorical lies baked into, even featured in, this “education” foment antisemitism. 

Presentation by Dr. Tabia Lee, Dr. Marcy Braverman Goldstein, David Bernstein, and Dr. Brandy Shufutinsky

While presenting our papers about ethnic studies at the HxA conference, I saw people’s mouths drop agape as they realized the divisive indoctrination and infiltration of revolutionary politics in our school systems nationwide. Memorably, one participant said, “Forgive me if I cry. My Jewish child was indoctrinated by the anti-Zionist cult at her college.” School districts throughout the country urgently need non-radicalized education.

Our symposium presented a new option: Sponsored by the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, the Coalition for Empowered Education (CEE) offers a non-ideologically driven, pluralistic Ethnic Studies curriculum. It promotes liberal principles such as free thought and productive debate. This alternative is essential to stop the politicized education loop plaguing K12 and academia today. 

The conference overall was intellectually aligned with JILV. Throughout the weekend, we heard about open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement. At a workshop, “Making Space for Contentious Topics in the Classroom,” The Mill Institute at UATX presenters led us through interactive conversations about settled thinking, certainty, righteous indignation, intellectual humility, and classrooms that are echo chambers as opposed to idea labs. We discussed what students and teachers do, and what we could and should do to create and stay in idea labs that grow productive discourse spaces. 

At the “Reacting to the Past” workshop, participants role-played a range of views and disagreements. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau, I enjoyed heated discussion with a church leader, journalist, and others. In the midst of it, I realized the genius of depersonalizing perspectives and exploring centuries-old dilemmas. In today’s academic culture, many students self-censor; through this learning exercise they can express a position without fear of retribution, and in so doing discover that centuries-old social dilemmas are not completely different from current events and challenges. 

John Tomasi’s opening Keynote and other plenary panels (on YouTube here) addressed heterodox thinkers, knowledge production, and liberal democracy. People joked about making sure to enjoy some constructive disagreement so as not to accidentally reinvent orthodoxy. 

At the Heterodox Academy Awards event, one professor said upon accepting her award,“I’m feeling hopeful for the first time.” She spoke for many people in the room. Her comment certainly resonated with me. After years of disillusionment and resignation to betrayal by academia, I felt relief, intellectual excitement, and joy about the possibility of renewal. 

I was proud to represent JILV at this conference whose values are aligned with the Jewish wisdom that inspired the formation of our Institute. We know well that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Judaism builds productive dissent into education via Talmud study partners (hevruta) and other practices that encourage dialogue and debate. The conference was a natural space for people who wrestle with viewpoints.

The JILV symposium stood alongside a growing group of motivated scholars nationwide who are working to improve academia. Heterodox Academy is a wider concentric circle that supports the foundational American principles that JILV similarly values including pluralism, free expression, and liberal patriotism, all of which are central to stopping antisemitism fomented by radical ideology. 

The next annual Heterodox Academy Conference is June 23-25, 2025 in New York City.

If you or anyone you know in K12 or Higher Education would like to share concerns and experiences, please email and ask others to contact me (marcy@jilv.org) or Brandy Shufutinsky, Director of Education and Community Engagement (brandy@jilv.org). 

Thank you for supporting the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values and partnering with us as we build coalitions of great people who sharpen each other ~ e pluribus unum.

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