I posed a question here almost two years ago: Do humanities teachers know how to deradicalize their students? I was responding to reports about an alleged neo-Nazi terrorist who had received an expensive liberal arts education. (A New York magazine profile subsequently labeled him “the prep-school Nazi.” It also showed, however, that his involvement in the far right probably began only several years after he left college.)
I argued that the evidence for education’s effectiveness in combating extremism is, at best, mixed. We cannot assume education reliably prevents or reverses radicalization. However, this doesn’t mean education has no role to play in the deradicalization process. As I wrote a year ago, “People have to be given the tools to challenge and rebuild their own beliefs.” Thus, the question I was raising was really this: Do humanities teachers know what practices will give students those tools?
This month, I have been revisiting a 2018 book that shows, as a case study, why the answer is complicated. Deradicalization, this book suggests, simultaneously is and is not about education.
At the end of a year when American educators came under fierce attack for their efforts to fight racism, thinking clearly about this paradox seems more important than ever. So let’s talk about this book.Continue reading “Leaving Extremism: What’s College Got to Do with It?”