Intellectual Takeout: Would You Like an Education with Your Degree?

Ashley Thorne

  • You’re in class and the professor is singing the praises of John Dewey and his educational philosophy. You’re not exactly sure why, but something doesn’t sound right about child-centered school.
  • Your biology teacher announces that global warming is real, man-made, and that we have to do something about it. You’re skeptical but don’t have any counter-evidence.
  •  A friend is considering joining a feminist student group on campus because she wants to connect with other women and find new friends. You want to warn her about the feminist mindset but lack specific points with which to persuade her.

Every day college students face moments such as these. Campus culture and the teaching in college classrooms are overwhelmingly one-sided. Students who disagree are often at a loss as to how to respond. They may have strong convictions about what they believe but don’t have good reasons to defend their beliefs, or they may have vague qualms and the curiosity to find out more.

Ever since the rise of political correctness there have been organizations (such as NAS and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) where dissenting students can find like-minded people. But finding content in academic subjects to use in debates with friends and professors has been much more difficult. That’s where Intellectual Takeout (ITO) comes in. A national nonprofit, educational organization, its mission is “to provide an online, one-stop-shop of resources for all those interested in learning about freedom.” ITO gathers published materials on topics of interest to college students and synthesizes them at one destination: www.intellectualtakeout.org.

ITO began in 2003 as a project of the Minnesota-based Center of the American Experiment. In 2009 it spun off from CAE and launched a chic new website as the medium for its message. Devin Foley, a graduate of Hillsdale College and former director of development for CAE, is director of Intellectual Takeout. He will be a panelist at the Minnesota Association of Scholars banquet this Friday evening.

I met with Foley and he took me to the website for the University of Minnesota’s history program. He pointed out the excess of courses focused on race and gender, and observed that these may be important to talk about but if this is all students get, they have no context for it, no opportunity for “true critical thinking.”

He said, “Colleges and universities aren’t equipping conservative or libertarian students to know why they believe what they believe,” and that students get little exposure to views that differ from academic orthodoxy. “For a true education you need to read from both sides. We don’t want to eliminate the liberal point of view; we want to have both perspectives taught.”

At the heart of what Intellectual Takeout does is its digital library, compiled by ITO and its band of over 30 student researchers. Library topics range from ancient history to agriculture to women’s studies, and under each topic are several subtopics. Economics, for example, includes subcategories for Capitalism, Communism, Economic Development, Environmental Economics, Labor Economics, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Socialism, and The Economics of Safety Nets. Under Capitalism, in turn, are Market Failure, Prices, Creative Destruction, and Competition. The busy ITO researchers are continually adding new library topics.

For each topic—for instance, Pre-American Revolution Political Thought—the library provides extensive coverage through scholarly publications, primary documents, charts, quotes, videos and podcasts, books, blog posts and links. The curious reader can listen to a podcast audio reading of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, scan the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on The Social Contract, and check out the Jonathan Edwards Center archives hosted by the Yale Divinity School.

While the library entries generally bear a conservative flavor, readers won’t find material by outspoken pundits such as Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity. Rather, the content is academic in tone; Foley says the best test to see whether an item is appropriate for the library is to ask, “Could I send this to my most left-leaning friend and have him take it seriously?”

The goal is to have students with laptops open in class using the website. “We want to teach students how to debate,” Foley said. “You’re going to lose if you go up against a professor mano-a-mano.” But students can find, for example, articles with evidence against the “hockey stick” theory used to support global warming. They can email it to the instructor and classmates and say to the professor, “I’ve found an article that claims to provide evidence against what you’re saying. Can you speak to this?”

In this way, Intellectual Takeout seeks to go “into the classroom and become the classroom,” causing students to want to reform the curriculum. Foley described the organization as an “intellectual street-fighter” fighting to bring back the foundations of Western civilization. The name Takeout does not necessarily mean, “We want to take out the other side” (although the ITO folks joke that it does) but to describe how people can “take out” tidbits of information whenever they need answers.

ITO publishes a lively blog that covers current issues and pop culture but that ultimately points back to the library. It also offers resources and action ideas for students pursuing liberty on campus.

Interestingly, ITO was contacted by the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala, which sought help in countering the spread of Marxism in the country. Here in the U.S. we don’t face quite the same level of ideological indoctrination as Guatemala, but it is absolutely one of the great problems in academia. The National Association of Scholars is proud to partner with Intellectual Takeout in these ways:

  • Intellectual Takeout will consult NAS on questions not covered in the library topics through “Ask the Professor.” (We just received our first question; we'll report with an answer soon)
  • Scholars can help fill in missing parts of the library. If you are interested in contributing articles or academic white papers you have written, please contact ITO.
  • Scholars can mentor students interested in going into higher education. Entering academia can be difficult for conservative, classically liberal, or libertarian. NAS members will have the opportunity (as the need arises) to be mentors to these rising academics.

We don’t see Intellectual Takeout as a substitute for a college education but as a kind of corrective lens for the many college curricula that are one-sided and biased against views that originate anywhere other than the political left. Intellectual Takeout provides nutritional supplements, not an all-round diet. For the latter, students still need to commit themselves to years of systematic reading and inquiry. We can imagine that ITO will attract critics who will see in it a threat to academic freedom. The website, after all, encourages students to push back against the authoritative pronouncements of their professors and academic freedom these days is often misinterpreted as carte blanche for faculty members to insist on the inviolability of their own opinions. In our view, however, ITO is a great encouragement to genuine academic freedom.

We are pleased to recognize the emergence of this fresh approach to re-civilizing higher education. We welcome Intellectual Takeout and look forward to working with them in the days ahead.

Image:Three Honors Graduates Listen to Introductory Speakers Before Secretary Kerry Addressed Graduates From Miami Dade College During His Day Trip to the City by U.S. Department of State / U.S. Government Works

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