Episode 06, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube

Support the show on Patreon

All episodes on all platforms and social channels

Show notes:

"The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."

In this episode of Keep Talking, Dan speaks with Jonathan Zimmerman, author and education historian, about his peace corps experience in Nepal, understanding different cultures, threats to freedom of speech in academia, and his new book, Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn.

After graduating from college, Jonathan joined the Peace Corps and went to Nepal. Surrounded by a rigid caste system, he spent his time learning about the culture and researching the history of the United States.

In Nepal, Jonathan was exposed to different beliefs and practices, which expanded his understanding of the human experience. He learned how history, culture, and religion are intertwined within the politics of all cultures.

Jonathan also discusses the idea behind his books, his unique ideas on building communities, and different political and historical interest topics - including handling micro-aggressions and upholding the right to free speech.

About Jonathan Zimmerman:

Jonathan Zimmerman is the Professor of History of Education and the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has focused on schools and universities, especially on the ways they have addressed sex, religion, free speech and other controversial topics. Before moving to Penn, Zimmerman taught for 20 years at New York University, where he received the university's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008.

Time Stamps

[00:51] Where does Jonathan’s interest in history stem from?
[03:25] What did Jonathan learn about US history that resonates with him to this day?
[12:36] Learnings from Clifford Geertz’s essay on anti-relativism.
[15:20] About Jonathan’s book, Innocents Abroad.
[22:34] Jonathan talks about the difference between the word judgment and discernment.
[24:58] How did Jonathan’s Nepal life influence his personal life?
[31:04] Jonathan’s ideas on communities.
[42:29] Jonathan discusses the book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.
[57:14] About Jonathan’s new book Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn and what he strives to achieve with it.
[01:07:11] What has caused the present panic or disregard for freedom of speech?
[01:09:03] Talking about micro-aggressions.


"The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right."

“Going abroad does obviously expose you to all kinds of different ways of being in the world. But I think it also reminds you of what I like to call your non-negotiables.”

“I think almost nobody is truly a relativist. And I think the reason is, we're just so deeply programmed by our own histories and our own societies.”

“I think it's very easy and very seductive, to imagine that you know what's best.”

“Life is complicated. [Students have] all sorts of things going on, especially during a pandemic, and you have other responsibilities and family duties and other classes. If your decision is not to invest as much in this class, so long as we all understand your grade won't be as high, I respect that decision. You're an adult, you can vote in an election, you can die in a war. We all have to make decisions, and I respect yours, so it's just - I'm not going to judge you. I'm just gonna evaluate.”

We make communities throughout our lives, and that's certainly what I've tried to do. And what I've tried to do is be a part of as many as I can because I think that community binds us, but it also blinds us.”

Formal education is now playing exactly the opposite role that we like to say it plays...Education is supposed to expose you to things that are not you. [But] it doesn't. In our country, right now, it plays the opposite role.”

“If you’re micro-aggressed or triggered by something I’ve said, I've got essentially one thing to say in reply: I'm sorry. I wouldn't be - I don't like harming people or offending them...Maybe I could ask why they were triggered, or micrographs. But I couldn't say they weren't.”

“I think that most liberal religionists that I know think that critique of their religion is a healthy thing. It gives them a better purchase on what they actually believe instead of simply what was told to them by a parent or a cleric or whatever. But we have not gotten to that place yet in our own religion.”

Relevant Links:


●  Anti-relativism, by Clifford Geertz


●  The Strange Career of Jim Crow Commemorative, by C. Vann Woodward and William S. McFeely  

●  Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, by Eugene D. Genovese

●  American Slavery, American Freedom, by Edmund S Morgan  

●  Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century, by Jonathan Zimmerman  

●  Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.  

People mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia)

●  Clifford Geertz - American anthropologist.

●  Humphrey Bogart - American film and stage actor.

●  Abraham Lincoln - “American lawyer and statesman, also the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865.”

●  Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. - “American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932.”

●  Milton Friedman - American economist and statistician.

●  Saul Bellow - Canadian-American writer.

●  Jonathan Haidt - American social psychologist.

●  Mary Beth Tinker - American free speech activist.

●  Martin Luther King Jr. - American Baptist minister and activist.

●  Frederick Douglass - American social reformer, abolitionist, writer, and statesman.

More about Jonathan:

Email| Books