Friday, August 26, 2016

U. of Chicago Hits Home

"Political correctness" has too often provided an opportunity--real or imagined--for right-wingers to attack academe and other perceived leftist or minority groups but in recent years, the whole approach taken to restrict debate or enable it to be shut out has gone too far.

Now, the school I've always regarded as America's most truly intellectual university--the University of Chicago--has sent out a letter to entering freshmen by its dean, eschewing such artificial barriers as "safe space" and "trigger warnings." In part, the letter stated:

"The letter, signed by John Ellison, the dean of students, states that the university does not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' nor does it cancel controversial campus speakers or condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
"...Critics of perceived political correctness run amok have hailed the letter as a necessary corrective to a culture of oversensitivity on campuses.
"An editorial in the Chicago Tribune praised the letter as 'refreshingly direct,' applauding its commitment to the marketplace of ideas, the implicit endorsement of democratic freedoms, and the sheer feistiness.
"But defenders of trigger warnings and safe spaces have ripped the letter, saying its statements actually undermine the commitment to academic freedom cited as their motivation..."
My reaction is that it's about time someone in academe showed this kind of gumption to stand up for the kind of unrestricted free speech we were accustomed to having when I was in college. The whole point of going to a great university or a small liberal arts college is to expose your own thinking to the greatest minds as well as all kinds of opinions and attitudes that may be contrary to your own thoughts or views. 
Right-wing types have called for banning Huckleberry Finn and other classics and they found themselves joined by leftists offended by use of dialect and offensive terms commonly used in mid-America in the mid-1800s. Whenever some parent demands that a school board eliminate something controversial from the curriculum or reading list, my instant reaction is that that's exactly the book students should be reading to test their minds.
Given that students read far too little today--in this age of cell phones and video games--the idea that they need to be cosseted and protected by trigger warnings is ludicrous. They just need to read more--a lot more.

No comments:

Post a Comment