BY JOE LANTOW
Schools are designed to foster children into adults, exposing them to different ideas and viewpoints that are alien to them. A school’s intent is creating a citizen whose knowledge does not simply come from a small lake town near Portland, but from the entire world. Their main goal is to challenge a student’s present understanding of life and present new ideas in the effort to create an adult who has a broader understanding of who they are and what they believe. So, why, with the knowledge of these facts, does the statement “that’s offensive.” hold so much sway?
Yes, some ideas are inherently offensive to basic human rights. I’m not saying they aren’t. What I am saying is that describing an idea as offensive stifles all free speech regarding it. No longer is it an argument between the merits and faults of the idea, but simply a bundle of yellow taped marked OFFENSIVE. By making something offensive, you make anyone supporting the idea offensive as well. Calling something offensive brings no new information to an argument, and yet effectively shuts it down.
This idea is cemented in “trigger warnings” on college campuses. Rather than deal with topics a person might find offensive, the option is given to ignore them completely. Trigger warnings come in a broad variety of issues, each one of them justifying a student’s choice to censure any conflicting opinions. Let me be clear here. This is not a movement designed to widen thought and ensure our campuses teach truthful and accurate representations of subjects. This is the complete opposite. By ignoring conflicting opinions and ideas one might find offensive, the education system will teach the ideas students want to hear, not the facts or what they need to know. This creates a situation similar to the ones that lead to creationism being taught in classrooms.
As we become more politically correct the past becomes an alien – and politically incorrect place. Books once hailed for their great writing now have trigger warnings blocking their pages in colleges. The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Things Fall Apart to name a few. It is wrong for Texas to have stickers that say evolution is a theory, and yet somehow trigger warnings are becoming the norm. It seems we stop book censorship at burning-but not book ignoring.
Can you see why this might be problematic? As a person who enjoys a healthy debate, rising proliferation of this nuclear weapon scares me. It’s not simply stifling debate-it’s forcing the idea that only a single mindset can be right, and that other mindsets are racist or classist or ableist or whatever ist you want to throw in there. The Socratic method of teaching is slowly being chocked out
And yes, without trigger warnings students might be forced to face content that is offensive and clashes with what they know. They might be forced to understand a point of view, and why they would think a certain way-even if it is wrong. But, in a education system that is sprinting towards censorship, that is so much more preferable than the alternative.