Continuing on my reflections from reading The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt(2018) I am remembering a student I taught a number of years ago. She had grown up in the then Yugoslavia and described life there under Tito. She told me that his picture hung in every classroom, that they showed him honor each morning, that she was to tell her teacher if she heard anyone saying anything negative about him(including her family) and that she knew nothing negative about him until she emigrated to the United States. Tito controlled information by letting her hear only what he wanted her to hear as a school pupil. She said she didn’t even know how to think about another point of view since he controlled hers.
A similar trend is happening on many private liberal arts campuses in the United States today. Campus speakers are shouted down, barred from appearances and anyone hosting them is shunned and denigrated. Why? Because the ideas that the speaker is espousing are considered “dangerous” and “unsafe.” The definition of safety has been enlarged to encompass “intellectual safety,” not just physical safety. A number of students believe they will be “damaged” by hearing, reading or discussing things that distress them. Students protest that certain texts are “triggering” since they distress them. I understand actual triggering. A veteran I once taught asked privately to be excused from discussing the poetry of the World War I poets because they evoked too strong emotions. But he didn’t ask that I stop teaching the poems and he was willing to share his actual combat experience with the class.
It appears that some students protected from conflict on the playground and throughout their elementary education are afraid of the distress that literature, speakers, history and political discussion provokes in them. They have bought the idea that they are fragile. I see college as the ideal place to deal with conflicting viewpoints, even ones I find abhorrent. I don’t support actual violence, of course. But I believe ignorance is more dangerous than knowledge, even knowledge I would rather not have. And what on earth will these students do after graduation when they meet the rest of the world?