June 29th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I study Classics professionally, so I have more at stake in this issue than most. I taught Antigone just last semester. And I hope that students never stop being disturbed by it. If you’re mocking students for having a strong emotional response to that text, you haven’t read it. (It should but doesn’t always go without saying that, if you haven’t read something, you have no right to an opinion on its appropriateness for the classroom, particularly on the internet, where there is already so much noise.)
…When you construct arguments for a living, as academics do, you’re bound to be wrong sometimes. Maybe most of the time. A lot of academics seem to think that shifting or softening their views is a sign of weakness, and it’s better to double down on a bad claim. But scholars thinking that they have nothing left to learn is part of what created the immense divide between students and faculty that we’re seeing now.
In the last year, I’ve started to understand what I now see as the mistakes I made in the article I wrote about teaching rape jokes. Specifically, I’ve come to see I was wrong about trigger warnings. Of course we should warn our students in advance about the kind of content they’ll encounter in our classrooms. Relying on the element of surprise to increase the impact of the material you’re teaching is never good pedagogy. I don’t agree with Eosphoros about everything, but I agree about that. Providing trigger warnings (or, my preferred term, content warnings) isn’t “coddling” any more than it would be coddling a student who uses a wheelchair to have a ramp so they can enter the classroom. It’s no more coddling than allowing a student with severe agoraphobia to complete coursework online. It’s no more coddling than providing readings in an electronic format so students who have trouble seeing can increase the text size, or students who have difficulty turning pages can read on a more user-friendly device.
Absent all other and less relevant concerns about oversensitivity, the Western canon, and political correctness: this debate is about whether we should make our courses accessible to all students. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep talking about oversensitivity, the Western canon, and political correctness. Preparing your students for the material you plan to teach doesn’t automatically mean taking a side in those other, separate conversations.