Trigger Warning: Trigger Warnings Are Not a “Pedagogical Tool”

So, the University of Chicago has decided to issue a statement that is, in part, opposed to Trigger Warnings. (I hesitate to say “bans” because as Popehat points out, it may not be that bold.) While I’m amazed at them for doing this, I’m even more amazed at the swift response that this actually harms academic freedom. It’s not an isolated attack either:

(Standard journalism: two is a trend.)

Is it a “restriction on speech.” I suppose, in the same way not having a class on flat earth theory at UChicago is also a restriction on the speech of flat earth loving professors. As I’ve written before, there is a tension between “academic freedom,” in it’s purest sense, and the freedom for a university to choose it’s direction. This strikes me squarely as a case of UChicago saying “our direction is free exchange of ideas without apology” more than “shut up”.

And then there’s this from the TNR article so you don’t have to click it:

There’s no college in the country where profs are required to give trigger warnings. They’re all voluntary pedagogical choices.

I mean sure, at the most technical level that’s true. But typically we think of pedagogy in terms of ways of teaching students. The current use of trigger warnings are designed in such a way as to not teach students by allowing them to sidestep ideas they find discomforting. (Which, incidentally, today is EVERYTHING.) And that doesn’t even get into the mess at this Title IX and how students can totally screw you over if they don’t like what you say, which makes me wonder how voluntary they are becoming. (Paging Dr. Kipnis)

Listen, ideas hurt sometimes. If you’re not challenged by one, or maybe even flat out angered at an idea or two, by the end of a college class, you either took “Intro to General Studies” or you just had a class that was nothing but bias confirmation. Either way you just wasted your cash (or someone’s cash.)

Plus you can still avoid courses that may upset you. Colleges offer a “course catalog” which will tell you what you’re about to enroll in!

But let’s roll this back just a second. If biology professors started putting “Trigger Warning: Evolution” on all their syllabi, I’m sure these same people would be mocking the living hell out of them. But because I think it’s not only stupid, but counterproductive to learning, to put “Trigger Warning: Racism” before The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I’m some sort of monster?

Consistency: the left ain’t got it.