Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them.
In a spring when commencement speakers have been banned from campuses, it feels like the PC crowd is completely dominating the rhetoric on campus. The very notion that we can’t hear speeches or read literature that might make us a bit uncomfortable is totally frightening to me. I must say that I am not encountering this at USC, yet. My basic beef is with post modernist writing, which for the life of me is like a secret code, meant to obscure meaning.
Part of the problem with this identity politics view of education is that it confuses content and context. I have been saying for years that many young people have almost no sense of historical context. How could you possibly read Mark Twain without any sense of what growing up in Missouri in 1840 was like? How could they have gotten all the way through high school and not really understand the American Civil War or the fall of the Roman Empire? And remember what Marquez said about history, “I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before.”
Perhaps every entering Freshman should be required to read and take a test on JM Roberts’ The Penguin History of the World before they arrive on campus. Then their poor sensitive souls might not be so shocked by Greek tragedies.