Friday, April 04, 2014

Warning: College students, this editorial may upset you

'Trigger warning' policies, like one proposed at UC Santa Barbara, are antithetical to college life

The latest attack on academic freedom comes not from government authorities or corporate pressure but from students. At UC Santa Barbara, the student Senate recently passed a resolution that calls for mandatory "trigger warnings" — cautions from professors, to be added to their course syllabi, specifying which days' lectures will include readings or films or discussions that might trigger feelings of emotional or physical distress.

The resolution calls for warnings if course materials will involve depictions and discussions of rape, sexual assault, suicide, pornography or graphic violence, among other things. The professors would excuse students from those classes, with no points deducted, if the students felt the material would distress them; it is left unclear how students would complete assignments or answer test questions based on the work covered in those classes.

The student resolution is only advisory, a recommendation that campus authorities can turn into policy or reject. They should not only choose the latter course but should explain firmly to students why such a policy would be antithetical to all that college is supposed to provide: a rich and diverse body of study that often requires students to confront difficult or uncomfortable material, and encourages them to discuss such topics openly. Trigger warnings are part of a campus culture that is increasingly overprotective and hypersensitive in its efforts to ensure that no student is ever offended or made to feel uncomfortable.

Trigger warnings have been used on the Internet for a long time, first appearing on feminist websites visited by victims of sexual attacks; the goal was to protect assault victims from material that might trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. The warnings spread to a wide variety of websites and material that readers might find troubling.

That's fine for websites that voluntarily choose to caution their visitors, but it's exactly the wrong approach for colleges and universities. Oberlin College in Ohio already has gone further than UC Santa Barbara, issuing official trigger-warning guidelines for professors that sound almost like a parody of political correctness: "Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct but also to anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism and other issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic."

Worse, the Oberlin guidelines go on to advise professors to remove "triggering material" from their courses entirely if it is not directly related to the course's learning goals. Such instructions come dangerously close to censorship.

Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart" is listed by Oberlin as one possible "trigger" book because of its themes of colonialism, racism, religious prejudice and more. At Rutgers, an op-ed in the student paper suggested that study of "The Great Gatsby" should require trigger warnings about violence and gore. And then what happens? Should students be excused from reading a work of great literature, or be allowed to read a sanitized version?

Professors, uncertain of what might be considered too sexual, too warlike or so forth, might issue warnings so broad that they're meaningless, or feel pressured to bleach the syllabus to a pallid version of a real college course.

There are students who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a serious psychological condition that calls for sensitive treatment. Students who have been diagnosed with it could explain their situation to individual professors, who almost certainly would be willing to work out a sensible accommodation, preferably one that wouldn't involve missing multiple classes.

But the Santa Barbara resolution doesn't cover only students who have been diagnosed with PTSD. Any student who is discomfited by the material would be excused from class if this were campus policy.

As psychologists point out, a post-traumatic response is just as likely to be triggered by something that has nothing to do with subject matter: a glimpse of the same blue-colored clothing that was visible during a traumatic event, or a certain scent that was in the air that day. Colleges cannot bubble-wrap students against everything that might be frightening or offensive to them.


The ABC's of School Choice

When people speak of a legacy, they usually mean something other than what the late economist Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, left behind, namely the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (

The foundation has just released a small book entitled "The ABC's of School Choice: The comprehensive guide to every private school choice program in America."

The Friedman philosophy can be summed up in two sentences, which are posted on their web page: "School choice gives parents the freedom to choose their children's education, while encouraging healthy competition among schools to better serve families' needs. School choice lets parents use the public funds set aside for their children's education to choose the schools -- public or private, near or far, religious or secular -- that work best for them."

Choice, competition and what works best for them, not what works for unions and school administrators. Choice and competition work in business, politics and virtually every other area of life, but not in the monopolistic public education monstrosity where the lack of same limit educational achievement for many and often rob children of a brighter future.

One other benefit to school choice was mentioned in a column written by Dr. Friedman on Sept. 28, 2000 for The Wall Street Journal. About school voucher programs, Dr. Friedman said: "They also demonstrate the inefficiency of government schools by providing a superior education at less than half the per pupil cost."

On more than one occasion Dr. Friedman has noted that modern public education remains based on a 19th-century model with children from different backgrounds brought together into a single melting pot. That doesn't work in the 21st century. In The Wall Street Journal column, Dr. Friedman wrote, "Free market competition can do for education what it has already done for other areas, such as agriculture, transportation, power, communication and most recently, computers and the Internet. Only a truly competitive educational industry can empower the ultimate consumers of educational services -- parents and their children."

The only counter arguments to this are based on everything besides what benefits the children.

In the "ABC's of School Choice" is listed the state of education choice from Alabama to Wisconsin. It's a mixed bag with some states offering vouchers and others alternatives such as Education Savings Accounts, tax-credit scholarships and individual tax credits/deductions.

These would be used at a parent's discretion for private schools -- secular or religious, charter public schools, homeschooling, or online learning.

While Dr. Friedman acknowledged that school choice would benefit poor and minority students, he maintained that all boats would be raised because competition would force every school -- public and private -- to compete for "customers." When businesses compete for customers the quality of their products must improve in order for them to stay in business. Not so with the public school monopoly that gets taxpayer money with few requirements, except in a few states, that they improve their product.

Various studies have shown there is little difference so far between public and alternative schools when it comes to test scores, but these studies acknowledge that testing alone is not the only standard by which education success can be measured.

According to a 2006 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, which studied the San Diego Unified School District, "Black students were twice as likely as others to apply for an alternative school under one of four programs. And test scores were not the primary factor in influencing the decision to try an alternative school. Overall, the choice programs in San Diego are increasing the integration of whites and nonwhites, and decreasing very mildly the integration of students with low and high test scores."

Minority parents have shown strong interest in transferring their children from failing public schools into schools that are safer and the academics stronger.

Parents want choice, students want choice. Only the unions and certain politicians stand in their way.


Gender Confusion and the Complicity of Public Schools

For students confined in public education camps across the country, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland might now make more sense compared to Little Johnny’s confusing reality at Space Mountain Middle School in Never Never Land, California.

Of course, Little Johnny represents real students, and Space Mountain simply signifies the madness masterminded in actual schools where a growing number of parents and teachers must truly wish the government’s lunacy were only imaginary.

However, unlike Alice, none of the real world’s characters are fortunate enough to be dreaming -- at least not those who recognize nonsense and make-believe for what they are.

Common Core alone is a curious nightmare. If the subversive agenda were another strange character in Lewis Carroll’s book, it could easily deliver the Mad Hatter’s line, “You would have to be half mad to dream me up.” Just ask any of the demoralized school children who used to love math (or any of their frustrated parents). No doubt they would all agree with an imaginary character’s wisdom.

On the other hand, when childish fantasies of how some people wish reality would be literally begin to replace logic and order, a counter-productive school curriculum should hardly surprise anyone -- not obsessed with Wonderland.

Last week, the national press reported on a 56-year-old high school biology teacher in California who plans to undergo a sex-change operation (i.e. cosmetic surgery) and to return to the classroom appearing as a woman. Sadly, the situation is far more complicated and confusing than advocates of gender confusion or their allies in the media will admit.

Although the American Psychiatric Association dropped the diagnosis of gender identity disorder in 2012, the APA merely renamed the condition gender dysphoria in its manual of mental disorders (the DSM-5). What was the reason for the change? To reduce stigma while maintaining access to medical care.

Understandably, most people suffering from a serious mental illness would like the stigma of their medical conditions to magically disappear. But simply calling “bipolar disorder” “intensely sporadic mood swings” does not remedy a patient’s condition any more than calling “gender identity disorder” “gender dysphoria.” The Mad Hatter might call this a linguistic placebo.

In fact, in a USA Today article on gender confusion, Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who helped revise the APA’s DSM-5, stated, “[Gender Dysphoria is] different from other mental disorders.”

"Usually with a mental disorder, we try and change the person's mind. This is the only mental disorder where the treatment is changing the body. In a typical mental disorder, we try to make those symptoms go away. Here the treatment has emerged to align the person's body to match their gender identity."

He went on to say, "The truth is we actually don't know what it is. Is it a mental disorder or does the cause of gender dysphoria lie somewhere else? We don't know what causes it, so there's no absolute reason why it has to be in the mental disorders section, except as a fact of history, it's always been there." Does Dr. Drescher’s last sentence not sound like one Alice might have encountered among the symbolic nonsense she endured in her dream?

Simply acknowledging that the APA’s own psychiatrists remain vexed by this serious medical condition would generally heighten concerns for most responsible adults. Most youngsters are generally experiencing all sorts of issues related to their own developing identities. Pretending that individuals who exhibit signs of serious mental illness in the classroom are helping impressionable children defies common sense.

Then again, compelling juvenile minds to believe they understand complicated medical conditions that psychiatrists themselves still have not resolved is par for the course. If public schools have succeeded at anything over the last 60 years, they have painfully revealed that they can convince impressionable minds of many things that are just untrue. But so long as students graduate feeling good about their dismal knowledge, subpar reading levels, and their politically correct indoctrination in to absurdity, who cares about reality?

If the media and advocates for gender confusion were interested in reality, the rest of us would see more coverage about psychiatric experts who can explain the seriousness of gender confusion. Dr. Joseph Berger, a distinguished psychiatrist in Toronto, clarifies that gender confused individuals claim “they really are or wish to be people of the sex opposite to which they were born, or to which their chromosomal configuration attests." The medical classification for those symptoms include the following, according to Dr. Berger: “delusion, psychosis, or emotional unhappiness.” He adds that none of those conditions associated with other mental illnesses call for cosmetic surgery as the medical treatment.

Furthermore, Dr. Paul McHugh, a distinguished professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has written, “We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people [is] to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it.”

Public education went down the rabbit hole where feelings trumped facts a long time ago. Experimenting with the minds of children by teaching them to ignore reality or teaching them things that are simply untrue is nothing short of brainwashing.

A society that promotes such confusion under the ruse of education is lost. Wishful thinking does not maintain childhood innocence any more than pretending wrong is right. Alice in Wonderland should have taught us that.

When Alice asked the Cat, “How do you know I’m mad?” The Cat responded, “You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Who knew that the Cat’s response would apply to Little Johnny’s public education today?


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