Thursday, September 28, 2017

In defence of the ‘no dreadlocks’ school

Not so long ago, if a child’s hairstyle fell foul of his or her school’s uniform policy, the parents would swiftly take the child to the hairdressers to have it rectified. Sadly, those days have gone. Fulham Boys School in west London has threatened to suspend a 12-year-old pupil unless he removes his dreadlocks – which clearly contravene the Church of England school’s uniform policy. Simple, you might think. But in these PC times, when the personal and the political have become so entwined, this reasonable request appears to have fallen on culturally sensitive ears.

Tuesday Flanders, a Rastafarian and the mother of Chikayzea, the child at the centre of the row, is prepared to put up a fight. ‘They can’t expect me to cut my son’s hair’, she declared. According to the Daily Mail, Flanders vowed to fight the school, claiming dreadlocks are ‘our faith, it’s our religion, our culture’, adding that the school had no right to dictate what hairstyle her son should have. ‘It can never be right. It’s a human right’, she said. Flanders appeared on ITV’s This Morning. Visibly upset and close to tears, she recounted her conversation with the school’s headmaster: ‘I went to this gentleman and I pleaded with him to accept it.’ An outraged Eamonn Holmes, co-presenter of the show, addressed the camera and said: ‘Headmaster, sort this. This can be sorted.’

To his credit, the headmaster, Alun Ebenezer, called the show to respond to Flanders’ concerns, saying: ‘We do have a strict uniform policy which we make clear on our website and prospectus, at open days and evenings.’ In fact, the school’s uniform and appearance policy clearly states: ‘No extreme or “cult” haircuts including sculpting, shaving, dreadlocks or braiding are allowed.’

To accuse the school of ‘racism’, or ‘religious discrimination’, is unfair. Moreover, claiming that the school is discriminating against Rastafarian culture is highly debatable. The Rastafarian author Barbara Blake Hannah argues that Rastafarians are essentially Christian – they read and quote from the Bible. And what does the custom of wearing dreadlocks have to do with Biblical tradition? Absolutely nothing, according to the Grenadian humanist Seon M Lewis, author of From Mythology to Reality: Moving Beyond Rastafari.

Flanders’ campaign against the school demands that her personal preferences be prioritised over school regulations. But schools need rules. Yes, they may sometimes feel like an unnecessary burden. But following school rules is a sign of respect, and uniform rules help to minimise classroom distractions. Chikayzea has been humiliated enough. He needs to cut off his dreadlocks and return to school for the sake of his education. He can always grow them again. And the school should stick to its guns, for the sake of the authority of schools everywhere.


Trigger warnings won’t resolve trauma

PTSD shouldn't be dealt with in the classroom

Over the course of the last decade, trigger warnings have transcended the blogosphere and have been imported into the classroom. A considerable number of educators have embraced the routine of placing content warnings on texts and potentially sensitive areas of their academic syllabuses. These are intended to indicate to survivors of trauma that they may be about to encounter material they find triggering, and that they may want to remove themselves from the situation.

Within certain academic departments it has been decided that content indicators are the most appropriate method of accommodating the recovery of survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and furthermore, that the classroom is the most appropriate environment for such a recovery to be managed.

Trigger warnings were originally conceived within the feminist blogosphere and within likeminded activist circles. They were a tool used in a wider strategy of resistance to evils such as misogyny, transphobia, rape and sexual assault. Their use within these settings does acknowledge a very important truth: that trauma incurred from harassment, as well as physical and sexual abuse, is often harboured by survivors – who receive little support. The acknowledgment of trauma and the effects it has on survivors is, of course, the first step one must take to heal from it. But it is the first step within a much longer journey to recovery.

If survivors of trauma democratically decide within their own groups that they should prioritise trigger avoidance as their own form of resistance, they are obviously free to do so. But to import this strategy into the classroom, a space that is already unfit to treat conditions like PTSD, creates a censorious environment where many difficult but incredibly important topics simply cannot be broached in the depth they deserve. Moreover, this strategy promotes the pernicious lie that PTSD sufferers can heal themselves by just sweeping their troubles under the rug. That’s a cruel falsity that must be shattered.

The use of trigger warnings in this educational context can reinforce a behavioural trait known as maladaptation. This is the antithesis of adaptive behaviour, which constitutes an action one takes to alter a non-constructive behaviour into a more positive, constructive form of behaviour. In the case of maladaptive forms of behaviour, one may believe they are taking an action to combat their anxiety, such as avoiding potential triggers within texts, but it is counterproductive in alleviating the stress of the trauma over a long-term period.

By mandating the use of trigger warnings, educators who may have no specialist experience as mental-health professionals appropriate the role of therapist-by-proxy within the classroom. This is incredibly dangerous, and it is astonishing that those who claim to have the best interests of PTSD sufferers at heart do not seem to consider the harmful implications of this.

Avoidance of triggers is inimical to recovery. When any PTSD patient meets the symptomatic criteria for the disorder, the aim of the therapist is not to maintain the occurrence of symptoms within the patient - the entire point of a therapist’s intervention is to help a patient recover. Educators who give into student demands for trigger warnings, and therefore endorse avoidance, then become an obstacle to a survivor’s recovery. They create an echo chamber within their classrooms where, in the short-term, a survivor will feel safe from their trauma. But this will make them less prepared for navigating the outside world, which doesn’t come with such warnings.

The Institute of Medicine concluded in 2008 that a form of cognitive behavioural treatment known as prolonged-exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD. Prolonged-exposure therapy involves direct, first-person reimagining of the trauma that a patient experienced, and multiple times. This technique was proved to reduce a traumatic memory’s capacity to cause distress in numerous cases. Furthermore, Robinaugh and McNally found in 2011 that the more central a case of abuse was to a female survivor’s identity, the more severe their PTSD symptoms were.

Consequently, according to Robinaugh and McNally, there are two obvious courses of action for survivor recovery. Firstly, survivors must build up long-term resilience to traumatic memories. Secondly, they must find a way to ensure they do not define themselves by their abuse. These two fundamental aspects of recovery are undermined by slapping arbitrary trigger warnings on any potentially upsetting content.

We must not allow flaky political ideology masquerading as bona fide clinical psychology to become accepted practice in the classroom. We must elevate the voices of the psychological community who advocate the development of resilience to traumatic memories, rather than those who endorse the indulgence of personality pathology. Having been taught at university by many of these educators, I’m sure most of them have nothing but good intentions when they deploy trigger warnings before classes. But as St Bernard’s old proverb goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


San Diego State University Students Get Extra Credit For Calculating Their 'White Privilege'

Students at San Diego State University can earn extra credit in Professor Dae Elliott's classes if they take a quiz to determine if they have "white privilege."

The quiz is a 20-question checklist that is supposed to help SDSU students dig deep into their past and discover that the color of their skin has afforded them untold benefits in life

Written with all the subtlety, intelligence, and research metholody of a Buzzfeed quiz where you click on foods you hate to determine your most problematic personality trait (I took it, it was "honesty"), the quiz seeks to determine a person's rank of privilege by way of answering questions like whether they can find Band-aids in their flesh tone, whether "I can turn on the television and see people of my race widely represented," and whether "I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group."

That last one is particularly ironic, since it's part of a quiz to determine whether an entire ethnic group, as a whole, can claim to be privileged above any other entire ethnic group by virtue of their skin color.

The higher your score, the higher your overall privilege. But , of course, the quiz isn't necessarily comprehensive. According to the paragraph at the bottom, even if you score low on the test, you can still be privileged if you're not of a minority "gender, sexual orientation, class, [or] religion." To earn the full measure of extra credit, students were also required to reflect on their score in an essay:

"Were you surprised by your score, or did it confirm what you already knew? Why is privilege normally invisible and what does it feel like to make it visible? Do you think this exercise is different for white students than for students of color? For black students than for Asian, Indian, Latino/a students, or other students of color?”

Professor Elliot told the College Fix that the exercise is meant to encourage a form of self-acutalization among students who haven't been exposed to other cultures (or, for that matter, to many social justice warriors).

“Only through processes that allow us to share intersubjectively, weigh all of our perspectives according to amount of shareable empirical evidence can we approximate an objective understanding of our society,” she said. “It may never be perfect, in fact, I am sure we will always be improving but it is a better response if we are truly seekers of what is truth, what is reality. In a society that values fairness, our injustices that are institutionalized are often made invisible.”

San Diego State University College Republicans disagree, calling the exercise "divisive," and noting that while people may experience various privileges and benefits, the excercise was meant to drive home the idea that minorities are victims of a deliberately unjust society that can only be equalized with extensive government involvement.


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