I have been thinking about the current campus focus on safe spaces and trigger warnings about teaching sensitive material. I am not an academic, though I did once run a $700 million annual budget corporate training organization so I know something about learning. And in retirement I do teach conflict.
Were I an academic, though such action would probably be professionally kamikaze, I would post a sort of meta trigger warning for anyone thinking of signing up to one of my courses along these lines:
1) While I respect the financial sacrifice you and your parents are making to attend our august university
2) I do not adhere to the idea that this makes you a “customer” for the education I can provide.
3) Indeed to do so would to void all value from the education I am hoping to provide: the ability to learn to learn by encouraging you to constantly have interesting, creative thoughts to stretch the plasticity of your brains, and then to deeply challenge these thoughts and critically evaluate them and not to provide a grade inflated Amazon 5 starred rating consumer experience
4) I respect the historical suffering any of you might have experienced by virtue of your class, race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or other sources of oppression and anxiety you may have about future such suffering
5) But by the nature of the human history we will be studying, we will constantly focus on other instances of traumatic suffering and try to both empathize and understand these histories
6) I am influenced by the work of Nicholas Taleb on the concept of Anti-Fragile which suggests the best way to develop the capacity to survive is by exposure to the challenges life provides and learn from this ideally in a structured rather than brutal and arbitrary way, though life can be both brutal and arbitrary
7) So just as some think that excessive hygiene can cause immune system/allergy problems, my classes are Anti-Fragile and not kindergarten.
8) I will teach as a fellow pilgrim on the path of learning, who has maybe spent longer, but is no ultimate authority
9) My classes will I hope be fun and we will laugh quite a bit: one of the ways to handle the paradoxes of life and human follies
10) When handling difficult histories I will try to be sensitive to them and courteous in reacting to your reaction.
If none of this appeals to you, please do not sign up for my class. Thank you.
🙂 And consider this a trigger warning for my whole blog which covers some pretty distressing material.