Education Opinion

Trigger Warnings Shortchange Students

By Walt Gardner — May 29, 2015 1 min read
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In an attempt to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, schools have overreacted by prohibiting teachers from dealing with anything that has even the remotest possibility of hurting a student’s feelings (“The Trigger-Happy Generation,” The Wall Street Journal, May 23). Although trigger warnings are now most apparent on college campuses, they have long pervaded high schools.

I can understand why certain topics are inappropriate for young children, but what about high-school seniors? In less than one year, all of them will be either in college or in the workplace. How will they deal with a world that will not accommodate their feelings? Everybody faces such situations. If schools exist to prepare students for life after graduation, then forcing teachers to walk on eggs does them a terrible disservice.

When I taught English in the same high school for my entire 28-year career, I had students from diverse backgrounds and temperaments. Trigger warnings did not overtly exist in those days. But that didn’t mean I could teach whatever I thought was necessary. There was a fixed curriculum and a list of approved books for English teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Nevertheless, I was able to use my professional judgment in gray areas. Today, however, teachers have no such wiggle room. As a result, the curriculum is so bland that most students check out mentally or act out physically.

The truth is that real education is invariably unsettling. For example, great literature contains themes that by their very nature are provocative. But to avoid hurting any student’s feelings, teachers have little choice but to teach bowdlerized literature. It’s going to be a rude awakening when they graduate.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.