Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Sterilization of American Education

I teach a composition course to high school seniors. It is a pre-college Composition 101-102 course, meant to prepare them for next year. I have been using the latest edition of the same college text for about ten years.

Each year, the example essays I use change with the editions. This year, I have found myself dissatisfied with the reading selections and I have gone back to the previous editions for many of the essays. At first, I was thinking it was just a question of copyrights or other editorial choices, but, just last week, I noticed a trend:

Every essay about anything relating to the pains and trials of human existence -- like death, divorce, addiction, abuse, etc. -- has been eliminated. The choices are all light or clinical/academic now. It occurred to me that the publisher is avoiding "triggers" in the text, since so many colleges are being pressured to avoid or to carefully warn about possible emotional "triggers" in their teaching.

The solution to selling a composition textbook in this climate, I suppose, is to eliminate all emotion and conflict so "triggering" won't be an issue at all. Education is a business, after all.

I'll be finding a new text for next year. How's that for business?

There's a reason my classroom is not stainless steel and porcelain. There is a reason I decided to dedicate a lifetime to studying literature: it's because I think it helps me and my students to stay sane and happy. Without that benefit, it becomes an exercise in vowels and consonants.

We cry for a reason. We get angry for a reason. We need those emotions to keep ourselves healthy. If we can't cry or argue together, where are we? If educational institutions are bullied into keeping everyone "comfortable" and "feeling safe" at all times and in all situations, where will the friction for the sparks of intellectual and emotional exploration come from? Where will the healing come from?

And, you know, if, when studying or discussing an emotional piece, I see a sign of how deeply a kid might be hurting, there is a professional counselor to whom I can refer him. And If I refer him to her, who knows what horrible event might be avoided? -- suffering for that student or for others?

If I never know, the couselor will not know. If we save that kid from tears for two, three, four weeks, will we eventually have to save ourselves from that kid or save that kid from himself?

Our philosophies as a society are wrong in almost every way. We're a room full of old, dry newspaper with a faulty electrical system. 

In the end, maybe risks and dangerous ideas in the classroom are the blueprint for being safe outside.


  1. Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks, I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if thats cool. Thanks.  Bowling Green State University