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Political Correctness on College Campuses

Caricature of SteveThe Political Correctness (PC) wave on campus was slowly rising when I retired.  I agreed with some of the curricular modifications we as faculty adopted in our course outlines to reflect some PC imperatives.

The changes were modest and made sense in my view.  Warnings on the first day of class alerting students to potentially uncomfortable material.  I did that  in my “Class, Race, Gender and Media” course that regularly attracted a diverse population.

It seemed less necessary in my broadcast news classes because journalism students would encounter many politically incorrect moments during their careers so exposure to some of them in class seemed appropriate.

Yes, I alerted them to what they would see.  But good teaching always requires preparing an audience for what they are to view and hear so as to focus the lesson and subsequent discussion.  That’s not PC.

I also used he/she to bend with the times but always preferred “he” because of the linguistic tradition of using the male form for both sexes (we now would say all gender, which is incorrect).

To me correct use of language was always paramount. That’s why I’ve commented occasionally on the difference between sex and gender. And the fact that too many people use the latter incorrectly.  PC should not obscure clear communication.

But I never encountered any of the extreme instances that we read about on campuses today. I retired at a good time because too many of these debates would have interfered with quality education.

After all, quality learning requires exposure to a variety of ideas and interpretations. Some of which are uncomfortable because they force you to face some beliefs that you’ve never examined dispassionately.

Such examination may change your views or reinforce previous beliefs. But the exercise should cause you to evaluate and think. That is what education is about.

But you can’t learn if you hide from ideas you don’t like, shout down opinions with which you disagree, or demand that history be rewritten to expunge the actions and culture of the past.

Here’s hoping that the dawn of 2016 also brings enlightenment to America’s colleges and campuses. A new day where students are encouraged to speak out but also prepared to consider alternative lessons. And administrators also are willing to listen, prepared to change when appropriate but stand firm when necessary.

That is exactly the posture our next generation of leaders should take tomorrow. And they should learn this on the campuses they attend today.

 


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