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Protecting the supersensitive from literature

June 5, 2014
Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

I used to think some concepts of how the world works were basic and unchangeable. These days, I'm not longer sure.

For instance, in a modern society, literate individuals turn to books to open new worlds, challenge thinking, stimulate discussion and provide the keys to higher learning. But somehow, while you and I were paying attention to other things, folks at a number of the nation's most prestigious universities have been toying with a system of warning labels for books.

Currently schools including Oberlin College, Rutgers University, George Washington University and the University of Michigan are responding to what has been termed "student requests for trigger warnings" on books.

In order to protect excessively sensitive students, these institutions are considering adding labels to books dealing with ideas or containing scenes that might disturb the easily-stressed reader.

When I read about the idea, I realized such works as "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by the late Maya Angelou, would carry a warning about the descriptions of rape, violence and other "uncomfortable" content which made this amazing autobiographical work of literature so powerful.

Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" would carry a warning that the hated "N-word" is included in the text. Of course, Twain wrote this classic in another time when the language and life were far different, but the protected reader would not find that information part of the warning.

In the world of literature, the monumental works of writers from Shakespeare to Hemingway, from Homer to Grisham would all carry warning labels. After all, each of these authors has dealt with such topics as abuse, sexism, the violence of war, racism, classism and any number of other -isms.

And, when it comes to warnings, the Bible would carry a whole booklet full of notices that topics such as sibling rivalry, natural disaster, adultery, beheadings and all manner of human decadence and depravity are included in the pages. And that's just the Old Testament!

Frankly, I'm suffering from the trauma of discrimination against normalism.

When I went to college, it was accepted and expected that students would be studying on an adult level. We weren't there to be placated by easily read and comfortably digested writings like Cream of Wheat for the brain.

Instead, Texas Christian University prided itself on challenging its students with fresh insights, new ideas. If we did the work that we were meant to do, we came away with wider perspectives on the world we would be entering after graduation. We weren't there to be spoon fed.

The generation of high school graduates now entering college has been petted and praised throughout their lives. These are the kids who have been celebrated with "graduation" ceremonies from pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and, finally, high school.

By the time they get to college, it's no wonder they expect to be spared the trauma of reading uncomfortable subject matter. But, when they enter the university level, they need to put their big-boy and big-girl pants on and accept that learning, like life, is often a challenge.

We can only hope that the universities now considering bowing to the over-sensitive segment of the student population by applying political correctness to college-level literature will reconsider.

It's imperative that these institutions stay true to their mission of turning out a well-informed group of leaders for tomorrow's world.



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