Archive for November, 2017

Shhh!

Posted: November 22, 2017 in Education, Humanity, Literature

A whole year since my last post… I guess I wasn’t bothered by much in the way of education. However, a recent situation has come to light. I am currently in the middle of Orwell’s 1984 and I am trying to teach my students that our culture is not THAT far off from what Winston is experiencing. It’s scary. For example, we live in a society where we are constantly surveilled what with the rise of technology and every Tom, Dick, and Harry whipping out their phones to capture the slightest odd behaviour to post or send to their friends. Now, we are experiencing a hush culture (I came up with that myself) where if the opinion you’re sharing is even slightly uncomfortable or unpopular, you are quickly silenced. Winston Smith (protagonist in 1984) would be shaking his head.

Lindsay Shepherd, a TA at Wilfrid Laurier University (my Alma Mater) recently came under fire from Administration for sharing a clip from Jordan Peterson (Psychology Professor at the University of Toronto) when he appeared on the show ‘The Agenda’. Peterson has been outspoken about his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns in reference to transgendered people. He claims that these gender-neutral terms only help to perpetuate the over-sensitivity of our culture. Shepherd showed this clip to her students to illustrate “the complexities of grammar…she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of language can impact the society in which its spoken in ways people might not anticipate. To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had likely been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.” (The Toronto Star, Nov. 21, 2017).

Shepherd was reprimanded by Nathan Rambukkana (Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Laurier) and Adria Joel (Acting Manager of Gender Violence Prevention at Laurier). Rambukkana tells Shepherd that showing the clip to her students created a “toxic climate” and an “unsafe learning environment”. Joel accuses Shepherd of violating the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. When Shepherd asks how, Joel tells her that she has caused harm by belittling the identity of transgendered people. This meeting with Rambukkana and Joel was recorded secretly by Shepherd who immediately shared it. The President of WLU and Rambukkana have recently issued apologies to Shepherd, admitting that the sharing of the video, as well as her intent was of no harm to any peoples.

My worry is the impact of this hush culture on our young adults and future leaders. Shepherd’s situation is similar to Winston’s experience in 1984 because of his inability to speak openly without getting in serious trouble (and possibly killed). This stifling of freedom of speech (which is much different than hate speech) is an on-going trend across Universities. For example, last August (2017), the same Jordan Peterson (as well as Gad Saad and Oren Amitay – behavioural scientist and psychologist, respectively) was to appear on a panel discussion at Ryerson University and this panel was effectively cancelled. Not only was the nature of their talk a concern, but also the possible outcry from protestors. It was simply easier to cancel the event.

“University” is a term with Latin roots meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. Traditionally, a University was established for a means of unhindered academic freedom; a place to share educated ideas respectfully, be heard openly, and debate freely. Contemporarily, it seems, Universities have become factories to get students in (even by lowering their entry standards) and spit students out (by leaving them with crippling debt). The aforementioned would be fine, perhaps, if the acquisition of knowledge and great debate were still held in high regard.

Syme, in 1984, is in favour of the government turning the people into robots – citizens who only speak in prescribed statements with no original thought of their own. Perhaps we are closer to this than we think.

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