Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trigger Warnings and the U.S. Survey

While I was away from the blog last week it seems like everyone was talking about teaching and "trigger warnings."  I am not sure how all this got started, but I did find Jenny Jarvie's piece at The New Republic and Joe Adleman's post at The Junto to be informative.  In the context of a history class a "trigger warning" is used by the instructor to alert students that a topic is about to be introduced that could be offensive or cause negative reactions.

Earlier this week, NYU's Jonathan Zimmerman posted a mock U.S. survey course syllabus complete with trigger warnings.  Hilarious.  Here is a taste:

This course will explore the main themes, trends, and dilemmas in the history of the United States. In accord with our college’s new policy on trigger warnings, I have affixed a cautionary note to each week’s topic. If the topic threatens to provoke feelings of trauma or panic in you, please inform me beforehand and I will excuse you from class. I’m looking forward to learning together in a safe environment!
I. Puritan New England: Fair warning to Quakers and Catholics: The Puritans sometimes cut off your ears and bored out your tongues, so skip this week if you don’t want to hear or talk about that. Ditto for practitioners of Wicca, who will surely be alarmed by the trials of their sister witches at Salem.
II. The Revolutionary War: Up to one-third of the people in the colonies remained loyal to the British Crown. Hounded mercilessly, they fled north to Canada and took up hockey. Present-day Canadians might want to sit this one out, lest they suffer still more ridicule.
III. The War of 1812: American forces sacked York, Canada, the site of today’s Toronto. Yet another reason to alert the Canadians in the class.
IV. The Civil War: Confederate apologists say this conflict was fought over “states’ rights” rather than slavery. In fact, it was about the rights of states to practice slavery! Some white guys in the South won’t want to hear that. Y’all have been warned.
Frankly, I have no problem with trigger warnings.  I use them all the time in class.