How an obsession with political correctness is narrowing our education
By: Brady Coyle, Staff Writer
With the looming inauguration of President-elect Trump, radical thought and unconventional thinking are rapidly becoming vilified. While the White House is a terrifying place for an irrational, thin-skinned man with extreme policies, there is one place where unusual ideals and viewpoints still have merit: Post-secondary school campuses.
Universities and colleges represent the highest institutions of learning in world. Lakehead, for example, is an establishment where creativity and original thought are celebrated. LU is a place to challenge conventional norms and explore ideas that may not mesh with the status quo.
It has become all too common these days for ideas that do not abide by left leaning guidelines to be categorized as “politically incorrect”. Individuals who present these ideas often end up being vilified for their notions, which are dismissed without consideration. As institutions of higher learning, shouldn’t campuses be the places where we give unconventional ideals a chance to be truly examined?
The biggest challenge that stands in the way of open-minded, intellectual discussion is the definition of political correctness.
“Political correctness has been taken from being a good idea, which is ‘let’s not be mean, particularly to people who are not able to look after themselves’… to the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group can be labelled cruel,” explains British comedian John Cleese, in a video he filmed for Big Think.
This is the problem. It seems as if there is a complete inability for individuals or groups to handle criticism, or to tolerate opinions that differ from their own. As a result, these individuals or groups try and limit what others are allowed to say and think.
“The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to,” says Cleese.
The National Post reported an example of this when a student at Mount Royal University, in Calgary, AB, was angrily confronted for wearing a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. The woman later made a statement to CBC, expressing her concerns about unsafe spaces at the university. Because of a hat.
Of course, the President-elect exudes controversy in the things he has said, the way he has behaved, and the policies he has suggested and promised. But just shy of 63 million people voted for him and he is about to become leader of the free world. We live in a democracy, and by condemning an individual for supporting a political candidate, democracy is challenged.
“If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to try and start controlling other people’s behaviour,” says Cleese, quoting psychiatrist Robin Skynner.
This is what makes a university forum perfect for controversial topics to be brought up. It allows the opportunity for healthy dialogue between many individuals and groups with differing opinions and that is integral to learning and understanding where others are coming from.
How many Republicans jumped ship when Hillary Clinton called them deplorable and irredeemable? Slim to none. Name calling and silencing those with opposing views has never won an argument or swayed attitudes. It often leaves both parties even more convinced that they are in the right.
Having discussions allows for individuals and groups to convey the basis of their viewpoint. Perhaps a discussion will not result in anyone changing their mind, but it will at least allow for a better understanding of why others hold certain beliefs and, most importantly, it allows everyone to feel heard rather than silenced for holding a certain position.
The University of Toronto is currently going through its own controversy, as Professor Jordan Peterson has refused to use gender-neutral pronouns. Professor Peterson opposes the federal government’s Bill C-16, a piece of legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. The psychology professor believes that this would infringe on his freedom of speech.
“I don’t believe that it’s intelligent and appropriate for the government to mandate the words that its citizens should speak,” said Professor Peterson, in an interview with the Toronto Star.
Whether right or wrong, what should be celebrated is Dr. Peterson, Dr. Mary Bryson, Dr. Brenda Cossman, Dr. Mayo Moran, and the University of Toronto’s willingness to engage in a discussion on an relevant issue, whether or not the topic may make some people feel uncomfortable.
These are the types of dialogues that promote learning. These are the discussions that allow us to understand how others have come to form their opinions and their beliefs. While these debates and conversations may not conclude with everyone in agreement, it will allow all parties to feel heard and offer the chance for all involved to learn why someone believes what they believe and how they have come to believe it.
And isn’t learning what we are all in university and college for in the first place?