I wrote this rant after reading the latest screed about the need for trigger warnings.
I am not a child.
Ok, I’m 33, a husband and a father. By no reasonable definition of the term am I a child. But I wasn’t a child when I went to university, either; I was no child prodigy entering further education at 12. I was 18 years old and I felt like a truly independent person for the first time in my life.
You rarely get any real independence as a child – and when you do, it’s not a good sign. Your parents feed you, wash you and tell you what to do. Your life is shaped by the older people in your life, first your parents and relatives, then your teachers at school. You are guided by them and, at the same time, they try to protect you from the horrors of the world. Even as you grow older, your parents are still the dominant presence in your life. They’re the people who can say ‘because I said so’ instead of giving you a proper explanation. You might not even be capable of understanding the explanation if they gave it to you.
As you grow older, you grow more frustrated with being treated as a child. You’re a big boy/girl, you think; you’re not some baby who needs his mother to look after him. You start rebelling against your parents and their omnipresent control. Your parents know nothing, you tell yourself; they can’t understand what it’s like to be a teenager. You stay out late, you experiment in ways that would horrify them if they ever found out about it …
… And you grow into adulthood.
If you’re like me, you go away from home – a long way from home – when you go to university or college. Your parents are distant. You’re your own man. You can drive, drink, have sex, stay out all night … you, and you alone, are solely responsible for your own actions. And you have to take the consequences.
Yes, some of those actions can be incredibly stupid. I look back on my university days and wince at my antics. What was I thinking when I did CENSORED? What did they put in the water that made me CENSORED? But it’s all part of growing up. And yes, some of them can be nasty or have dangerous repercussions. But, you know, they’re all something you can use as a learning experience.
So tell me … why do you want to infantilize the university experience?
Students are not children, yet a number of you wish to be treated as though you are? Why?
The world is not a nice place. If you were lucky, you had parents who sheltered you from the worst of wherever you happened to live (which I would bet good money was somewhere reasonably wealthy and safe). There are wonders out there, but there are also dangers; above all, perhaps, is the danger of seeing or learning something that will upset you. University exists in the midway point between the world of the child, where everything was done for you, and adulthood, where you have to survive on your own resources. This is your last chance to learn in a reasonably safe environment.
I’m not going to knock students with triggers. I have a trigger myself and, while I cannot explain it, it does cast a shadow over my life. But tell me, just how much consideration do you show to your fellow students or your tutors when you start demanding that course material be revised or junked to accommodate you? If you knew you were scared of dogs, for example, why would you sign up for a course on the care and breeding of dogs? Or would you consider it entirely appropriate to demand that the entire course be scrapped, rather than removing yourself from it?
Education isn’t about filling in boxes and passing exams, no matter what you’re told by the latest brightly-coloured leaflet detailing the latest educational fad. Education is about broadening the mind and learning to think. Exposure to works of great literature, paintings by famous artists and discovery of other cultures is part of that. Some of it will not be material your parents considered appropriate. Some of it will surprise you, some of it will shock you … and yet, do you think you do yourself any favours by standing up and demanding not to be exposed to it?
You just make yourself look pathetic. And the university looks pathetic too, by accepting that your hurt feelings turn you into a victim – or that your victimhood justifies changing the course to accommodate you.
Back when I was in university, we were told that the tutors weren’t our parents – that they had no responsibility to supervise us, let alone ensure we actually did the work. They didn’t stand over us to make sure we did it, they didn’t write letters home when we failed to turn in our completed assignments, they merely marked us as having failed and went on. And why should they do anything else? We were adults, legally speaking; we were responsible for doing our work. Those of us who simply didn’t do anything but party failed our exams. Half of them didn’t come back the following year.
The tutors never talked to us as though we were children.
Being an adult means accepting responsibility for yourself, but it also means accepting that the world isn’t perfect, that your parents cannot wave a magic wand and make everything right, that sometimes you have to deal with material you dislike or people who are cross, grumpy and downright suspicious of millennial students. Nor does it give you the right to turn a minor incident into a ‘micro-aggression,’ deny your opponents the right to speak because their opinions make you uncomfortable or accuse tutors of being insensitive because they have the nerve to correct your grammar, spelling or fail you because you plagiarised from a very well-known source.
Or, you know, you can walk around with the mentality of a child for a year or two more. But tell me, what will happen when you apply for a job?
Smart employers look for people who can actually work. They want dedicated adults with the self-discipline to actually work with minimal supervision. They want proof that you’ll be an asset to the team, that you spent your time at university wisely, that you’re mature enough to cope with the real world. What do you think they’ll say when they read your records and discover you made a terrible fuss about being assigned a certain book to read for your studies, or that you spent your year protesting rather than actually working, or that you accused your tutor of being a sexist because he addressed the class as ‘ladies and gentlemen’?
They’ll say “not a chance in hell.”
Employers who are less concerned about such matters tend to be the sort of employers who insist on running everything by the book – fast food diners, for example. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life saying “do you want fries with that?”
As I said, university is your last chance to grow up in a reasonably safe environment. Take advantage of it, please. And if you can’t endure it, at least have the decency to let your fellow students get on with it in peace.