Trigger Warning

A wonderful development, from Texas: concealed carry weapons now are permitted in the university classroom, with the predictable ass-covering maneuvers by university administrators, hoping in advance both to pre-empt the student who goes berserk when you “trigger” him by saying the wrong thing, and to cover the university’s ass in case the worst case scenario actually materializes (“we told you someone would go berserk and shoot you if you taught that controversial material”).

Here’s a question: if students can bring weapons into the classroom and into faculty offices for office hours, can citizen-constituents bring weapons into the offices of the legislators who came up with this legislation? For that matter, can we start bringing weapons into the galleries of state assemblies when we watch the deliberations there? (I’m using “deliberations” pretty loosely, I admit.) How about being allowed to bring weapons into court rooms and police departments, while we’re at it?

Props to these faculty members, for refusing to change the way they teach.  But you have to wonder about the blatant stupidity of the people who put them in this situation. On the one hand, university faculty are increasingly expected to tip-toe around their students’ increasingly infantile hyper-sensitivity to emotionally difficult topics; on the other hand, the same infantile, labile, and often hyper-medicated students are permitted to weaponize the classroom. If this isn’t a recipe for trouble, I don’t what is.

Luckily, the trend hasn’t migrated northeast from places like Texas, but like the inexorable advance of the killer bees, I worry that it’s just a matter of time. Where once we were expected to develop a thick skin about problematic classroom behaviors, I suppose that we’ll now be expected to teach in body armor. It won’t be long before the bureaucratic bean counters start using the weaponized classroom/chilled classroom environment dynamic as the best argument ever for moving from on-ground to online teaching. At that point, even the most ardent opponent of online education may be inclined to agree with them.

So how does teaching in the Texas system differ from teaching in the supposedly scary West Bank? The difference is that when Islamic Jihad demonstrates on campus, the weapons they brandish are fake. Granted, it’s not a university campus, but when anti-Islamic demonstrators surround a Texas mosque, the weapons they brandish are real.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

2 thoughts on “Trigger Warning

  1. As a teacher in Texas, I have absolutely no intention of changing anything about the way I teach as a result of this law. Granted, I teach ancient languages, literature, and philosophy, which isn’t exactly full of controversial stuff, or at least not the sort of stuff that will set off the infantile boys packing heat (as opposed to the overzealous feminists and postmodernists who are, in my experience, in fact quite rare). Still, I do semi-routinely talk about homoeroticism, pederasty, gender (the non-grammatical kind as well as the grammatical kind), and God in ways that presuppose that there are open-ended questions on these topics about which reasonable people make plausible arguments on all sides, and I frankly can’t imagine anybody getting upset enough in my class to pull a gun. Well, I can imagine it, but the sort of people that would do it would do it whether or not it was legal to have the gun in the first place. I don’t want guns in my (or any) classroom, and I would vote to repeal this law in a heartbeat (in fact, I already did, when I voted in the primary; unfortunately, all that will amount to is the Texas Democratic Party voicing its opposition to the law, which it would do anyway). But I think the actual concerns here are overblown.

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    • I think it’s more likely that someone will accidentally shoot someone than deliberately do so, but I don’t find the idea of a deliberate shooting at all implausible. Since the beginning of my career, three of my students have been murdered–one by gun violence, one by strangulation, and the body of the third victim was never found. For reasons of legal discretion, I’m forced to put this point obliquely, but: I once worked at a institution where a student shot someone off-campus just “to see what it would be like to kill someone.” (Obviously reading too much Nagel: “What Is It Like to be a Murderer?”) The victim did indeed die (the shooter was arrested and convicted–oh, and expelled). Last year I was teaching a class (Philosophy of Art) when a brawl broke out about a hundred yards from the classroom. The police came and broke it up. Add weapons to the mix and I’m not sure what the result would have been.

      Granted, none of these are cases in which an instructor provoked the violence in a specifically academic context, but add grade disputes to the equation, and it isn’t hard to imagine. Provoking violence by bringing up the wrong issue is a (slightly) more remote possibility, but in my view, not that far off.

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