Causing discomfort remains legal
Lessons that cause students discomfort remain legal everywhere, even in Florida, writes Peter Minowitz, a Santa Clara University profesor, in Inside Higher Ed.
The new wage of legislation has been misreported, writes Minowitz.
An Oklahoma community college canceled a summer 2021 course on race and ethnicity, “fearing that it might violate the state’s new measure barring instruction that creates discomfort,” writes historian Jonathan Zimmerman in The Hill.
That’s not accurate, writes Minowitz. The Oklahoma statute “prohibits teaching that someone ‘should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex’.”
Learning about the horrors of slavery, massacres, lynching, the Trail of Tears and comparable evils should certainly bring discomfort. What the Oklahoma law proscribes, though, is old-fashioned bigotry: teaching that certain people “should” feel “psychological distress” because of their race or sex.
Similarly, writes Minowitz, Florida’s new “Stop Woke” law forbids teachers from telling students that an individual “must feel . . . psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.”
A political science professor, he opposes laws banning instruction that might cause discomfort. No topic would be safe.
He’s no fan of the anti-CRT (critical race theory) laws, worrying about “frivolous lawsuits and about the educational explorations the laws may discourage.”
Educators may worry about the ambiguity of “divisive concepts,” he writes, but Florida’s law, like Trump’s executive order, authorizes educators to discuss “divisive concepts . . . in an objective manner and without endorsement.”
Back in 1994, when I was a Knight-Ridder op-ed columnist, I pointed out that new rules trying to protect students from harassment could chill all sorts of legitimate speech on campus. I worried it was a slippery slope. It sure was.
I found a 2013 blog post on federal sexual harassment rules that abandoned the “reasonable person” standard. As FIRE wrote: “If the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.”
We’ve been letting unreasonable people stifle discussion for a long time.