Safe Spaces vs. Free Spaces

Here’s a pretty damning essay (adapted from the contents of a forum) from Camille Paglia about the suppression of free speech among the Left on college campuses:

What is political correctness? As I see it, it is a predictable feature of the life cycle of modern revolutions, beginning with the French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the American Revolution of the prior decade but turned far more violent. A first generation of daring rebels overthrows a fossilized establishment and leaves the landscape littered with ruins. In the post-revolutionary era, the rebels begin to fight among themselves, which may lead to persecutions and assassinations. The victorious survivor then rules like the tyrants who were toppled in the first place. This is the phase of political correctness — when the vitality of the founding revolution is gone and when revolutionary principles have become merely slogans, verbal formulas enforced by apparatchiks, that is, party functionaries or administrators who kill great ideas by institutionalizing them.

Paglia goes on to argue that the free-speech movements of the ’60s were simply neutralized—but not resolved—by the Women’s, African, and Native-American Studies departments created in the ’70s, which ultimately served to isolate and insulate ideas rather than to pit them into intellectual combat—both against themselves and against the dominant narratives. The result: specialized, marginalized departments (and, thus, thinkers) with less and less credibility. Also, the converting of educational institutions into shopping malls (as Paglia puts it) didn’t help, either. Students are no longer students, but paying customers, and the customer is always right.

I’m still not sure where I fall in the debate over the creation of “safe spaces” on campus. Paglia, however, has her mind made up: on the removal of Goya’s famous late-18th-century painting, Naked Maja:

The instructor claimed that she was protecting future women students from the “chilly climate” created by the Naked Maja. But in a later published article about the controversy, she revealed that she herself was uncomfortable in the presence of the painting. She wrote, “I felt as though I were standing there naked, exposed and vulnerable.” I’m sorry, but we simply cannot permit uncultivated neurotics to set the agenda for arts education in America.

One of her proposed steps toward correcting the PC overreach, though, is to completely stay out of the private social lives of students. In her view, educating and social work have been too closely intertwined. I don’t know if it’s possible to separate the two, but I do think it’s strange that people expect schools to be all things to all people: daycare centers, food pantries, trade shops, therapist offices, career centers, even temples—but in the same breath exclaim that teachers are greedy, lazy castaways who should have to buy their own supplies. It’s also strange that nobody likes schools, or at least doesn’t want to spend much time in them, while at the same time everyone points to the school as the place where our guiding principles—those of future generations—are irrevocably forged.




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