There is a special class of university students who are treated very much like children with a peanut allergy, the substance from which they are shielded being any hint that they and their opinions are not welcome in the university. They are protected by the doctrine of “inclusion,” and the doctrine of “inclusion” predicates that, absent this doctrine, these students would be reduced to tears by the taunts and mockery of the uncouth oafs that have, time out of mind, monopolized the ivied halls.
Needless to say, the university sees no need to shield the uncouth oafs with similar protection. Not only are the oafs obtuse and insensitive in the manner of all oafs, but they also possess the stout psychic armor called the smirk. It is sometimes said that these students were born with a silver smirk in their mouth, and that their silver smirks reflects their arrogant and offensive assumption that the university was made only for students like themselves. This is why the university now thinks it best that these students be taken down a notch with “difficult conversations,” and why the university hopes these “difficult conversations” will have the happy effect of wiping those smirks of their faces.
Since students protected by the doctrine of “inclusion” are supposed to be teetering on the brink of tears, I propose to call them Weepies. I will call the students excluded from the doctrine of “inclusion” Smirks, since a smirk (real or metaphorical) is the scarlet letter by which they are most commonly identified.
The great challenge for a professor is to know who is a Weepie and who is a Smirk. This is far from easy, since the protections of “inclusion” causes many Weepies to appear exceedingly comfortable and smug, while the regimen of “difficult conversations” causes some Smirks to quiver like rabbits that have just smelled a fox.
I was therefore pleased to see that my college is offering its faculty a workshop entitled, “Managing Challenging Situations and Building an Inclusive Classroom Climate.” In other words, How to Make it Hot for the Smirks while Keeping it Cool for the Weepies.
To help professors make it hot for the Smirks, this workshop will “focus on how to proactively manage challenging situations in the classroom and how to teach controversial topics.” Needless to say, a “controversial topic” is a topic offensive to the sensibility of Smirks, a “challenging situation” is what arises when Smirks object to an offensive topic, and “proactive management” is the “classroom ground rules and norms” that quash these objections with the charge of “classroom incivility.”
I should mention at this point that I work in a college of geoscience, so that perhaps ninety-five percent of the classes in the college ought to deal with the behavior of liquids, gasses and solids. The geosciences are not without controversies, but one would think that discussion of these controversies would very seldom devolve into a “challenging situation” in which the Weepies are weeping, the Smirks are smirking, and the professor is regretting his failure to practice “proactive management.”
“Proactive management” is undertaken by way of what the workshop describes as a “robust syllabus.” The term is not unique to this workshop, and it is one I expect to hear more of. A syllabus is “robust” insofar as it exhaustively stipulates “classroom ground rules and norms,” and thereby gives the professor legal grounds to curb and punish “classroom incivility.”
A “robust syllabus” is nowadays necessary because our society has few true “norms,” which is to say tacit rules of behavior, and any behavior not expressly forbidden is therefore tacitly permitted. If the use of a bullhorn in classroom debate is not, for instance, expressly forbidden in a “robust syllabus,” the professor guilty of this omission has no grounds to expel a bullhorn-user from classroom debate.
The “robust syllabus” is, therefore, one consequence of our liberal moral order, in which words like indecent and unseemly make no sense. Liberalism necessarily results in a limitless tangle of rules, laws and bylaws, because liberalism destroys all tacit and conventional forms of social control. When everything that is not expressly forbidden is permitted, the volume of things expressly forbidden swells enormously.
This is why a “robust syllabus” may run to several pages.
The “robust syllabus” is a consequence of our liberal moral order, but I daresay it is very seldom a liberal document. The doctrine of “inclusion” requires that the “classroom ground rules” protect the sensibility of Weepies, while at the same time denying this protection to Smirks. To do this, the “classroom ground rules” must require dispassionate detachment from Smirks, no matter how “difficult” they find the conversation, while at the same time granting emotional and rhetorical license to Weepies. So, for instance, a Christian Smirk who loses his temper during a discussion of the theological implications of Darwinism is guilty of “classroom incivility,” but a Muslim Weepie who is roused to similar indiscretions by a discussion of the political implications of Islam is not.
We can see how the Weepie carveout works if we consider the language of the workshop advertisement. The “classroom incivility” of a Smirk is an arrogant expression of Smirk privilege, and therefore deplorable and not to be tolerated. The superficial and apparent incivility of Weepies is, by way of contrast, an unavoidable and excusable consequence of their Weepiness. Thus the advertisement tells us that workshop participants will be told about the “common reasons for classroom incivility that include student/faculty anxiety and stress, feelings of not being heard, and other sociocultural factors.”
I daresay all of these mitigating reasons are on the side of the Weepies. A Weepie is a Weepie because, we are told, “anxiety and stress” brings them to the brink of tears whenever they think of giving tongue to an opinion. It is the Weepie’s fear of smirking derision that sometimes causes their words to bear a superficial resemblance to smirking derision. A Weepie is a Weepie because, we are told, he or she has long been excluded from the conversation, and forced to suffer in silence. Thus we should not be surprised if a Weepie’s pent up “feelings of not being heard” are sometimes expressed in words that are loud, vigorous and unsparing. And we must never forget those “other sociocultural factors,” by which is meant that Weepies are rude for reasons.
And if you do not understand what is meant by reasons, that means you are probably an uncouth oaf and a Smirk.