Silence or violence: Toxic classroom rhetoric poisons discourse

The toxic, intolerant political environment is taking a disturbingly violent turn and last week’s shooting is an outcome that many have been warning about—actual violence.

In recent weeks the world has seen Kathy Griffin pose with a representation of Trump’s severed head, Madonna issue a call to blow up the White House, and Shakespeare in the Park portray the brutal assassination of an unambiguously Trump-like “Caesar.”

Concerns about the impact on society have been dismissed as hypersensitive, but advocating violence—even in the name of “jest” or “art”—shows a lack of civility, tolerance, and respect for human dignity.

The result is the normalization of violent, grotesque behavior intended to shut down opposing views, and nowhere is that more apparent than on America’s college and university campuses. Campus Reform has been at the forefront of exposing this type of violence on college campuses—places where students are supposed to duke out their differences through debate and intellectual diversity, but have now become “safe spaces” where those who dissent from the majority endure suspensionharassment"beatdown" threats, and have even been held hostage in their own classrooms.

Once the precedent of enabling and encouraging this behavior was set, it was no surprise that Middlebury students violently shut down Charles Murray, hospitalizing one of their own professors.

Equally unsurprising, yet still deeply concerning: administrators at UC-Berkeley—the “birthplace of the Free Speech Movement”—refused to guarantee Ann Coulter’s safety on campus.

And, of course, there’s always the case of the Purdue staff member who suggested raping pro-life women.

There is a blind eye turned toward this type of violence that goes hand-in-hand with a complete intolerance for dialogue and differences of opinion. What used to be the marketplace of ideas where students could hone critical thinking skills has become an indoctrination center where they have one of two options: be silent or face violence.

Campuses are breeding intolerance and teaching the next generation to combat ideas with outrage, with the result that the “resist” movement has evolved into the “antifa” movement before our very eyes. If students don’t learn tolerance, respectful discourse, and respect for diversity of opinion, a continuation of this behavior can be expected—and the repercussions will be significant.

Our Founding fathers believed in a system that would check passion with passion, not violence. Anger has always fueled political discourse and it always will. But we have to stop and ask if that anger is justified.

Obama rallying for gun control and restriction of right-wing rhetoric after Gabby Gifford’s shooting is not the answer. The liberal logic that says words are violent is the same logic that attempts to restrict offensive speech and free expression. The rhetoric can, however, be indirectly blamed if it directly advocates or defends violence—which is exactly what is happening on college campuses.

What can be learned from this rampant increase of violence is that words have power and must be wielded responsibly, especially in the classroom. The realization that respect and human dignity come before differences in political opinion is imperative. Constantly throwing around words like “resist,” “fascist,” and “Nazi” ups the ante in classrooms and lays the foundation for hostility. Students are afraid to speak up before stepping foot in the classroom.

If students learn hostility and intolerance now, they’ll practice it their whole lives. Unfortunately, they are the ones being robbed of their education as they take this fallacy with them off campus. This intolerance is not only problematic for the workplace and community, it is a threat to the very existence of America, a nation that has long flourished thanks in large measure to its respect for individual rights and opposing ideas.  

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @h_scherlacher