Academic institutions continue to destroy the young people in their charge
Mark Twain wrote Pudd'nhead Wilson to show how stupid racism is. Because he wrote in an era when the word now called the "N-word" was normative, that word showed up in his book. When a college professor at St. John's, a Catholic college in Queens, New York, read from the book in class, a single student's complaint led to the professor being fired. The college is no doubt congratulating itself on its sensitivity. It should be flagellating itself for its cruelty to the students in its charge.
The world is not a safe place. We Americans are blessed to live in one of the safest countries in the world at the safest time in history. Nevertheless, cruelty is a human constant and no matter how physically safe we make our world we will invariably run into people who are not very nice.
Because my parents had experienced horrific childhoods dominated by broken homes, a worldwide Depression, and World War II, they sought to insulate me from the world's cruelty. If someone was mean to me — as was often the case because I was a nerd among nerds — my parents rushed in to defend me. The consequence was that I did not learn how to roll with the punches, to laugh things off, or to defend myself, whether physically or verbally. I spent decades learning skills that I ought to have learned as a child.
My parents, at least, acted with love. The same cannot be said of modern academia, which acts with smug, self-satisfied condescension when it bows down before the irrational demands of a generation of people raised to be so sensitive that the slightest ruffling of their emotional feathers is seen as a devastating act of violence.
The latest example of this madness comes from St. John's University. St. John's is not some small, womb-like Midwestern liberal arts college. It is a large institution with over 21,000 students, located in Queens. That's a more rugged, demanding environment than, say, Oberlin, Ohio.
Hannah Berliner Fischthal, the daughter of Holocaust-survivors, has taught at St. John's as an adjunct professor of English for 20 years, although her specialty is Yiddish, which is a totally awesome language. In February, during a remote class, Fischthal was discussing Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson with her students. As noted, above, Twain used the N-word as part of an extended satire poking fun at the ugliness and stupidity of racism. The New York Post explains what happened:
"Mark Twain was one of the first American writers to use actual dialect," Fischthal said. "His use of the 'N-word' is used only in dialogues as it could have actually been spoken in the south before the Civil War, when the story takes place."
The day after the class, however, she got an email from a student who said she had to "abruptly" leave the call because of Fischthal's use of an "inappropriate slur."
Faced with a student suffering from a learned mental illness, Fischthal promptly did the usual academic thing of convening a discussion during which she made the usual ritual obeisance before the perpetually offended. Being an academic, she could not have known that apologizing to the woke mob never fixes things; it just makes you feel cheap. Again, the New York Post explains what happened next:
On March 3 she was called into a meeting with HR about her use of the N-word in class, the subsequent discussion of it and a comment she allegedly made about a Black student's hair. Fischthal said she only made a remark about a student's head being wrapped up during class and it had nothing to do with her hair.
She said she was also criticized for mentioning her family's experience in the Holocaust during class.
On March 5 she was suspended pending an investigation she had violated the university's policy against bias. On April 29 she was fired.
St. John's University needs to be sued, and it needs to lose a lot of money. That is the only way it (and perhaps other colleges and universities) will learn not to do this kind of thing.
I do not know what will get the administration to understand that when you try to insulate young people from anything that might hurt them, you are doing them a profound disservice and leaving them exposed to the world like a giant open wound. This smug self-satisfaction that these institutions derive from pandering to the lowest common denominator of emotional fragility will go down as a shameful episode in American culture.
Image: Cover of a Classics Illustrated Pudd’nhead Wilson edition.
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