When Lewis and Clark chose to explore the Mississippi River (with the backing of President Jefferson and the immeasurable help of Sacajawea), I’m positive the last thing on their mind was “being safe”. When Dr. Martin Luther King began his inspired crusade for equality, he held no illusions about his safety, mentioning more than once his expectation of dying a violent death in pursuit of equality. The same could be said for 18th century satirist Voltaire or even John Locke, the latter penning Two Treatise on Civil Government on which much of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution is based. Locke, who was a man of Britain wrote said piece before he fled Britain, publishing it while in the Netherlands for the content it contained would land him in prison as a traitor to the crown. Laura Cereta, one of the great unsung women of the past dismantled her society imposed 15th century chains to become one of the great humanist and feminist writers of her day.

None of these people were concerned with ‘being safe’ either in thought or deedDespite it all, those people mentioned, and many others, became giants of history and their daring changed all around them.

Safe Students and Lack of Achievement

Being a student in the modern world the word ‘safe’ is bandied about as a prerequisite for learning or expressing an idea. Today, the concern for student learning revolves around: “a safe environment by which student expression can be made without fear of reprisal” or “students of (fill-in-the-blank) need a safe space wherein they can interact” or finally “we will not allow (fill-in-the-blank) because it would make many in our (fill-in-the-blank) community feel unsafe”.

This open door policy by which to categorize anything and everything that broaches topics counter to an established narrative, making them unsafe is truly, in itself, unsafe, doing little more than atrophying student achievement by teaching them the lesson of avoidance rather than confrontation – yes, I said it – confrontation; the ability to encounter difficulty, attack it, and emerge on the other side victorious or at the very least, forcing a re-evaluation of one’s position. Believe it or not, what one thinks or feels isn’t always correct and confrontation or debate is a measurable way to discover the viability of said reasoning.

In the world of education, this has been taken away from students by well meaning but largely delusional counselors, teachers, professors and administrators. This affliction has metastasized to include all levels of education from grade school through the collegiate ranks. The unfortunate outcome is students not challenged either on their beliefs or their learning, classrooms becoming little more than echo chambers of particular ideologies without ever being challenged or discussed.

In such cases where ideas are debated, many take the easiest way out, claiming to suffer from anxiety because their ideas are challenged, allowing them and their benefactors an opportunity for escape rather than true learning. Accrual of knowledge requires risk; challenged ideas withering under the weight of critical analysis or surviving said challenges are paramount not only for student growth but student learning.

In the world of education, students’ ability to weather the storm of criticism has been atrophied due to concerns about ‘safety’. To truly learn, battering and buffeting by headwinds is the only way forward. Calm waters in intellectual pursuits lead to false notions of ideological viability and breed soft intellects incapable of withstanding the headwinds of life.

Is it any wonder our teenagers are experiencing mental health crises of significant proportions?

Many simply do not have the ability to cope, to overcome obstacles, their development atrophied by policies designed for comfort rather than challenge – a fatal flaw for a maturing person.

Social promotion in the lower levels of school, a focus not on the rigors of math, reading, and memorization, but rather on feelings, comfort, and safety…all contribute to student atrophy, fostering slovenly approaches to academic pursuits which engender poor results and even poorer test scores.

Rather than consequences for poor behavior, poor attendance, or simply choosing not to do work, schools are now devising equity controls which allow for students to do nothing and still get credit for it, still graduate despite 30+ absences, and not receive a zero for work incomplete because it might make said student “feel bad about themselves”, theoretically disincentivizing them from doing future work. Better to give them a false grade so their feelings remain intact – while they learn in the process school doesn’t mean much anyway. Without consequences for action or in-action, young people learn what they wish to do is more important than what needs to be done.

Maybe Paul Simon was right when he said in the opening stanza of his song Kodachrome, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

We’re no longer, on the whole, teaching students to think; we’re teaching them their comfort, be it in ideas not supported by fact, or their poor behavior (the true reason teachers are leaving the profession) are ok as long as they feel validated or feel safe or other such nonsense antithetical to the true learning process.

Teachers, as a result of such policies, abrogate their responsibilities as well; relying on ridiculous lessons that focus on learning through games, an over-reliance on PowerPoint presentations and jettisoning direct instruction as the basis for their teaching. Such methods are fine for enhancement, but the lack of direct instruction – hands on teaching – has created a crisis in education. Many teachers have become lazy…and in some cases as lazy as the students they’re purported to teach.

The late intellectual and economist Dr. Walter Williams, himself brought up poor and with few advantages, spoke loudly against this softening of expectations in education, especially for minorities, enjoined in this argument by no less than Dr. Thomas Sowell, with both railing against such approaches to educating our youth, no matter their skin tone, ethnicity or socio-economic background. These giants reiterated the importance of expectations, accountability and honesty in evaluating student work for without that, students will fail to achieve or even learn the basics required to be successful at the next level, should they choose that route.

Read the latest issue of American Educator, the magazine put out by the AFT and what you’ll see is little more than progressive educational claptrap which is, in reality, quite repressive when it comes to student achievement. It is a trend that must be reversed, especially if those who are underprivileged no matter their circumstances, are to achieve what they’re capable of achieving.