You may have seen in the press a story about Cambridge undergraduates being warned about the grisly nature of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus which, along with Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Euripides’ Hippolytus and The Bacchae, have been given a red warning triangle by the university’s English faculty to alert students to their potentially upsetting nature. These so-called ‘trigger warnings’ include written or verbal alerts that descriptions, images or concepts in a particular work could trigger trauma or upset. They started to appear on US campuses three or four years ago when some colleges highlighted material that contained references to rape, suicide and racism that could affect students. According to press reports, law undergraduates at Oxford are being told before lectures on cases involving violence or death that they can leave if they fear the content will be too ‘distressing’ and medical students at Glasgow University are allowed to skip a class on how to break bad news to families if they ‘feel they would struggle’.
My fellow GDST Head at Oxford High (@Philip_Hills) suggests that these warnings might actually encourage more students to attend lectures and he may have a point. I certainly hope so, for I found the story to be rather depressing: how can we possibly expect young people to take risks, develop curiosity – grow – if we cocoon them from anything challenging? I completely agree with Mary Beard whom The Telegraph quotes as saying that allowing students to avoid learning about traumatic episodes of history and literature is fundamentally dishonest: “We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they’re awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons.”
Frankly, we all – teachers, parents, students – need to ‘get out more’. So, well done to those Year 10 girls who went off to France and Spain last week to live with complete strangers; well done, too, to our Sixth Form Geographers who spent their weekend measuring on the windswept rocks of Lulworth Cove; well done to our unbeaten U-19 netball team who play (and win) in the Lancing adult league every week and good luck to our choristers who are performing this weekend in unfamiliar venues throughout Barcelona.