Teller explains how performance and discomfort make education come alive

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Thanks, Mark, for not letting this totally bogus “safe space” boogeyman die.

Making everyone feel soothed and happy 100% of the time is precisely what codes of conduct and content warnings are for.

Where is this even a thing?


White dudes, tellin’ it like it is (for them).

I think the most cogent explanation of the value of safe spaces I’ve heard is that it makes learning possible. Like, discomfort with the majesty of the unknown is one thing but if the only think you’re thinking about when you read The Rape of Lucrere is your own rape and how you wanted to commit suicide and maybe this now sounds like a good idea to you, you’re not learning about Shakespeare’s poetry, you’re having a minor panic attack. You’re not learning, and if education is the goal, you’d learn more by being able to sit that lecture out, or at least know it’s coming so that you can have your therapist on speed dial for after the class.

Being able to be uncomfortable and confront that with knowledge and not panic is a privilege. It’s a privilege everyone should have, but not everyone does. If Teller would like to help that goal, one of the first things he can do is support organizations like the Texas Women’s Center or the Treatment Advocacy Center or using his celebrity voice to amplify local politicians who pledge to work toward that.

That helps everyone look at the intimidating subject matter in life and feel like they have the ability to conquer it.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and it’s a little irresponsible to presume that we do (though understandable, if you aren’t used to that experience yourself).


Wow even the guy who never talks is bitching about trigger warnings these days.


I actually attended the same High School that Mr Teller did. It was a very different kind of school that was a public school,but you had to be tested for and then accepted to go there. At the time both of us went there, it was the last public school in the country that was allowed to remain single sex.This was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, but they finally admitted girls in 1984.

Anyway the school was mostly filled with kids who wanted to be there and were not afraid to be challenged. I remember when I showed up for my first class as a wide eyed Freshman.The teacher told everyone to get settled while he began to unfurl and hang one of those dot matrix printer banners (This was 1975). It read FAIL NOW----AVOID THE JUNE RUSH !

I do not recommend treating all students like this, but for the type of students they were teaching it worked great. I had an English teacher that chose Tess of the D’urbervilles as our first book. He had 30 street smart boys in his class and explained that it was his job to have us leave as well rounded people, and he did not care how much we enjoyed it, only that we read it, and understood it. I loved that book and have reread it a few times as an adult.

I enjoyed my time there, and 35 years later I sent my son there as well. It is not wise to coddle kids, and discomfort is a good thing for kids that will respond to the pressure. The problem is making sure they can handle it.


While I am empathetic about past trauma’s being brought up from either literature and history, if one excluded every possible subject and event that one could possibly have a negative feeling about, you’re left with basically nothing.

How are you supposed to educate and expand a person’s horizons beyond what is outside their back yard and personal experience if you are too afraid it might trigger negative feelings? While one person out of how ever many may have a severe negative reaction to a controversial subject, I do think people should still be exposed to those things. Pretending something doesn’t exists or ignoring it only makes it worse. I think most people after they are exposed and confronted with dark subjects generally walk away with more empathy, able to put themselves in that position to a degree. I think it helps one grow as a person.

Certainly there are exceptions and perhaps as suggested some people should sit some lessons out due to their experiences. But I can recall one sort of controversial subject matter in my schooling being the showing of Roots. There are some hard to watch scenes, and I am sure it was even harder for some of the black students. At the same time I think it is good to show a frank, realistic depiction of what happened back then. Not showing something like allows one to gloss over history, “it wasn’t that bad”. It is just words in a text book, it doesn’t sink in like the actual sounds of screaming and paint and looks of fear you see on the screen.

I have some old man gripes about kids these days, but I am going to end it here while my point is fairly coherent.


I agree with your general reasoning but there’s room for wondering if useful safeguards haven’t been hijacked by administrative prudery into some twisted suppressive offspring.


What a surprise that the Libertarian guy who is a fellow of the Libertarian CATO institute (Whose name you might remember attached to studies about how global warming isn’t real, and second hand smoke isn’t harmful), takes the bog-standard libertarian position, which attacks a strawman that is not quite entirely unlike the positions people actually hold.

Ha ha just kidding it’s not surprising at all.


I did not know that.

I’m starting to think the Libertarian Party is kind of like Mensa - people pay money to be told they’re smarter than the sheep around them. I was once an active member.


[quote=“Boundegar, post:9, topic:72815, full:true”]
I did not know that.[/quote] If you’ll pardon it sounds like I’m making a joke about his act - many don’t, he doesn’t talk about it much. Penn is quite a visible and active Libertarian, but since Teller keeps a lot of stuff on the DL, people tend to forget that he’s in just as deep as Penn.

[quote=“Boundegar, post:9, topic:72815”]
I’m starting to think the Libertarian Party is kind of like Mensa - people pay money to be told they’re smarter than the sheep around them. I was once an active member.[/quote]Hey man, most of us go through that kind of period. Instead of feeling faintly embarrassed you were once like that, instead think of it as being that you grew as a person and changed your mind, no shame in that. Don’t let anybody - including yourself - shame you because you used to think something different - even if it was dumb - and you changed your mind. Learning is a process, not a moment. You gotta be good to yourself, mate.


Slippery slope arguments rely on strawmen. That there might be some ill-intentioned bogeyman who takes offense at the drop of a hat and ruins his own education doesn’t invalidate its very real value for the people who need it and take it seriously. No one is saying “Teach students nothing!”, and if you imagine that’s the argument, you don’t understand the argument.

It’s not really too much to ask that you let them make the decision about what they can confront without trauma. If someone wants to fuck over their own education by imagining they have trauma at everything, well, you can’t STOP someone who is paying thousands of dollars each semester from burying their head in the sand anyway. Education is always voluntary.


The problem I have with this whole conversation is that people are accepting the notion that “safe” is the opposite of “uncomfortable”… and it simply isn’t. In fact, both are absolutely required for both growth AND healing after emotional trauma.

If reading a book is enough to “traumatize” you, then you need help and counseling… and that counseling will include learning how to confront and process the traumatic event - often through hearing or reading the stories of others who experienced it. I’m not being snarky or shitty, I’m being honest.

Kids ( and adults ) absolutely deserve to be safe at school. That means you protect them from physical and emotional violence, not difficult or uncomfortable ideas. If reading a book or discussing an idea is causing genuine harm, then you send the student to a counselor, or provide additional support to that student to help them to deal constructively with the underlying cause - you do not stop teaching it to the whole student body.

And Daedelus: A slippery slope argument has another name - it is also called a “logical extreme”. Zero tolerance policies are real, and they are the logical extreme of the very rational notion that - for example - knives can be dangerous weapons, and are not appropriate at school. The extreme application of that is an elementary schooler getting referred to “alternative school” for bringing a butter knife in with his lunch … or a muslim kid gets arrested for building a “fake bomb” for bringing a digital clock kit to school. These expressions are not rational, but they are logically consistent.

While structure is widely mis applied, it is not always a logical fallacy - and it difficult to dismiss it out of hand as fear mongering when actual examples of such policies - if not actually common place - are still definitely not rare.


People are conflating personal safety with academic risk-taking, aka cognitive challenge. They are not the same! Get with it, peeps. Stop being so dense.


It might help you to realize that this is not the contrast. The contrast is “safe” and “unsafe.” The people who substitute “uncomfortable” for “unsafe” aren’t addressing the actual situation…

Counseling generally doesn’t require you to re-live your trauma, but yeah, folks who would be triggered in a classroom could typically use professional help. Most people probably could at one level or another. If only it was easily available, not stigmatized, etc., etc.

(A mental health movement would be GREAT to see in this country, and much needed)

I don’t think anyone is proposing that teachers stop teaching, just that they might want to put a content warning on some of their lectures and offer people who find the subject matter emotionally violent the ability to work within that limitation.

Of course, that’s not what’s happening here. Hence my point that it relies on strawmen.

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At my kids’ high school, there is an option for seniors to take a series of three mini history courses over the school year instead of one year-long survey course (which are required for the previous three years; history in the senior year is optional). The second and third sections of the course are set in stone, but there are two options for the first section: either studying the Holocaust or else studying a different era in European history. This way, students interested in taking more history in their senior year have the ability to do so, but also have the option to avoid a particularly difficult subject matter if need be. It’s a smart way to handle the situation, especially when a school isn’t big enough to offer endless class options.


Of course, that’s not what’s happening here. Hence my point that it relies on strawmen.

Your “straw man” is alive and well here in my state. Are you seriously suggesting that school curricula are not being changed to not cover subject matter that students or parents find “difficult” or “challenging”? Banning Judy Blume (from high schools ), expunging offensive language from Huckleberry Finn are exactly that. Removing or glossing over references to Jim Crow and miscegenation laws when discussing civil rights. The only difference is that you (and I) happen to sympathize with the people who find other subject matters difficult or unacceptable.

You can’t choose to not teach Oedipus Rex because 1 in 100 students were sexually abused by their parents. It is wrong not to teach about the holocaust, or Jim Crow, or Wounded Knee, or the Trail of Tears, or small pox blankets because it may “trigger” someone. It is history. It is real, and it is horrible, and IT HAPPENED… and if we don’t remember that it happened, it will happen again.

I don’t think anyone is proposing that teachers stop teaching, just that they might want to put a content warning on some of their lectures and offer people who find the subject matter emotionally violent the ability to work within that limitation.

And you are wrong. This is about much, much more than teachers and professors “tagging” content. Most already do that - not only in the lecture, but in the syllabus, and the presentation notes. You are active here, so you know what “chilling effects” are.

If an AP english lit class is enough to “trigger” you, then take AP Comp, or AP Chem instead. If DHLawrence is going to send you into a tail spin, then don’t take lit 201. If Nabokov is going to make your world fall apart, you should be able to tell by reading the dust jacket, or the syllabus. If you can’t figure out that the holocaust is going to be a challenging unit for you, then perhaps the problem is not with the teacher, or the curriculum.

I live in Texas, and I watch the process of our text books and curricula getting dumbed down and distorted every day by people with the best of intentions. I fervently support the right of individual students to get the help they need to deal with personal trauma… I do not - and will not - support changing our entire education system to avoid the potential possibility of “triggering” someone.

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