My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
In my college years I had an idea related to a serious issue. The course professor seemed like a nice guy, so I naively went up to him after class and told him what I was thinking. He listened, was kind, and spent the next fifteen minutes explaining why my idea was simply – and obviously – wrong. I listened, was convinced, and dropped the idea.
Upon reflection, it was a ridiculous idea and one that needed to be purged from my young mind.
Upon reflection, I also realize that if I were a student in today’s woke cancel culture I could never have talked to a professor about the idea; students listening in would have been triggered, the professor would have been outraged, and I would have been excoriated and perhaps even expelled. And my crazy idea would have remained lodged in my head.
Which leads me to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and the brief lamentation by the novel’s chief protagonist, the scientist Victor Frankenstein.
In his young years Frankenstein became enamored with ideas outside of the bounds of accepted science. Excited about his knowledge, he went to his father with his new-fangled ideas. And his father carelessly dismissed them as foolish, and then went away thinking that the problem was solved. But he was wrong.
Frankenstein saw this reaction as a key turning point in his life. He lamented:
“If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me [why my ideas were wrong], I should certainly have thrown [the ideas]… aside and have contented my imagination, warned as I was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led me to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of my [ideas]…by no means assured me that he was acquainted with [my idea], and I continued to read with greatest avidity.”
Threatening, shaming, bullying, isolating, expelling, silencing, and cancelling are the hallmarks of today’s cancel culture. The emphasis is on displays of power to force submission and silence. Today’s cancel culture can give the impression that minds are being changed because certain views are no longer expressed, but, like in Frankenstein’s experience, what is really taking place is a driving of ideas underground.
Woke educators are as unhelpful as Frankenstein’s father, in fact, their harsh and careless response only solidifies ideas floating around in student's heads. The outward appearance may be that minds are being changed, but they are not.
Wise educators know that silencing views is not the same as changing minds. A thoughtful and careful response to ideas – especially ones that are out-of-the box – is needed in order to change a mind. An openness to hear any ideas is necessary if one wants to have an influence on the minds of others. Weird, strange, and even offensive ideas need a place to be heard, and carefully corrected. And the classroom should be one of those places.
Sadly, the end result for Frankenstein was that he began to act upon his ideas by making a monster. And, as we know, great suffering ensued as a result. It was the classic “ideas have consequences” scenario.
The moral of the story for educators today is to not make the same mistake that Frankenstein’s father made. The heads of students in our classrooms are filled with all sorts of ideas, and it is not our job to suppress those ideas through intimidation, coercion, and cancelling. Rather, wise educators listen to students and then carefully and kindly correct harmful ideas before they are acted upon, and monsters made.