Discomfort allows for productive discourse



Attempting to eliminate discomfort from discussions in an educational environment inhibits many students' ability to have meaningful dialogue, denying them a valuable chance to think critically.

Sammy Davies, Contributing Writer

Brookline High School has entered an interesting phase in its pursuit of social justice that seemingly aims to eliminate intersocial turmoil. What the reaction to these recent videos (in which students and graduates were shown using the N-word), or the particularly vile one, at least, demonstrated was that many of our fellow students still do not feel safe. While it is technically true that language does not cause physical harm to anyone, and thus can not constitute violence, the type of language in that video was clearly meant to incite violence: from the nature of the racial epithet used and its historical context, to the actual context in which the word was used. We were, and still are, rightfully outraged with the video.

In a speech regarding these videos and the outrage that followed, Headmaster Meyer described what is precisely wrong with modern education. He said to the crowd, “I want to create an environment where everybody feels comfortable and safe and that is, at the end of the day, the most important part of my job.”

Safety is non negotiable; I think we can all agree on that. The knowledge, or assumption, rather, that we will not face direct bodily harm or emotional abuse for merely existing is what keeps our society together, as without this, we would devolve into fear-driven animals whose actions are motivated by the instinct to survive and defend against others. If we cannot feel safe in school, we cannot commune, we cannot learn, and we cannot better ourselves.

Safety and comfort are often confused, as there is lots of overlap between the two: Safety is the assumption that your body will not be harmed physically by those around you, that you will not be intentionally degraded on an emotional level, and that those around you will not incite violence against you. Comfort, on the other hand, is the assumption that your thoughts and opinions will not come under attack, that your mental exertion will not be needed for any given encounter. It is knowing that your opinions are safe. We should not strive for comfort, not in learning environments at least. We do not grow as people without some discomfort to motivate us to improve ourselves, or if for nobody else, I find this to be the case. It does get quite difficult, though, when the use of the N-word becomes a part of the discussion.

This word has the power to make a people feel uncomfortable for very different reasons.  However, when reading texts that contain the N-word in a classroom environment, if a student wants to retain some notion of intellectual continuity in reading the exact written words on the page, they may do so, and it will hopefully spark a broader discussion about the word itself and race in general. A White person saying the word has certain very negative connotations, but that is not argument in and of itself against its contextual usage. Making people feel uncomfortable in learning situations is a totally legitimate philosophy.

I want to feel uncomfortable in a learning environment. I know full well that I am not going to learn much if I do not expose myself to difficult concepts and viewpoints that sometimes may be in stark opposition to my reality. This fact is precisely why I attend the assemblies on Day of Courage, Day of Dialogue, Students Against Human Trafficking and other school wide events devoted to the betterment of our society. These assemblies are designed to make us feel uncomfortable and to expose us to either the error in our society’s ways or the bleak realities that other individuals face on a daily basis. As a self- proclaimed compassionate and intellectual community, we should strive to challenge others opinions and to have our opinions challenged, not to be content with the lowest common denominator of thought or understanding.