School bordering on ridiculous

Published 1:19 pm Friday, October 9, 2015

By TJ Ray

As the new school year geared up in August, university students found that indoctrination instead of education was on tap.

A fine university in another Southern state (the University of Tennessee) sought to help people avoid awkward situations when introduced. The Office of Diversity there suggested new pronouns to replace the traditional ones: in place of them, “hirs” instead of hers, and “xem” instead of him.

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“Oh, nice to meet you, Jane Doe. What pronouns should I use?” The etiquette of meeting new folks has been refined. Now it is perfectly fine to ask them what pronouns should be used to refer to them. The objective is to avoid assuming someone’s gender by his or her appearance, not by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems.

Anticipating that these new words are impossible to make sense of, an official helpfully included instructions on how to ascertain which strange pronoun someone might want “hir” fellows to use: just ask the pronoun question above.

At least one Tennessee state senator denounced the new language. “If you must interview a student before you greet the student, that’s not acceptance — that’s just absurd.” She added, “This isn’t inclusion. This is radical transformation of our lives and language.” And that, dear hearts, is precisely what it is.

The request to use these new pronouns raises a number of issues. For instance, are parents supposed to use them with young children? If they do, two things follow: Those kids will fit right in if they go that particular university. And all their neighbors will think they’re kooks.

Another bump in this new road is the problem posed for academic folks, particularly those in the English Department trying to teach students to write clear and effective English.

Will the new pronouns be allowed and elude the red pencil?

Needless to say, when this new proposal was made public, many folks weighed in on the issue. In response, a university pointed out that the goal is to make the school “a welcoming and inclusive place where students won’t feel ‘marginalized.’” After ridicule was heaped upon the university over this new speech code scheme, a university spokesman hastened to say that the new pronouns weren’t mandatory.

As an old fogey retired English prof, I find it notably disturbing that the faculty of that institution have not en masse protested. Of course, in a crazy world where the bizarre becomes the norm just because a lot of loud people practice it, I’m not surprised. Sadly, we’ve reached a point where the kooks have been given carte blanche in society. One can only wonder if, before Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed, hair was dyed purple and pink and green.

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at