The Arizona Senate’s Committee on Higher Education has voted to let university and community-college students opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive or pornographic.
This is of course a stunningly stupid thing for them to do. The reason they’ve done it is even dumber:
Oh, come on, now. “Unacceptable to some”? I wouldn’t swallow that one in a casual discussion in a Usenet newsgroup—which, come to think of it, was where I first became acquainted with the Argument from Some People, as in “Some people might find that offensive.”
The legislation stems from complaints by Christina Trefzger, who attended community colleges and Arizona State University. She said some required reading assigned by instructors is morally unacceptable to some.
“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,” she told members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education on Wednesday.
One specific complaint was aimed at “The Ice Storm,” a novel dealing with adults and children experimenting with sex, drugs and suicide.
I guess the Committee on Higher Education hasn’t done any time on Usenet. If they had, they might know how to reply:
This has nothing to do with literature or morality. It’s a simple power play: “We can force you to do something stupid by threatening to get upset and accuse you of condoning immorality.” High school lit teachers get hit with this kind of crap all the time.
Personally, I loathe being threatened with indeterminate problems that’ll supposedly cause dreadful yet indescribable harms that can only be addressed by doing whatever the person doing the threatening wants.
If the Arizona Legislature goes through with this idiotic law, I hope they specify how a student goes about getting excused from completing a particular reading assignment. It shouldn’t be quiet or private. Students should have to explain in front of their classmates the harm they think the assignment will do them. A list of students, excused assignments, and accompanying explanations should be posted on the door of the English office.
Why? Partly it’s because I want to see image-conscious undergrads telling their peers that they can’t cope with passing mentions of naughty activity. But more than that, I want them to have to object to something specific about the book, and explain why they, personally, can’t cope with it. If they want an out, they could get it. What they wouldn’t get is carte blanche to harass teachers for reasons that wouldn’t stand the light of day.